Proper bit fit is necessary in every riding discipline. When a bit does not fit a horse’s mouth properly, bad habits or injuries may result. If the horse has any scars or open cuts or rubs on his lips or tongue, this means he has had bit abuse. Many times this happens when an unknowledgeable rider has used a bit that does not fit properly or comfortably in the horse’s mouth. If you suspect either injury in your horse’s mouth, and/or an ill-fitting bit, please read our checklist below.
Check # 1: The Lips
Most of our trainers have told us: for all horses, you know when a bit is adjusted correctly when there are 2 wrinkles in the corner of the horse’s mouth. It is sad when I realize this is the only information most trainers give to their students about bit fitting, since there is so much more to it. In addition, that little piece of information is only partially correct. Why, you ask? Lets see…
All horses have differently shaped lips. Some horses’ lips have thinner skin, which will wrinkle easier, and some have tougher skin which doesn’t wrinkle as easy! Some horses are more sensitive to the bit, and some are not. The shape of the lips plays a large role. Some horses have longer lips and some have shorter lips. So, what is our guideline here? We have three…
- Use 1 wrinkle for horses that have shorter lips.
- Use 2 wrinkles for horses that have longer lips.
- Use your best judgement, experiment and see what works best.
Check # 2: The Bars
The bars are the space on the gums in the horse’s mouth between the front teeth and molars. This is the space where the bit rests on the horse’s gums. There are no teeth in this area. Sometimes the bars become injured or bruised by rough bit handling, or from harsh bits such as the ones with a corkscrew mouth piece. To check if your horse’s bars are injured or have been injured in the past, run your finger over them. They should feel flat and smooth. If they are rough, scarred or bruised, he has had injury to them.
Check # 3: The Tongue
The size of the tongue and size of the mouth varies slightly from horse to horse. Some horses have extra room for their tongue when their mouth is closed, some don’t. To check if your horse’s tongue is too large, lift his lips away while his mouth is closed. If you see that his tongue is sticking out between his teeth, using a smaller bit will help.
Check # 4: The Hard Palate
The hard palate is the area on the roof of the horse’s mouth. Some horses’ hard palates allow for extra space, and some don’t. For horses that do not have a lot of arch in their hard palate, do not use high-port bits. Using a high-port bit on such a horse is a very common cause of star-gazing.
Check # 5: The Dental Situation
Check to make sure your horse’s teeth are not causing a problem. His teeth should be checked and/or floated every 6 months by a veterinarian or dental technician. Sharp, pointed or decayed teeth can cause uncomforatable or painful chewing and bit fit.
Check # 6: The Right Bit
The first thing you should check on any bit you ever use is the bit’s condition. Look for sharp edges or worn spots. This would make it uncomfortable for a horse to carry the bit in his mouth. Make sure that no part of the bit has potential to pinch the horse’s mouth, tongue or lips.
Use a tape measure or string to measure from one corner of your horse’s mouth through the inside of his mouth to the other corner. The mouth piece on his bit should be 3/4 inch larger than the measurement you took of his mouth. This allows for just enough room, to avoid pinching of the bit in the corners of his mouth from a bit that is too small.
By looking at the horse’s bars and hard palate as described above, you’ll need to decide on the correct thickness for a bit. As a general rule, the mouth piece of the bit should never take up more than 1/2 the space between his hard palate and bars.
One last thing about bits. Curb chains and ports. Hmmm, now there’s a fuzzy topic. Many people have different opinions about how to use curb chains and ports. Guidelines have always been:
1. Always make sure you can slide one finger in between the horse’s chin and the curb chain.
2. For ports, see the Check # 4 (above).