1: Curved Mouthpiece (sometimes with a port) Many traditional bits lie flat on a horses tongue, restricting swallowing and leading to resistance. The generous forward curve of all Myler bits gives the horse room to swallow freely, encouraging him to relax and listen to the rider. The curve also ensures that pressue is evenly distributed across the tongue. Ports can be introduced for even more tongue relief as the horse progresses through his training.
2: Barrel The centre barrel present in nearly all Myler mouthpieces is not a roller but merely a sleeve covering the joint. It protects the tongue from getting caught in the joint; spreads the centre pressure over a wide, smoother area: ensures each half of the mouthpiece is of equal length (unlike a traditional single jointed snaffle); limits the degree of collapse of jointed bits - preventing the nut-cracker action of traditional snaffles; and allows independent side movement (see point 4)
3. Hooks Most Myler cheek pieces have hooks, or slots, to fix the position of the bridle and reins on the cheek ring. The top slots are for the cheek pieces to stabilise the bit inside the horses mouth and hold it off the tongue when pressure is not being applied by the rider. This gives the horse a much clearer signal and reward. The rein hook gives the rider more leverage so the bit can be rotated onto the tongue to signal the horse effectively with less backward pressure on the reins. Use of the hooks optimises ISM (see point 4)
4. Independent side movement (ISM) The clever engineering used in the Myler bits allows the rider to isolate one side of the bit to give clear and unambiguous signals for lifting a shoulder and for balancing , bending, and collection. The joints in traditional bits often catch when one side is moved, preventing each side of the mouthpiece from working independently, and this can lead to contradictory signals and resistance.
5. Smooth Action Covered by the barrel, the patented bushing system in the Myler joints gives the bits a much smoother action than traditional bits and the horse therefore receives a much clearer signal. The joints on traditional bits will often catch and jerk and can trap a fleshy tongue, even making it bleed.
6. Copper Inlay Small copper inserts on the mouthpiece act on the inside of the lips to encourage salvation. This helps to keep the mouth moist and comfortable. Some mouthpieces are also available in sweet iron to encourage salvation.
7. Slimmer Mouthpieces Myler mouthpieces are slimmer than many traditional bits, so as to fit comfortably in the horse's mouth. Most horses mouth simply do not have room for a very thick bit, which can cause constant pressure and discomfort to the tongue and therefore cause resistance.
THE BARREL IS A SLEEVE TO PROTECT THE HORSE'S TONGUE FROM THE JOINT, IT IS NOT A ROLLER.
The Myler Bitting System was invented by three American brothers, who were looking for a gentler, more effective way of communicating with horses.
The Myler Bitting Philosophy is based on making the horse as comfortable as possible in its mouth, so it can be relaxed and concentrate on what its rider is asking it. As all horses are different in their anatomy, disposition and behaviour, and as their needs change throughout their training, there are 30 different Myler Bit mouthpieces and a wide choice of cheek styles, to make sure that there is a suitable choice of bit for each individual horse and its rider.
No bit will hurt a horse on its own without someone hauling on the reins. Equally, no bit will train a horse, or make up for impatience or poor riding. Effective bitting is only part of the whole approach to good horsemanship, but just like every other part, it needs careful and informed attention. The Myler Bit range enables the rider to choose the most comfortable bit with the clearest signalling action for each individual horse, so the communication between horse and rider is as smooth, effective and efficient as possible.
Not being able to talk, horses are able to communicate with us only by resistance or relaxation. The main reason horses resist bits, in whatever way, is to escape the pressure on their tongues, which prevents swallowing, (try pressing your finger onto the centre of your tongue and trying to swallow).
Generally, bit pressure works on the tongue and the bars (and the head in some cases), to control and train the horse. Most bits, and definitely all snaffles, roll down into the tongue to a certain extent (depending on the cheek style used), when the rider exerts rein pressure. The main differences with the Myler system are:
Most of the cheeks are available with hooks, (like slots), to fix the position of the bridle and the reins on the cheek ring of the bit. The top hook (for the cheek pieces) does precisely what the fulmer, or full cheek, does when used, (as it was designed to be), with leather keepers. It stabilises the bit inside the horse's mouth and holds it off the tongue when the rider is not applying pressure. When used, the rein hook allows the rider to get more leverage, exerting pressure on the tongue as the bit was designed to do, - but more efficiently, - so less pressure is necessary. In this way the backward pressure on the horse's mouth is less severe and/or prolonged. It also allows a little pressure to be applied to the poll. The hooks, therefore, allow the bit to be used as it was designed to be, but more effectively, more gently, and with instant release for the horse as soon as it does what has been asked of it. This will also help the rider to have quieter hands.
Most Myler Bits have independent side action, wherein one side of the bit moves without the other, using the barrel as a pivot. This gives a clearer signal when turning or working a horse that is stiff on one rein, or when lifting a shoulder on a bend, as it allows that side of the bit to be activated, without at the same time driving the centre joint down into the tongue, as happens with an ordinary snaffle.
