How do I choose a bit for my horse?

This is a question I get nearly every week.

First I recommend talking with your vet or equine dentist to find out if your horse has a large tongue and a low pallet. Knowing the shape of your horses mouth can be helpful when choosing a bit.

  • Horses with a large tongue often need a bit that will provide tongue relief. They don’t have a lot of room in their mouths so that will need to be taken into consideration
  • Horses with a low pallet will not have a lot of room in their mouths either.
  • Horses with smaller tongues and higher pallets will have more room and in these cases you may be able to use a thicker style bit.

If you are just starting your horse and it’s learning to carry a bit, I suggest using a single piece bit that doesn’t have a lot of movement in it. Bits that have joints and beans and rollers and hinged cheeks that allow the cheeks to lift and turn, can be very overwhelming to horses just learning to carry a bit. With less to move and grab their attention they can learn to have a quiet mouth while also understanding pressure and release, contact and direct reining. All things important for a driving horse to fully understand, since we don’t have our body weight, legs and seat to direct our horse. There have been quite a few studies done that have shown us that single piece bits are kinder than the jointed style bits as well. (Though the determining factor will always be the hands of the driver.) You may as well start with the kindest bit you can and teach using communication and understanding.

Sometimes, though we have the best of intentions, our hands can cause some bitting issues. Having quick hands that are hard and fast to grab at the lines, can cause the horse to be anxious about having contact with the bit. So having hands that are slow to close on the lines and quick to release will help with many bitting issues. When I was working on this myself, I practiced counting while I closed my fingers one at a time on my lines. I would also practice slowly sliding my lines in one hand and then the other, without having my lines attached to my pony. This allowed me to make mistakes and make adjustments without offending my pony any further than I already had!  I suggest building a Rein Board to use for practice. My youngest son is currently building me one!

Going back to ground work to help Zorro with his bitting issues.

So what are some things a horse will do when it is unhappy with the bit it’s currently using? And how will you go about choosing a bit that your horse will work well with?

A few things a horse will do when it’s unhappy:

  • put it’s tongue over the bit
  • chomp and chomp on the bit
  • chewing the bit (which is different than chomping!) to the point of distraction
  • gaping it’s mouth when the lines are lifted, such as when taking contact
  • bringing it’s head all the way to it’s chest, to avoid bit contact
  • push it’s head forward, bringing the bit back into it’s mouth, to take over the bit

I have found that very often horses that insist on putting their tongue over the bit are seeking tongue relief. These type of horses tend to go very well in an arch mouth or a Victory mouth style mouth piece.The cheek isn’t important unless you are seeking a bit of leverage. So a simply baucher cheek or a half cheek is fine. If you need leverage then I suggest a liverpool cheek.

Sometimes all you need to try is a bit lifter which will lift the bit a bit higher in the horse’s mouth without you needing to tighten the cheeks on the bridle. Keep in mind, if you are applying pressure on the horse’s mouth by making bridle adjustments you are muddying the waters for how well your horse will respond when you lift the lines. Pressure is pressure whether it’s from the bridle or the lines.

Horses that chomp and chomp, gape at the mouth when the lines are lifted and/or try to avoid contact, often have issues that stem from how fast your hands are when you are asking for a change. Yes, you can try different bits, but the main thing you need to do is go back to ground work and work on your hands without your horse.

Sometimes horses that have busy mouths need something to DO with their mouth. A roller on the mouth piece can help with this. A comfort mouth snaffle with a roller can be just the thing! This bit does not break in the middle like a regular snaffle, because it has the roller. So it acts much like a mullen mouth. The comfort snaffle has a shape that sits comfortably in the horse’s mouth. It will not provide the tongue relief that the arch mouth does, but it doesn’t lay directly on the tongue like a three piece bit such as a french link or bean style snaffle bit. But it will apply tongue pressure when the lines are lifted.

Sometimes there is no clear answer. In those cases trying a few different bits is the only way to know. I wish I had enough different sized bits here that I could loan them out so people could try them. Bits can be quite expensive so this is not possible at this time.

The Bowman Bits are very affordable and I am happy to take back a bit that isn’t working, provided it’s in like new condition. In this way we can do some exchanging to help you find the right bit for your horse.

Following the above guidelines can help you narrow down what style bit your horse will work happily in!

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