Mullen mouth or lozenge? Eggbutt or loose ring? Stainless steel or copper alloy? These are just some of the options that every rider must consider before choosing a bit for their horse. So, how do you choose the right combination for you and your horse? Bitting clinician Hilary Vernon offers some excellent advice for H&H readers...
1. Invest in your horse’s mouth
Horse owners share a common goal: we all want our horses to be comfortable. That’s why we spend so much of our hard earned cash on tack and accessories. It has been drilled into us from an early age that we should buy the best headcollars, bridles, saddles, girths and boots that we can afford — because good quality materials are kinder on the horse, safer for the rider and will last longer.
The same can be said of the bit. Your horse’s mouth is just as important as his face, back or legs. Don’t buy bits too cheaply, because they are cheap for a reason. A good quality snaffle will cost between £55 and £75 – and it will last a lifetime if you look after it.
2. Understand what you need and why
Think about the mouthpiece first, before the cheekpieces. What behaviour is your horse displaying? And what would help to counteract that behaviour?
I helped a client once who owned an ex racer. He was ridden in a single jointed hollow mouth snaffle, which was causing tension. The horse threw his head up in the air, squeezed his tongue over the bit and ran off on a regular basis. So we changed him to a ported mouth loose ring snaffle that allowed more tongue room. Once the horse realised that he didn’t have to fight the bit, he became less resistant.
If you can identify what is making your horse uncomfortable in his mouth, then you can give him what he needs. If you aren’t sure, then ask your instructor or a bitting expert for their opinion.
3. Keep it simple
It is easy to get bamboozled by advertising when it comes to the type of material that your bit is made from. But just remember two things: a horses mouth provides a warm environment for any bit and any good quality metal is going to warm up quickly.
Good quality stainless steel may not be a trendy metal — but it works just as well as any metal at promoting salivation and acceptance. Riders have commented that their horses’ mouths are wetter when they are more relaxed in a well-shaped bit.
4. Think relaxation
A grinning horse is an uncomfortable horse. So when it comes to gauging the height of your horses bit, two wrinkles are too much.
You want your horses face and neck to be in as natural a frame as possible, and his mouth to look relaxed. All that is needed is a little upward turn at each corner of his mouth — no dramatic wrinkles are required.
5. Expect less from the bit and more from yourself
Lastly, the key point to remember is that changing our horses’ equipment is not going to change his ability overnight — no matter how much we want it to!
If your horse is at prelim level now in a single jointed eggbutt snaffle, then he is still going to be at prelim level if you change to a more comfortable, better designed bit tomorrow. So take the pressure off and be kind to your horse and yourself. Listen to what your horse tells you and do your best to find a bit that works for him — and you.
If you focus more on comfort than the end result, then you won’t go far wrong.
Bits can only provide a platform from where clear aids are given, they cannot teach our horse the aids — that is down to you and is something that will happen naturally as you refine your riding.
To find out more about Hilary Vernon, visit www.informeddesigns.co.uk
Words by Melissa Volpi