A few weeks ago we went over the form and style of a number of bits. We learned about the different types of rings and shanks, different mouth pieces, and where certain bits apply pressure. Now it's time to learn about bit function, and how to choose the right bit for your horse and/or your current riding situation. Please note, this is simply a basic guide, and I do not recommend switching your bit, or any tack for that matter, without first discussing it with your trainer. If you are showing, it is also very important that you check the rule book for your association, and make sure your bit falls within the guidelines they have set up. Lastly, I want to point out that a stronger bit is not always the answer. Often times there is a block missing in the training foundation that is misread as a bitting problem, only to find a few months down the road the rider has to switch to an even stronger bit to fix the same problem. Make sure you are making an honest assessment of what your horse is telling you, and how you, as the rider, may be helping or hindering the specific issue. I also can not stress enough that it doesn't matter how mild or severe a bit is when its hanging on the wall at your local tack shop, its how mild or severe the rider makes it. I would never, ever put a knife edge snaffle or a gag bit of any kind into uneducated hands. You always want to get the job done with the softest bit possible. When I use a stronger bit in certain situations, note that I also only use that bit for 1-3 rides and then I switch back to a plain, ported, or rubber snaffle. OK, now on to the information!
Assessing the situation
This is probably the most complicated part of choosing a bit. There are so many factors that go into deciding what is the right choice. Sometimes there are several options, and you're stuck ruling out pros and cons of each. Let's try and help you narrow it down.
What do you want the bit to do?
If you looking for something that is going to help your horse turn and stop, you would typically look at snaffles as they are directional bits. If you are looking for a bit that will help your horse break at the poll, you would look more into a leverage bit. Either a curb bit, or something with a port. If you are looking for something that will offer more stopping power on a strong horse, as well as leverage, you may consider a gag, or a 3 ring snaffle as well, as they offer even more leverage than most pelhams and kimberwicks. If you have a horse that likes to hang on the bit, you may switch to a loose ring, a slow twist, or in more extreme cases, a Waterford or a knife edge. I will also use a slow twist or a knife edge on a horse with a very hard mouth. Again, note that this is typically only for a few rides, then back into a much milder bit.
Where is your horse in his training?
If a horse is green, you always want to start with the softest option possible. Usually a plain D snaffle, or a full cheek snaffle. I like a full cheek as it can help the horse figure out to turn his head when pressure is applied to the rein. As you come into issues with his training, and you have ruled out that it is due to skipping steps along the line, you may switch to a different bit for a few rides (based off of the issues posted above). Once your horse is soft and accepting of the bit, understands stopping, turning, and stays soft on a bit, you may want to switch to a leverage bit of sorts to extend the horses training. Some horses can go their whole lives in a plain D snaffle, or a ported bit, so make sure you talk to your trainer or other trusted professional before making the switch.
The shape of your horses mouth can also be a deciding factor in what bit you use. When you get your horses teeth floated (which should be done annually), ask the dentist to do an assessment of the shape of your horses mouth, and where exactly the bit sits in his mouth. a thicker tongue or lower roof can drastically change how a bit fits, thus changing its function.
Bit Care and other information
Bits are easy to care for, and should be cleaned after every use. You wouldn't eat off of dirty silverware would you? Everyone has their own method of cleaning bits. I simply let mine soak in a bucket of water while I clean the rest of my tack, and wipe them down with a clean rag afterwards. There are also several companies that make bit wipes that you can use right after riding that work well too. Some are even flavored.
Certain bits require additional pieces of equipment.
Full cheek snaffles use "bit keepers" which are little leather pieces you attatch to the cheek piece, and around the top of your full cheek.
Loose ring snaffles can pinch, and be pulled through a horses mouth in extreme situations, so more often than not you will see them used with bit guards. Bit guards are flat rubber donuts that go on the ends of the mouth pieces. Yes, that's OVER the big rounds rings. I suggest letting them sit in the sun for a while, or in a bucket of very warm water before you try pulling them on.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this weeks 'lesson' and that you can walk away more equipped to tackle the equine world! If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them as a comment!
