Choosing the Right Bit
Checking Out the Teeth
Before trying to choose the right bit for your horse you should get his teeth checked by a veterinarian. Sometimes the teeth may have sharp points or hooks that interfere with the use of the bit. A veterinarian can properly float the horseís teeth and prevent problems that may occur down the road with bad teeth. Once the teeth are checked out, then you may begin deciding on which bit is best for your horse.
Smooth Snaffle Bits
Young horses are often started out with a smooth snaffle. This snaffle should have a small diameter because a large diameter bit will cause them to gag or choke. When the horse is choking on his bit, he will not have the lateral and vertical flexion that you want and he will not respect your hands. This brings us back to CPR because we want him to respect our hands and directions, and he should be able to give to the bit. Three-eighths inch snaffles work very well and are legal for futurity events.
D-ring Snaffle Bits
D-ring snaffles allow the horse to play with his bit. They often play with the ring in the center of the mouthpiece if the ring moves freely. By playing with the ring and tonguing the bit, they learn not to have a quiet mouth. You donít want a horse that is always chomping on his bit or rolling his tongue around in his mouth.
Types of Metal
Sweet iron mouthpieces work much better than chrome mouthpieces. Because the bit tastes better, the horse will pick it up and hold it in his mouth. Since the chrome does not taste good to the horse he will push it away, which is not something we want him to do. We want that horse to suck up the mouthpiece and hold it in his mouth, without playing with it or locking his jaw. This will give him a quiet mouth. Three-eighths inch snaffles work very well and are legal for futurity events.
Achieving Lateral and Vertical Flexion
If your horse does not move or flex his head right to left or vertically then you need to try a different bit. When trying to achieve vertical flexion, long curb bits will often make a horse pitch its head or rear to get away from the pressure. More bit isnít always the answer. You should train your horse how to be soft and respond to gentle pressure from the bit. Once your horse has learned how to respond to a small diameter snaffle and learns to respect the bit, you can move on to a different type. A bit with a slow twist will help your horse respond to even lighter pressure.
Pushing On the Bit
You do not want your horse to learn how to push or lean on his bit. If you pick up your hands with one hand back further than the other, your horse cannot brace himself against the bit. Horses usually love to push into pressure and you give him the opportunity to do that if your hands are held parallel to each other.
The best curb bit to use is one that is mild, with a low port. A low port gives the horse tongue release, without too much pressure. Watch how the bit sits on the bars of the mouth and make sure it does not provide too much tongue pressure. Also, make sure your horse gives to the pressure of the curb chain as it hits his chin. A good rule of thumb with curb bits is to try it out on yourself. If you make the chain snug and put your hand between the chain and the bar of the bit, you will be able to feel the amount of pressure that you place on your horse. Your hand is acting as the horses bottom jaw and when you pull back on the bit you will feel the pressure. If you pull back on the reins with one pound of pressure, your horse will actually feel five pounds of pressure on his mouth because of the leverage.
Understanding How Bits Work
When you understand what a bit does, it will help you understand what action is being taken inside your horseís mouth. The snaffle pulls on the sides of his mouth. The more you open your hands, the more direct pressure you will get on his cheeks. When you push your hands together the bit comes to a point. When people ride with their hands close together the bit comes to an upward point and pushes and pokes on the roof of the horseís mouth or palate. Horses do not like that feeling and will react adversely to the bit. That is one reason why not all horses ride great in a snaffle and some work well in a curb. While the snaffle is one of the first tools used, some horses need a curb to become light.
Gaining Respect with the Bit
Overall, you must earn respect with your horse. Respect is such an essential part of CPR and your horse should respect your hands through the bit. Be patient in trying to find the right bit and you will find one that works well with your horse.
About Tommy Garland
Translating the experience of a 30 year training career into his universal CPR (Confidence, Patience, Respect) Horsemanship methods, Garland offers horse owners unique and innovative training techniques. For more information, visit tommygarland.com
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