Choosing a bit can be really hard, there are so many different types out there and lots of different brands claiming that their bits are their bits are the kindest and best designed for the horse’s mouth. Each horse is an individual and as a result they will all need different bits depending on a variety of factors. They may also need a different bits as they progress through their training, I don’t think any of us have the same riding boots or gloves that we started out in.
1. The correct width
The fit of the bit is important for your horse’s comfort. Bits are measured in inches or centimetres and will come in a variety of sizes, these measurements refer to the distance between each bit ring. If your horse already has a bit and you’re looking to change it, my go to would be to cut a piece of string to the current length and measure it against potential bits in the shop, then you don’t have to worry about remembering numbers. If you’re looking for a new bit then it’s slightly different depending on if you are looking for a loose ring or a fixed ring bit. A fixed ring bit will just need a small amount of space, around a quarter of a centimetre, on each side of the horse’s face. A loose ring will need more room to avoid pinching as the ring moves, this should be about half a centimetre.
2. The correct height
It was always said that there should be a couple of wrinkles on the corners of the mouth if the bit was at the correct height. However as more has been understood about the horse’s anatomy, it has been realised that every horse has a different sized mouth and a different length of smile. This means that for some horses having a couple of wrinkles may mean that the bit is fitted too high. When working out the height, make sure it doesn’t look like your horse is manically grinning, this will mean the bit is too heigh, if the bit is too low the cheekpieces will bow out when you take up a contact.
3. The right thickness
Not only does the length of the bit need to be adjusted for each horse, but the thickness will vary too. It used to be thought that thicker bits were kinder and thinner bits more severe. This is now understood not to be the case as it’s down to the individual horse’s mouth. Some horses have big fleshy tongues and so would prefer a thinner bit which takes up less room, others have a smaller gap in the bars of their mouth which would make a larger bit uncomfortable.
4. What does your horse think
Your horse being comfortable with their bit is the most important thing. There a number of reasons they might not be comfortable including dental issues, a sore mouth or sensitivity around their head. This discomfort can show in a variety of ways, but the main signs are throwing their head up, running or a lot of head movement when pressure is put on the reins. You know your horse better than anyone so you will be aware of any changes in behaviour caused by changing their bit. If you are ever in any doubt speak to your dentist or a qualified bit fitter.
5. The desired action
Each bit will exert different pressures on the horse’s head and mouth, these will affect the way the holds their head or responds to the rein contact. It’s important to take the different actions into account when you are selecting a bit, snaffles generally have a head raising action and gags and pelhams have a head lowering effect.
If you aren’t sure where to start or you’ve tried a few bits and don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, the next step is to contact a qualified bit fitter. A list of these can be found at the Equine Fitters Directory where you can also find qualified bridle and saddle fitters.