In the spring of 2012, I acquired a warmblood mare that was rescued out of Terrell Texas. Since then, the work hasn't stopped to transform her back to the happy, healthy, fabulous horse she was meant to be. I'm very excited to watch this horse continue to progress both physically and training wise.
Let's start off at the very beginning...
What is a bit?
A bit is the piece of our tack that goes in the horses mouth. It is typically made of metal, but can have different materials such as plastic or rubber as the actual mouth piece. Bits range in size from 3 1/2" to 6" (though smaller and larger bits are available), and have many different mouth pieces, weights, and rings.
How to fit a bit?
There are several factor to consider when determining how a bit fits in your horses mouth. The width of the mouth, how tall or shallow the roof of their mouth is, even the thickness of the horses tongue can all effect which bit you will use. That is all getting a little complex, and will really require a vet or equine dentist to assist you, The width, however, is easy to figure out, and is also the most common concern. A properly fitted bit will sit with 1/4" of the actual mouth piece sticking out on each side of the mouth. You measure a bit from the inside of the bars or rings/bars (click the picture below for a larger copy).
Different types of rings?
There are many different types of rings/shanks. The most common types are Snaffles (D Rings, O Ring/Loose Rings pictured above-, Full Cheeks, and Egg butts) and Curb or Leverage Bits (Two or Thee Ring Elevators, Pelhams, Kimberwicks, and Gags). Snaffle bits are more of a directional bit, used for steering and stopping, with no poll pressure when you apply the reins. Curb Bits and Leverage Bits give you the option to move the rein to a higher or lower point, or two use a second rein (known as a curb rein), and are designed for stopping, and, well, gaining leverage on a more advanced horse. They work by increasing and applying the pressure applied by the rider to the horses poll.
Different bit materials?
The mouth piece or the "bars" of the bit are a whole 'nother world, and can be very confusing if you don't know what to look for. Most mouth pieces are made of metal, and various metals can be used. Stainless Steel, Nickle Plated, Copper, and Sweet Iron are most common. Other common materials are rubber and plastic. Stainless steel is most common, and is a strong material that will last a long time. Nickle plated bits are less expensive that steel,but they can flake and rust after time. Copper and Sweet Iron bits are both said to increase the amount of saliva the horse produces, causing them to have a softer mouth. Copper, though, is a softer material, and will wear out over time. Rubber and Plastic are generally thicker than most metal bits, and are thought of to be softer on the horses mouth. Not all horses appreciate the thicker bars though. It is rare to find a bit that has an all plastic or all metal mouth piece. Usually there is a metal piece in the middle. Though rubber and plastic are a softer material that many horses really appreciate, they can wear very quickly.
Types of Mouthpieces?
Now that we've covered every other aspect of the bit design, lets get on tot he fun; and often most confusing; part, the design and shape of the actual bars. To name a few, there are mullen mouths. jointed, French links, rollers, ported, and twisted. There are other types as well, but these are the most common. So, what's the difference?
Single Jointed bits are the most common (pictured above on both D Ring Bits) and apply pressure on the bars of the horses mouth.
Mullen Mouth bits are single bars with a slight curve that sits comfortably in the horses mouth, over their tongue. They are thought to be softer than single jointed snaffles since they don't 'break' in the middle when the reins are applied.
French Link and Dr. Bristol bits are similar, as they both have a peanut shaped, flat, link connecting two bars. The difference is that the link on a dr. Bristol is angled, and slightly longer. Both are considered easier for the horse to carry, however the French link is a fairly soft bit, whereas the Dr. Bristol is considered a fairly harsh bit.
Roller Bits usually come in copper, but are also found in stainless steel. It is said that the copper rollers cause the horse to salivate, thus making him softer and more responsive to the bit. The rollers themselves also give a horse something to play with, and also makes it harder for a horse to hang on the bit.
