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How to Fit a Bit

Learn How to Fit a Bit Properly

It's easy to fall into one-size-fits-all thinking when it comes to finding the right bit. Most mass-manufactured bits styles come in sizes of whole or half-inch increments only, and it's real tempting to take your best guess and "make it work."

Rather than let a poor fitting bit ruin the ride and relationship between you and your horse, learn how to choose a well fitting, effective bit that won't hurt your horse.

Measuring Your Horse's Mouth

Step 1

Bit designs for every type of riding range from very mild to brutal. It all depends on the way which they apply to the bars, tongue and roof of the mouth of the horse, with even the slightest twitch of the reins. The first rule here is to actually measure your horse's mouth before you set out to buy a new bit.

Step 2

The bit should sit over the bars of the mouth, the soft tissue area located behind the front teeth that you can easily see. When a bit is properly placed, it should appear that the corners of the horse's lips are being slightly lifted - a lot people use the adage of "one wrinkle" at the corner of the horse's mouth

Adjusting the length of the headstall will raise or lower where the bit rests on the bars of the horse's mouth. Too low, and the bit will knock against the horse's teeth, which will be painful for him and ineffective for you as the rider. Too high, and your horse will be strained, pinched at the corners of his mouth and uncomfortable, and and not only will he not receive your signals well, he'll be very unhappy.

So it's real important that you measure across the area where you expect the bit will sit comfortably in his mouth.

Step 3

Find a strip of a soft material such as a strand of yarn, a string or shoelace, or even better, use a length of soft rubber tubing or an extra piece of garden-hose to get an idea of the dimension the bit will add. Run this piece horizontally across across the horse's mouth, over the tongue and behind his teeth, or coax him into taking it as you would when you're bridling him.

Step 4

Once you've determined the correct position, use a marker to mark the edges of your fake bit where it meets the edge of the horse's lips. Remove it from his mouth and use a measuring tape to figure the length between markings in inches. Generally, the bit size will need to be 1/4 of an inch longer than this measurement to allow room so that the extra width of the bit rings or shanks don't squeeze inward on your horse's mouth.

You may learn that this width of his mouth plus your 1/4" allowance is not a nice round number; in that case you'll need to find a bit maker who has your bit in the correct size or get a custom made one for your horse. It may be easier to find an unusual size on an auction site like eBay, rather than in a catalog or feed store. The effort will be worth it - this is an investment that will save yours and your horse's sanity throughout your riding life together.

Watch Carefully How the Bit Works

Step 1

While you're thinking about which bit style will best suit your horse in his training, you'll also need to determine which parts of its design could possibly pinch, rub, or otherwise irritate your horse.

The types of bits that have a hinged attachment at the corners of the mouth offer a prime opportunity for pinching and sores to occur. This will especially be a problem if the bit is not the right size for your horse.

Step 2

Pinching can be a real problem with bits that have hinged mouthpieces that swing or move freely. The loose-ring snaffle, tom thumb, "wonder" bit, or any bit with gag action (bits that allow the mouthpieces to slide) can pinch the corners of the horse's mouth or rub the skin raw.

If your poor horse is suffering from this, you'll usually see a small sore in the corner of his mouth, a lot like a sore or blister you'd get from wearing shoes that are a size too small. If this happens, you'll need to switch bits or use round rubber bit guards on either side of the bit. Once a sore has started, your horse is going to need a few days to heal without using a bit in his mouth. Put Vaseline or an antibiotic ointment on the sore to keep it from becoming infected.

Step 3

Watch for clues that your horse might be reacting to a painful bit, rather than just resisting the rider:

  • Frequent bit chomping, constantly open mouth, or tongue hanging out.
  • Head shaking or tossing, or carrying his head stiffly and high with his nose in the air, often with his jaw stretched open or chomping almost compulsively.
  • Running away with his rider or leaning on his forehand against pressure on the reins.
  • Staying behind the bit, creating an unnatural and stiff bend in the neck by putting his nose to his chest.

The common factor among these behaviors is that each one is the horse's attempt to escape or avoid the pain which he has learned to expect during his rides.

While the focus here is on the bit, there are other possible causes that should be considered, including the riding habits of a heavy-handed rider.

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