Bit Fit: A Guide for Your Riding Communication Lifeline
Before I got married, I had to go to counseling. If you're not familiar with premarital counseling, you go over your relationship and talk about everything but your love for one another. I'm talking finances, what your preferred way to show affection towards one another is, and your plans for family planning. I had the benefit of being married by a close family friend, who I considered an adoptive grandfather. Pappa Simmons, as everyone who grew up playing soccer with his grandchildren called him, was vocal about one vital thing John and I would need when we got married.
"Communication is more than just talking to one another," Pappa Simmons explained. "It's how you choose to interact with each other and is going to decide whether you will be happy or miserable."
The same can be said of your relationship with your horse. If you're looking to build on your communication with your horse, a good read is Horse Speak, by Sharon Wilsie and Gretchen Vogel. This book outlines ways you can communicate with your horse, not by you telling them what to do, but rather you listening to what they are trying to tell you. Oftentimes, people are quick to assume that a horse is unable to do something without looking at how they are being asked. Horse Speak is an interesting system to notice what your horse is trying to tell you. Communication, as Pappa Simmons would say, is a two person game. Click on the photo to the right for more information.
Horse bits look like the simplest piece of equipment for a horse. They're also the most important. The bit is your line of communication with your horse while riding, and it's part of a delicate balance of pressure and softness that your horse will be listening to. These mouthpieces fit in the gap in the back of the horse's mouth. Choosing this piece of tack is not as straightforward as you might think.
Type of Bit
When it comes to bits, there are many kinds to choose from. The most popular option is a snaffle bit. Snaffles attach directly to the reins and only put pressure on the horse when the reins are being pulled. Most trainers start with snaffles and only use more or less amounts of pressure-inducing bits if the horse doesn’t respond well. Snaffle bits come with a variety of mouthpieces. You can choose a rubber or plastic coated mouthpiece, which is known to be less harsh than a plain metal bar. Pictured below is a Tom Thumb snaffle. This is what I used for Sofie. Click on the photo for more information.
Measuring the Bit
For measuring purposes, they make tools that measure for a bit. Another way to do it is to use a wooden dowel, placing it in your horse’s mouth where the bit will be. You’ll want about a half inch or so sticking out on either side. Once you get that measurement, you’ll have your size. Smaller horses tend to need smaller bits just like larger horses require larger bits, but on average a horse will use a 4 or 5 inch bit.
Up next you’ll want to pick out the style of rings on the outside of the bit, where the reins connect. This connection is vital, so it’s highly recommended to try out the different rings to see which one your horse responds best to. If you don’t get this opportunity, try the D-ring option first. It’s less harsh and is more popular.
This is almost the last step. Make sure the bit doesn’t pinch your horse’s lip. As someone who hates it when she’s pinched in any way, your horse will thank you if you take their comfort into consideration. Put a finger next to the rings and spin them. If it pinches you, you’ve got the wrong size. Do something similar to make sure the bar that goes over the horse’s tongue isn’t going to pinch there, either. Make sure the bit fits perfectly; your communication will be greatly improved with a good fit.
It may take some trail and error, but once you think you’ve got a good bit, it’s time to try it out. Take it for a test ride, and understand that your horse gets a say in this too. If it’s good, your horse and, more importantly, your line of communication, will improve. If not, then you’ll figure that out too.
If you're going to put something in your mouth, you'll want to find a way to keep it clean. Your horse feels similarly about the bit. Be sure to not let your horse eat with it on, and take the time to keep it clean. I recommend bit wipes as pictured to the left. They're an easy way to keep your bit clean without having to pay an arm and a leg to do it. Just add elbow grease, and you're all set. A happy horse makes for a happy experience, much like the saying for most marriages: Happy wife, happy life! Click on the photo to purchase these. They're a great addition to any barn.
Have fun, good luck, and remember to not just communicate with your horse. It's about how you approach the entire relationship.