Ported bits have an upside-down U shape in the center of the bars, and that U is known at the Port. The port can be very high, or very low. Low ports relieve tongue pressure, and the high ports relieve tongue pressure and apply pressure on the horses pallet when the reins are applied. Ports are a nice bit for a more advanced horse, but in strong hands, high ports especially can be very painful and damaging for the horse
Twisted bits range in harshness from a slow twist, to a corkscrew, to a twisted wire. These bits work well for horses that like to hang on the bit, or ignore them all together, but they should only be used by a rider with an educated, soft hand.
Keeping your horse cool, safe, and healthy this summer
We've covered some great tips to keeping yourself sunburn, bug bite, and heat stroke free this summer, so now we will move on to ways to do the same for your horse! It's common misconseption that summer heat problems only effect horses in work, and I want to clear that up first and foremost!
1. Sun Protection: Protecting our horses is just as important as protecting ourselves from harmful UV Rays. Whether you are saving your horses coat from bleaching out, or pretoecting the super sensitive pink skin around eyes and noses, there are a lot of ways you can do it.
- UV Shades and fly masks: There are many fly mask companies now adays that offer UV Protection in their fly masks. Even if your horse doesnt have pink skin on its face, it's a good idea to protect their eyes.
- UV fly sheets: As with masks, a lot of the sheet companies have come out with UV Protective sheets as well.
- Shade/Stalls: Make sure your horse has a lot of options to get out of the sun. Trees and run in sheds outside must be available. If you dont have that option, your next best bet is keeping them in a stall. I am all for turnout 24/7, but it's not fair if your horse cant get out of the heat or the sun.
- Sun Screens: Especially for the pink skin horses, sun screen is a great way of protecting them. There are several companies that have come out with horse-only sun screen, but you may also use people sunscreen too!
2. Hydration! Water is the single most important thing horses need when it's hot out. Always make sure your horse has plenty of clean, fresh water infront of him. If your horse isnt drinking enough, or you are going to a show or event where the water is strange, add some apple juice or gatorade. Some other tips:
- Add electrolyte powder to your horses grain every day to help replenish the nutrients lost while sweating.
- Soak your horses grain. There are many benefits to soaking a horses grain, but just one of them helps ensure your horses is taking in at least some water every day.
-Keep a tube of electrolytes on hand at all times. You never know when you may need it.
3. Bathing: Whenever you bathe your horse, it is important to start at their feet and legs, then work your way up. This gives them a chance to get use to the water temp. It is also important to let your horse dry off in the shed. The water on your horse heats up faster in the sunshine than their skin does, so hosing them down and turning them out can actually make them hotter than they originially were.
4. Keep summer work simple, and work at appropriate hours. As we talked about in part one, its not comfortable for us to ride when its 105, imagine what it's like for our horses. If you must ride during the hot parts of the day, keep your rides short and to the point.
5. Stall bound horses: though your horses may be out of the sun, depending on the barn set up, they may be hotter in a barn than outside. Keeping barn doors open, and stall windows open will provide a cool breeze, even when the wind isnt blowing. Also, hanging box fans in each stall is a great, refreshing way for your horse to beat the heat.
Have any tips of your own? Feel free to post them in the comment box! Happy trails!
Keeping yourself cool, safe, and healthy this summer
Well its mid march, and here in Central Texas, we're already knocking on 90* door. As someone who has suffered heat stroke before, I can promise you it is not fun, and is a very dangerous thing especially when dealing with horses. This is the first of a two part blog series with tips to staying cool this summer. Part one, for the rider, because lets face it, if you arent healthy, you cant take care of your horse! Part two will be tips to keeping our four leggers comfortable and safe.
1. Make room in your grooming kit for some much needed summer essential:
- Sun Screen: I dont even need to go into detail on how important it is to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays. If skin cancer isnt bad enough, no one likes sun burn. I prefer the spray kind because they are really easy to use, they dry quickly, and dont leave an oily residue. There are plenty of sun screens available specifically for your face as well.
