Most riders either inherit a bit when they purchase a horse or do their best to pick one off the shelf. But how many riders actually check the fit of their horses' bits and know for sure if they have the right ones for their horses? Your horse's mouth size and conformation, his level of training, and the rider's ability all determine which bit you should use.
A bit can be too narrow or too wide in the mouthpiece-meaning it may not be functioning correctly or may make your horse uncomfortable. Most bits are sold in a 5" size. But if you measure your horse's mouth from the corners of his lips, you might be surprised to find out he'd be more comfortable in a 4 ¾" or 5 1/8" bit. I use a simple and easy measuring device called, "Bit Fit" that will show you the exact width of your horse's mouth. You can find the measurement tool at www.theoriginalbitfit.com.
You'll also need to check where the bit lays in your horse's mouth to see if your bridle is adjusted correctly. If the bit is too high (causing wrinkles in the corners of his mouth), he'll feel constant pressure and will have difficulty responding to light aids. If the bit hangs too low, it may hit his teeth and flop around in his mouth. I like the bit to touch the corners of my horse's lips, but without showing any wrinkles. This way, he'll hold the bit the way he wants in his mouth and respond to the lightest movement of the reins. A young horse will need to wear the bit high in his mouth until he no longer tries to put his tongue over the bit-a terrible habit that can be prevented early in the horse's training.
The horse's level of training as well as the rider's is also a consideration in bit fit. As a horse progresses in his training, the bit can drop lower in his mouth and he can tolerate a stronger bit because you'll be using less rein pressure to get him to respond. Even a very well-trained horse that's used to a more advanced bit will need something mild in his mouth if he is to tolerate the hands of a less skilled rider.
Remember, the mildest bit in the wrong hands can be inhumane and the most severe bit in the right hands can be mild. Going to a stronger bit will never fix a training problem but may make it worse, while switching to a milder bit can often resolve issues with your horse. Many, if not most training issues with horses stem from anxiety about their mouths, so having the right bit's important.
For more information on this and many other important topics, please check out the archived articles on my website.
--Julie Goodnight, juliegoodnight.com
You know Julie Goodnight as The Horse Master on her new RFD-TV television show. Through her varied background-riding and training horses in dressage, jumping, racing, reining, colt-starting, and versatility ranch work, and wilderness riding-Julie has discovered the underlying principles important to any type of riding. She communicates clearly with horses and riders in any discipline and at any level. Julie travels coast-to-coast-and beyond-throughout much of the year to help horses and riders at horse expos, conferences, clinics, and while filming for her television "makeover" show. Julie has been featured in the top equestrian publications, including Western Horseman, Horse & Rider, Equus, Perfect Horse and America's Horse. Her syndicated columns appear in over 15 regional publications throughout North America. Her interactive websites, juliegoodnight.com and horsemaster.tv reach an even wider audience. Julie is also the International Spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association-known as CHA. She resides near Salida, Colorado, at her private horse ranch with her husband, Rich Moorhead, the CEO of Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area.