The Myler Combination Bit is one of the kindest bits available. It spreads the rein pressure exerted by the rider over several different areas. Initially, it acts on the nose; poll and back of the jaw, with the mouthpiece "floating". 1/3 of the total pressure will be felt in each of these three areas. Only if the rider continues to pull on the reins will the mouthpiece engage, as it moves up against a little "stop" on the cheek ring and activates on the tongue and bars like a "normal" mouthpiece. At this point, the pressure exerted by the rider is spread over 5 areas - nose; poll; jaw: tongue; and bars. The Myler Combination Bit is available in 5 different mouthpieces and in a short shanked, medium shanked and a long shanked version. It is particularly suitable as the first bit for a young horse, which will be used to head-pressure signals from being led in a head collar. It is also a great bit for horses who are very nervous in the mouth; ex-racehorses who have been trained to "run into their mouths" and are reluctant to come into a schooled-horse outline; and older horses who think they know it all and will benefit from a very different feel in the communication they receive from the rider.
Rather than just using one bit throughout your horse's working life, the Myler system is progressive and different bits may be required as your horse moves through his training. The bits are rated according to the horse's level of training:
These bits are designed for the young horse beginning training, where basic obedience is being asked for (e.g. trot to walk, walk to halt, etc.) and where few of the body aids are understood. Myler Level One bits use tongue pressure, bar pressure and, depending on the style of bit, some curb or poll pressure, but all are designed to release pressure on the horse's mouth and head when he does as he is asked.
These bits are for horses with a basic training, which are progressing in a certain discipline, with some degree of balance and collection. At this stage the rider wants to refine and define his aids for more precise work while still using the tongue to a certain extent.
These bits are designed for more "finished" horses from whom quite a high degree of collection and athleticism is expected and who have a comprehensive understanding of all the aids. Mouthpieces at this level give more tongue relief, working on the bars more than the tongue, depending on the horse's disposition.
The Myler approach is that you allow a horse more freedom gradually as he progresses through his training, rather like gradually allowing a child more and more responsibility as he matures. The Myler's point out that we do not communicate and interact with a small child in the same way we do with a teenager, or indeed another adult, so why should we seek to use the same communication tool throughout our horse's training? Most snaffle-type bits are Level One, and if a horse is resisting a traditional snaffle, there is not much point putting him into a Myler Level One bit, because it will act in a similar way, (albeit more comfortably). The horse is probably trying to communicate that he needs more tongue room, so a Myler Level Two or Myler Level Three bit, depending on what stage he is at, would probably be more suitable.
It is vital that horses are bitted individually for their specific needs. All Myler Retailers are trained to be able to help their customers select the most appropriate bit for their particular horse; further advice is available through Belstane if required. The Myler's book "A Whole Bit Better" is a good, straightforward read, with lots of information on how bits work in the horse's mouth in general, and about Myler Bits in particular. It costs about £10 and really does help to identify what a horse is trying to tell us about the bit in his mouth. A video of the same title is also available. This covers a comprehensive seminar given by Dale Myler, includes interviews with top riders, drivers and trainers from all disciplines; and uses detailed graphics to explain the principles of good bitting.
The Myler Team UK was formed in 2002 with a group of well-respected horsemen from across all disciplines, both amateur and professional, including both top and up-and-coming junior competitors. The Team members are all enthusiastic proponents of The Myler Bitting System and are working with Belstane to promote better understanding of The Myler System, and, indeed, bitting in general.
Team Members include Christopher Bartle; Nicky Barrett; Jeanette Brakewell; Beccy Broughton; Gary Docking; Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks; Richard Maxwell; Bob Mayhew; Robert Oliver; Nick Skelton; and many others.
Read more about the Myler Team UK in our articles section.
The horse's mouth comprises the lips, jaw, teeth, bars, tongue and palate, and is one of the least understood parts of the horse's anatomy.
The inside of the horse's mouth is like a cavern, created by the jaws, walled with the teeth, roofed by the mouth and filled with the tongue.
The lips are covered by a thin layer of skin and are very sensitive.
The bit comes into contact with the lips in the corner of the mouth, and if not properly fitted, can pinch painfully and cause damage.
Check the corners of your horse's lips regularly for scars or sores indicating an ill-fitting bit.
Horses have three kinds of teeth. The incisors at the front, used with the lips for cutting and pulling food into the mouth; the canine teeth (or tushes); and the cheek teeth, known as molars and premolars.
The cheek teeth are the most likely to require dental attention due to wear causing a painfully sharp edge. Bitting problems associated with the teeth normally arise in connection with the front premolars and wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are small teeth that can appear directly in front of the premolars, one on either side but often angled and mis-aligned. They can be a problem because they are situated exactly where the bit will sit in the horse's mouth.
The bars are the teeth-free space on the jaw where there are no teeth, between the premolars and the tushes.
The shape of the bars can vary from v-shaped and sharp to broad and flat. The covering skin can also vary greatly in thickness. The shape and skin thickness will make a big difference to the sensitivity of the bars and the most suitable bit.
The tongue is a large, strong muscle containing literally thousands of highly sensitive nerves. It is used primarily for eating, drinking and swallowing.
