BITS & BITTING Taken from Allen Illustrated Guide to Bits & Bitting by Hillary Vernon Pressure points within the mouth • Bars • Very sensitive & the farther forward you go toward the front teeth the narrower & more sensitive the bars become. • Breeding determines a lot of the width & sensitivity.
Finely bred animals (thoroughbreds) have very narrow bars thinly covered with skin.
Thicker set or less finely bred animals (drafts) have wider bars with fleshy covering making them much less sensitive. • Steady pressure on the bars will normally make a horse lower his head. • Bar area is easily damaged & care must be taken since constant rough use can cause calluses or even splinter the bone.
Any damage ultimately makes the mouth less sensitive. • Tongue • Strong elastic muscle with a noticeable bump ½ way along it approximately where the molars start • Used by the horse to push against the action of the bit sending the bit forward in the mouth • Edges are more sensitive than center • Tongues vary in shape & size & bit should not interfere with it too much • Roof of the Mouth (or Palate) • Very soft & sensitive • Too much pressure on palate will cause horse to try & alleviate it by either opening his mouth or tipping the head over & tucking the chin into the chest • Palate structure varies greatly & care should be taken tat the bit does not create unbearable pressure causing more problems • Lips/Corners of Mouth • Pressure on lips comes mainly from the snaffle (particularly a gag snaffle).
This type of bit causes the horse to open his mouth & point the nose out • Continual pressure on lip corners can cause soreness • Pay attention to front molars of horse wearing a gag because as the bit is drawn up into the mouth the lip corners & insides of cheeks are pushed onto the 1st molar teeth & can be cut if the teeth are too long or sharp.
External pressure points • Chin Groove • The mandible nerve is a large very, sensitive nerve that runs down the edge of the underpart of the jaw & goes into the bone just above the chin. • If a curb chain on a bit stays low in the chin groove as the bit is used, the horse should respond by flexing & relaxing the jaw.
If the curb chain flips up out of the groove as the cheek of the bit is rotated, this moves pressure to the upper curb area & the action is then putting pressure on the sensitive jaw directly above the mandible nerve itself.
This is far more severe & likely to cause resistance. • The heavier the curb chain & the lower it stays when in use the better the result • It is quite possible to cause severe bruising to the curb area & in rare cases a split can form from constant painful pressure. • Poll • Poll area needs to be handled with care as all mechanical control relies on some form of bridle or head device fitting partially or fully to the poll region. • • Poll pressure by itself is not that significant.
It is the poll pressure when combined with the bit &/or nose pressure that gives the best result • If you push down on top of a horse’s head his automatic reaction is to raise the head NOT lower it. • The poll is an area that frequently & easily can be damaged often without an owner knowing it.
Nose • Very complex structure of bone & cartilage • Sensitive & easily damaged • Nosebands placed too low are uncomfortable & more importantly, interfere with breathing • Care must be taken to fit the noseband high enough above the nasal cartilage to ensure comfort Assessing the Structure of the Horse’s Head & Mouth • Thick tongue • Tongue size determines how each bit will work since the action of most bits is divided between the tongue & bars • With a thick tongue the bit will touch the bars much later than it would with a thin tongue • To check how thick the tongue is, part horse’s lips with teeth still closed & see if the tongue appears to fill the mouth cavity & fill or even bulge out over the bars.
If it does there may not be that much room for a very thick bit or perhaps a combination of bits. • If the tongue is thick you must think of creating more room.
For example, a single jointed snaffle might be changed out for a French link snaffle or a medium-port snaffle. • Low curb groove • How long is the curb/chin groove in relation to the corners of the lips? If there is quite a bit of distance between the two, it could mean the curb chain is going to flip up out of the groove & put pressure on the nerve. • In this case, a curb chain might not be used • Short mouth • How short is the mouth from the lip corner to the tip of the nose • If the distance is very short it can cause the center joint of a bit to hang too low & possibly even interfere with the front teeth • If your horse wears a pelham, a long shank is going to hand down well below the end of the mouth.
