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Signs You Have the Wrong English Bit

Don't let tack problems get between you and your horse.

By Cindy Hale | 1/6/2003

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Have you noticed that your horse is flipping his head when you take up contact with the reins? Does he seem to open his mouth as a form of resistance? How about the position of his headset? Is your horse coiled up like a spring, with his chin on his chest? All of these may be symptoms that you are using the wrong English bit on your horse.

While many frustrations under saddle are associated with training issues rather than problems with the bit, issues with tack can also make your horse difficult to ride. For example, a horse that literally tries to take the bit from your hands by flipping his head or rooting forward and down with his mouth probably needs a tougher bit. Don't go too far to the opposite extreme, however. If you've been using a smooth snaffle, switch to one with a slow twist. On the other hand, a horse that continually opens his mouth may have a low palate, and the jointed mouthpiece of a traditional snaffle bit may be bruising the roof of his mouth. Try a French link or Dr. Bristol bit, both of which feature a flat middle section that lies on the horse's tongue.

Finally, a horse that avoids rein contact by arching his neck and pinning his chin nearly to his chest is said to be "behind the bit." In most instances this is caused by a combination of a feisty horse, a rider using hand aids that are too strong and a much too severe bit. By returning to a milder bit and working on simple exercises on the flat, the horse should learn to accept the bit and the rider's hands. If you investigate alternatives in bit choices, you'll be on your way to more successful rides under saddle.

Rumor has it the author has enough bits to start a museum. 

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Reader Comments

tabytha    roy, WA

5/31/2012 10:32:11 AM

I just started my 5 year old standardbred and i use a french link snaffle, he sometimes is really good with it and sometimes is just really chompy. its only been his 11th ride with it, and im just wondering if this means hes still just getting used to it or what.
by the way he is a very impatient horse as well, his father was that way haha.
also is there a good technique to get him to know how to turn when i turn him and listen when pull left or right on the reins, hes amazing at the stop lol

Tammy    Stanton, KY

6/10/2010 12:34:07 PM

I use a 3 piece Dr. Bristol on my horse in training and he accepts it well. I get a good head set on him and his mouth is quiet. Is a Dr. Bristol harsh on their mouth? What should I be using but stay soft on his mouth. I would like to keep him soft as I am working him hunter under saddle.

Eliza    Marne, MI

6/7/2010 5:00:12 AM

I have an eleven yr ol norweigian fjord. I want to ride her in english and saddle seat classes, but i cant find a bit that can get through to her. i have very soft aids and i hate kicking her and tugging on her to make her go. i currently ride her in a jointed kimberwick and a straight bar pelham. I have tryed other bits like a full cheek snaffle and some western curb bits. nothing seems to work. help!!!

Matt    ,,,, KS

3/10/2010 9:35:10 PM

I only ride in snaffle bits and my horses are fine. I hate seeing horses with harsh bits in their mouths with riders that are rough on the horses mouth. Then they wonder why their horse is sour. But I do agree some horses need a slightly stronger bit.

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