- Bug Spray: Even with the All Natural movement finally makiing way to horse products, most fly sprays are still harmful if it gets on your skin. I can't say Im not guilty of endulging in the power of Repel X, but I can say Off is a much better option.
- ReUsable Water Bottle - Brita makes on that is great for leaving at the barn. You can have filtered water direct from the nearest barn hose!
2. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration:
I can't stress this enough. When you sweat, you lose water and important nutrients your body needs to survive. When it's hot, you sweat. It's that simple. As a traveling trainer, I leave an ice chest in the back of my truck with water and gatorade. If you needed another reason to cross soda out of your diet, it's not going to help you hydrate, and can actually dehydrate you quicker. Kensington products make a water bottle holder that you can clip right to your saddle, excellent for trail riding! If you are hardcore, Camel Backs can not be beat. Make sure you drink lots of fluids at all times, but especially before and after each ride.
3. Keep Benadryl on hand:
Warm weather brings out bees, wasps, hornets, and all those other fabulous flying, stinging things. Even if you arent allergic, its not a bad idea to keep some benadryl on hand incase someone else may need it.
4. Sun Protective Riding Apparel:
- You will not catch me outside without a hat of some-sort on in the summer, but riding in a baseball cap isnt the smartest of all ideas. Fortunatly, we have options! Charles Owens SP8 helmet offers the same great protection you would expect from CO, with a larger, wider brim that offers more protection from the sun. Equivisor also has a great large visor that attaches to any helmet and offers superior protection.
- Long sleeves in the summer may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're thinking of ways to stay cool, but companys like Ariat, Kerrits, Irideon, and Horseware Ireland an have great, super breathable, lightweight, and UV protective long sleeve shirts available. Most of the shirts are a mesh like material under your arms, and have breath panels too. Magelan, a company noted for their fishing apparel, also make great lightweight shirts that keep you cool. Since wrap collars and in, and strap collars are out, all those coolmax shirts work great too! Keeping the extra sun off of you with an extra layer of clothing actually keeps you cooler than less clothes and more sun. Try it if you dont believe me!
- Sun Glasses. Your skin isnt the only thing that suffers from UV Rays. Though I would love a pair of nice super expensive glasses, I find that the $10.00 gas station glasses work just fine, and for the amount of glasses I lose, or destroy, its much cheaper to replace.
5. Choose your rides and riding times wisely. Obviously its coolest early in the morning, or late at night. Try to ride during those times. I personally dont work horses if it's over 100* except in extreme situations, and even then, I try to keep the rides as short and to the point as possible. If you can only do one or two rides a week when it's cooler out, try to keep your real workouts to those days. Nice easy 15-20 minute hacks followed by a long and low trail ride are great when it's super hot. Your horse still gets his work out, you still get saddle time, and neither one of you ends up a lathered, sweaty mess.
Now that you've got some tips (and feel free to comment with your own!) lets talk Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. Like I said before, this is something I have dealt with before, and it usually doesnt his me while Im working a horse, but usually as soon as my feet hit the ground after a ride. It comes on with light headness/feeling like Im going to pass out, nausea, burning up, dehydration, and complete weakness. I often ride alone, so handing my horse to someone isnt usually an option either, so needless to say, I try to nip this one in the bud before it even happens. I usually wait to dismount until I am at the barn, just in case I need to let go of my horse, I can throw him in a stall. If I feel it coming on, I get as close to a hose as I can and start hosing myself and my horse off. Anything I can do to cool myself down, and untacking/cooling my horse down as quickly as possible. Heat exhaustion can knock you out for the rest of the day, and once it's happened once, you're more likely to get it again. Heat Stroke can be life threatening. If you think someone is suffering from either, cool them down with a wet rag, a fan, laying on the cool barn floor, and call 911. Here are two links to WebMD explaining more about Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the series, full of tips to keep your horses happy and healthy this summer. Thanks for reading! Happy Trails!
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