A shorter cheek will make the picture look in proportion. • Shallow bottom jaw • A bottom jaw with plenty of depth can accommodate the tongue.
As the horse feels pressure from the bit on the tongue it can move the tongue by flattening in onto the floor of the jaw. • A shallow jaw gives a sensitive tongue nowhere to go unless it is drawn back or put over the bit.
A medium port or French link could create more room. • Narrow bottom jaw • Check for a narrow bottom jaw by making a fist & placing it between the rounded cheekbones under the horse’s face.
If you have a very small hand (ladies size 7) & your hand fits, then the jaw is narrow.
Check a few different horses for comparison. • With a narrow bottom jaw care must be taken with the bit.
The joints of a French link snaffle may end up in positions that interfere with the bars on each side or you may need to have a narrower bit than usual. • Width of face • With a triangular face (narrow at the muzzle & quickly getting wider) use of pelhams & Weymouths can be difficult. • Find a bit with a short upper cheek (the part of the cheek above the mouthpiece) that is curved outwards to make sure it clears the face & does not dig into the cheeks. • • • • • A sliding cheek has more movement than a fixed cheek & will angle out from the face better.
Neat or tiny head • Can look cluttered with a normal size snaffle ring • A small pretty pony should have a 2inch bit ring put on an ordinary snaffle mouthpiece to compliment the face Low roof • A very low sensitive roof/palate will not be comfortable in a port that puts too much pressure on this area.
A very low port should be used. • Even a single jointed snaffle may touch the roof of some horse’s mouths too much & they may have to be bitted with very little or nor pressure in this area.
Possibly with a mullen or a low ported or a French link snaffle.
Corners of lips • Can easily be made sore by overuse & old injures need careful consideration to avoid a recurrence. • This rules out most of the gags & any excessive lifting of the hands with a snaffle causing the bit to be pulled sharply into the mouth corners. • In these cases a bit that acts more on the bars & the tongue will keep the action lower in the mouth & away from the corners.
Fleshy lips • Very fleshy lips are difficult to accommodate & can easily be nipped or bruised by a loose ring or sliding cheek bit. • Eggbut sides & fixed cheeks are less risky • Bits must be wide enough & fit very well • A horse with very fleshy lips bitted with a curb-chained bit can get the extra flesh caught in the chain’s hooks.
A flat curb chain hook is a better alternative. Use of External & Internal Aids: the action of a bit can be enhanced by the use of a noseband or training aid.
BUT the action can also become drastically altered & very much more severe than originally intended. • Cavesson noseband • If fitted only for cosmetic effect this noseband should lie 2 finger widths below the projecting cheek bone & you should be able to get 2 fingers between the band & the nose • Fitted a little lower & fastened tighter, the cavesson can discourage the horse from opening his mouth too wide to evade the bit.
In this case a thicker padded band should be used to distribute the pressure more evenly • Crank noseband • If fitted correctly the padding should almost meet at the back of the nose when the noseband is done up to the required tightness; the thinner non-padded tightening strap does not touch the horse. • When circumstances dictate that a flash or drop noseband cannot be used (ie.
With double bridle) this noseband firmly fastened will dissuade the horse from opening his mouth to evade the bit.
Extra padding can be put behind the noseband where pressure is greatest to prevent rubbing. • Flash noseband • The flash is really a cavesson with a detachable lower strap & should be fitted just like a cavesson but high enough so that the lower strap does not interfere with the horse’s breathing. • To have any effect both bands must be fastened quite tightly. • The lower strap should be done up on the side of the horse which is much more comfortable for the horse & not directly under the chin. • Drop noseband • If fitted correctly, this noseband closes the mouth more effectively than any other aid • As the horse opens his mouth to evade the bit, a lot of nose pressure is created which encourages the horse to drop his nose & relax the jaw to relieve the pressure. •
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