Comfort is important.
At the start of any of my Bitting Days or Clinics I feel it is always important to stress that the Horse has to be entirely comfortable both physically and mechanically. Every piece of equipment he wears must fit correctly and be comfortable. And I always say this but will just say it again anyway! No bit is going to be a “quick fix” as there will never be any substitute for lack of riding ability or time spent training. A Horse works on repetition, if every day he comes out and is resistant or strong he thinks this is normal and only by first of all improving our communication and then by schooling him into a new way of going can we make a change.
Resistances to the bit:
When a Horse resists the bit to me he is just saying “ I am not happy/comfortable with this shape of mouthpiece or is it not giving me the right signals, so I am mentioning it to you in the only way I know how”. A Horse can only communicate with us in two ways, either by being obedient and relaxing into his work or by being resistant and what we assume to be disobedient. Resistances to the bit can be very mild and barely a problem with some Horses and very pronounced and a big problem with others.
If when you ride your Horse and use your reins to ask the Horse to do something and the Horse more or less immediately does what you want and you in return relax the pressure the Horse is going to be comfortable with the bit he is wearing and will be able to swallow freely. But for those Horses that you are having to use the bit more than you would like, maybe because it is difficult to maintain control or you are struggling to sustain a certain head carriage, then the more you use the bit the more restricted the Horse is and the more he feels the need to resist to relieve pressure or pain.
How does the Horse resist bit pressure?
Head up in the air: The Horse that either carries its head very high or tosses its head up at intervals is actually throwing the bit upwards in the mouth towards or actually into the molars.
Head low down and heavy into the hand: The Horse that carries its head low and hangs heavily onto the riders hand has again changed the angle of the rein and has taken the action of the bit up into the corners of the lips.
Head tucked into the chest: A Horse that tucks his chin into its chest has actually dropped the contact with the rein. The rider wants to re-establish contact so will give the rein and encourage the Horses head back out with seat and leg and not pick up the contact again until the head is back out at the end of the rein.
Tongue over the Bit: A Horse that lifts its tongue over the bit has taken all the pressure off its tongue and taken the action of the bit down into the lower jaw and onto the bars of the mouth.
Mouth open: The Horse that opens its mouth is actually lifting its tongue further up into its mouth but as the tongue is already so thick up were the molars are, it has to open its mouth slightly to accommodate the thickness. Sometimes the tongue actually rests between the molars if it is very thick and the Horse often bites its own tongue but as it is so high up unless we look right up and back in the mouth we do not know this has happened.
So in reality I feel that when a Horse resists the action of the bit he is simply trying to place its face some were to make the bit in its mouth more comfortable, and alleviate pressure.
The use of force:
Sadly instead of saying to our selves when our Horse does one or more of these resistances, what part of the bit that you are wearing do you not like or are you not comfortable with, can I change the shape of the bit so that you can relax into your work again. Instead we try to force the mouth shut with a Flash or a Grackle or Crank Noseband and try to close the mouth over the problem instead of solving it.
The use of tongue grids or any mechanical aid to press the Horses tongue down into the lower jaw is also not solving the problem but simply preventing the Horse from lifting the tongue up or over the bit. We should be looking to allow the Horse to be as natural as possible in all his equipment. The tongue should lie down in the Horse’s jaw and he should be able to swallow freely. If you press your own tongue down into your lower jaw with your finger you cannot swallow at all and neither can your Horse if the bit is pressing his tongue downwards.
How to make a difference:
In my experience when you change your Horses bit three things make a tremendous difference to in the bit you choose .
One is to use a bit with a mouthpiece that does not pinch or hurt the Horse when we use it.
The second thing is to stabilise the bit in the mouth so that it is placed in a better place for the Horse to carry the bit and a better place for him to receive signals from the bit.
And the third is to create more tongue room by using bits that have more space for the tongue to lie naturally in the jaw.
These three things improve the Horses comfort.
Then to improve communication for the rider the bit should give much clearer signals and a much quicker release as a reward. All these factors combined improves the Horses comfort and his ability to understand what we are trying to tell him.
When you change your bit to something that your horse can respond to that is the start of the process not the end you now have a tool to improve the way your horse goes with patience and repetition and reward.