Does your bit fit? It seems like a simple question but in fact if you are like me, you probably only have a vague idea. Most of us were taught to assess the height of the bit in the horse’s mouth by the number of lip wrinkles, and to choose a bit just slightly wider than the horse's lips. But when it comes to more detailed fitting, not to mention choosing from the wide range of bit types and styles, many horse owners operate on a trial and error basis.
I'm old enough to remember when we bought saddles simply by choosing we liked out of a catalogue. Today we understand just how much damage an ill-fitting saddle can do, and enlisting the help of certified saddle fitters has become the norm. Will using bit fitters become commonplace too? I suspect so, and for good reason. Seeking expert advice can save you time, money and frustration in the long run.
“My recommendation to anyone would be to invest in a consultation with a certified bit fitter who can come to your barn and evaluate your horse in person,” says Tammy Levasseur, the owner of On the Bit Tack & Apparel and a recently certified bit fitter herself.
“They’ll ask questions about your current training regime, goals, and any issues you are having, and will observe your horse being ridden in your current bit. They’ll examine your horse’s oral anatomy and identify issues related to bitting, and will measure the mouth width and the height of the inter-dental space (the “bars” of the mouth). They’ll also check the height and shape of your horse’s palatine arch, as that plays a big role in determining the optimal bit thickness and shape. There are a lot of bit-fitting myths out there, like the belief that a thicker bit is more gentle and comfortable for the horse. However if your horse has a low palate or small inter-dental space, a thinner bit may actually be much more comfortable.”
I interviewed Tammy for a detailed article in Horse Sport magazine about the many different factors to consider when choosing a bit, including mouthpiece type, cheekpiece type, material and size. Check it out in the most recent issue (the one with Erynn Ballard on the cover, or read it online with a digital subscription.
Tammy came to the barn to meet Gus and evaluate his current bit - I go back and forth between a French link Baucher and a double jointed Myler snaffle. The first thing she pointed out is that both bits are too wide for his mouth. Despite Gus' giant stature, his mouth measures only 5.5 inches wide, meaning a 5.75 inch bit is the best fit for him, not the 6-inch+ ones I had been using.
She found no abnormalities in the size and shape of the inter-dental space or the palatine arch, meaning there were no special considerations needed for bit thickness or shape. Gus does tend to get fussy with his tongue in certain bits, so the one Tammy recommended was the Neue Schule Turtle Tactio. It looks like a pretty standard double-jointed snaffle, however the mouthpiece is angled differently and the lozenge in the centre is unlike any I've ever seen. According to the Neue Schule website the design "focuses rein pressure to the central part of the tongue whilst diverting pressure away from the sensitive regions near the bars."
There is no magic bullet with horses and no bit, no matter how scientifically engineered or costly - will ever replace good training. I'm not expecting this new bit to solve my riding problems (although I wish it would!) but if Gus is happy and comfortable working in it, and it allows me to communicate with him in the lightest way while still being effective, then that's a good thing. I've had a couple of rides in it and so far that seems to be the case. Stay tuned for updates and I'll let you know how it goes.
What kind of bit do you currently use and why? Let me know in the comments section below!
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.