Getting your saddle fit checked is something that almost all riders will agree is something that is vital to their riding and training routine. As Riders, we are now more educated than ever before about the benefits of a well fitting saddle, the detrimental effect of a poorly fitting saddle to both rider and horse, and have a wide variety of brands and styles to choose from, as well as increasingly educated and knowledgeable saddle fitters to help us make the right decision.
The saddle is a main point of contact between us and the horse, a communication point, a vital piece of equipment in achieving our goals.
But let me ask you, when was the last time you considered your bit?
Next to the saddle, the bit is probably one of the most important items of tack we will purchase in terms of affecting the wellbeing of the horse, the horse’s comfort and the clarity of our communication with them.
Think about it, when you hop on and take up the reins, what you holding? Essentially a piece of hard, solid metal placed in the delicate confines of your horse’s mouth. The horse’s mouth is not designed specifically to carry a bit- with the space at the bars between the teeth- it is conveniently shaped like this to suit our needs. Ancient humans thought to put a piece of leather, then bone and then later, metal, in the mouth in increase their control rather than ride in halters.
The bit will rest primarily on the very sensitive, mobile and delicate tongue, no matter what style you use. Some styles will give more tongue relief than others, but essentially most will work off tongue pressure to some degree. The tongue is linked to muscles that run down the neck, and then linked to the shoulder and back muscles. Tension and restriction of the tongue leads to tension in the neck, tensions in the shoulder and the back, everything is connected. Any instructor that tells you to ride with “8kg’s of weight in each hand”, as I have read printed in a clinic report in a magazine not that long ago, is not one who has really considered what he is hanging onto on the ends of those reins.
Your own tongue is very sensitive. Any lump of bump in your mouth feels much larger when probed by your tongue that it actually is. Your horse’s tongue is the same, so imagine what it would feel like to have a dirty bit with caked on grass rubbing across the surface, or worse, rusty edges and bevel holes, or sharp edges on poorly finished joins, or a bit that is too large sliding the joint back and forth across the mouth and the rider changes their outside hand…
When I was starting to present to local pony clubs some years ago, I asked my instructor if I can borrow a running gag bit to show the young riders. She handed me one, and said “You can have it. The only time I rode in it, the horse went up over backwards on me.” Really? I asked. I laid the bit over the soft skin of the inside of the forearm and pulled on the rings. Excruciating pain! The bit was so poorly made that with any contact on the reins, the centre join dramatically trapped and pinched my skin, as it would have done to the sensitive tongue of my instructor’s horse that time. No wonder the poor horse then reared up and flipped over.
When you head out to look at a bit in a store – give the forearm test a try, or better yet, try it with your current bit. How does it feel? If there’s any pain for you – imagine what’s happening to your horse!
Next time you ride, take a good look at your bit and bridle. Not just from the outside, part the lips and have look inside as well. Check that the mouthpiece rests away from the canine teeth, and that the horse can comfortably close his mouth so his front teeth are together with the bit in. Now, standing beside him, take up a contact and see how the bit moves in the mouth, watch the tongue. Look where the joint of your lozenge or French plate sits- is the plate so wide that the joins are hitting the upper jaw?
With bits, sometimes the old saying “You get what you pay for” is true. Some cheaper bits have poorly made joins in the mouthpiece, or loose hinges on eggbutts, rough edges on joins or just incorrectly made. Luckily, there are very few of the horrible nickel plated bits still around. Riders should be wary of “gold” rings on bits. Quality copper mouthed bits are made with stainless steel rings as these are stronger and more durable than the softer copper alloys used to make the “gold” coloured rings. The better quality copper mouthed bits are tested for tensile strength to over 100 times the pressure of normal use and will be passed through quality controls prior to sale, and are always sold with stainless steel rings.
For more information visit www.bitbankaustralia.com.au or subscribe to the Bit Bank Australia VIP Newsletter, and receive a code to be redeemed on a FREE copy of the “Beginner’s Guide to Bitting Your Horse”. Click here to subscribe This offer is for a short time only!
Anita Marchesani is the resident bitting expert at Bit Bank Australia. BBA is an online store selling just horse bits and bitting accessories, as well as offering in depth product information for each bit listed, and general advice and information. Anita has presented at Equitana as part of the Education Program, and plans to be there again in Melbourne this year. Sharing knowledge and helping riders understand more about this important piece of tack is something Anita strives to do every day in her work, blogs and through the BBA facebook page.