Horse's tongues can vary enormously in size and thickness. A very wide and fleshy tongue may be seen squishing out between the horse's teeth when the side of the upper lip is raised. It is important to assess the size and condition of the tongue, not least to establish how much room there is in the horse's mouth to accommodate any kind of bit. A very large tongue may greatly restrict the ability of the bit to meet and therefore act on the bars.
The palate, or roof of the mouth, is covered with hard flesh and skin and is slightly curved upwards towards the horse's ears. The palate is a sensitive area and the height of the palate will also dictate the amount of space there is inside the mouth for the bit. The average palate is 2" above the tongue.
Two other areas of the horse's head, the chin (and back of the jaw in some cases) and the poll, are also important in the working of many bits. The chin will receive pressure from a curb strap or chain into the curb groove. The poll, located at the 2ndvertebra at the top of the horse's neck will received downward pressure through the headpiece of the bridle. Pressure on the poll will release endorphins into the horse's system, which will have a calming, pain controlling effect.
Some of the tongue muscles connect to a small set of bones in the throat called the hyoid bones. Originating from the hyoid bones are two major neck muscles, one connecting with the sternum and one with the inside of the shoulder. Therefore, discomfort and tension in the tongue will lead to tension all the way down to the bottom of the neck. If the sternum muscles are tense, the horse cannot raise its back and use the circle of muscles that connect the poll to the tail and travel along the underside of the horse back up to the poll. In addition, there are muscles connecting the hyoid bones to the temporo-mandibular joint (the TMJ, or jaw,) which is an important centre for nerves involved in balance and proprioception (part of the horse's coordination system.)
Bits generally have two main parts, the cheeks and the mouthpiece.
The cheeks can be varied in style, depending on the discipline, the needs of the rider and the aesthetic effect on the horse's head. They connect the bridle and reins with the mouthpiece, a key communication tool between horse and rider.
Shank cheeks give the rider leverage, allowing him to exert both backward and downward pressure in the mouth, downward pressure on the poll through the headpiece and inward pressure against the jaw from the curb strap. The longer and straighter the shank, the quicker the action and greater the leverage, so the quality of the rider's hands must be taken into account when choosing shank length.
Some ring cheeks (e.g. Myler "hooked" eggbutt cheeks; Hanging Cheeks; or Full Cheeks used with keepers,) will allow some leverage action to tilt the mouthpiece downwards in the mouth, and some poll pressure to encourage the horse to come "onto the vertical".
Mouthpieces are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, thicknesses and metals. Each design is meant to communicate in a certain way in a particular horse's mouth with a particular rider and so the choice of mouthpiece is relative to each horse and rider combination. The mouthpiece shape is very important because of the huge variation in mouth anatomy.
Mouthpieces generally come in two basic designs, solid and jointed. A solid mouthpiece consists of a non-folding bar attached to the cheeks and is used to exert direct pressure on the tongue, bars, lips and/or palate. The bar can be curved and since the advent of Myler's patented Independent Side Movement, may have a significant degree of rotational movement to make the rider's signals clearer to the horse.
Jointed mouthpieces consist of two or more pieces connected with a joint that allows the bit to fold in or collapse on itself. Besides acting on the tongue, bars, lips and/or palate, a jointed mouthpiece will also exert inward pressure, via a squeezing action on the tongue, bars and lips, this collapsing action increasing in pressure as the rider pulls backwards on the reins.
Mouthpieces with ports allow tongue room, which will be more comfortable for the horse and allow it to swallow. In the Western Riding tradition, correctly fitted ported bits are designed to use gentle, isolated applications of palate pressure to encourage the horse to break at the poll. However, Western riders do not maintain a contact like their English counterparts, so none of the English style bits in the Myler range have ports which will go near a normal horse's palate, they are just designed to give tongue relief.
Pelhams have two reins, the top rein activates direct pressure on the mouth and the bottom rein utilises leverage pressure with a curb chain and gives a little poll pressure.
(American name "Kimberwick").
The Kimblewick bit has a D-shaped cheek with a curb chain for increased leverage and a small purchase (the ring to which the headpiece is attached) to give poll pressure The cheek has different options for positioning the rein. If the upper slot is used, the bit will have a direct action, if the lower rein slot is used, it results in leverage and curb pressure through the curb chain.
Gags exert backward and downward pressure to the mouth, before downward pressure is applied to the poll. Some gags work via a sliding pulley system, connecting the reins directly to the headstall through the cheek. Others utilise a sliding shank on a cheek ring.
A bitless bridle, the Hackamore uses the same principles as a leverage bit but works off the nose rather than the horse's mouth. As well as acting on the nose, curb and poll, a Hackamore should be fitted so as to restrict the horse's breathing when pressure is applied by the rider. For this reason it is not a good option for a style of riding where a constant rein contact is applied.
Various designs of combination bit are available. The definition normally encompasses a bit with features of both shank and ring style bits, sometimes also with hackamore action. Arguably, this can include Pelhams, Kimblewicks and Gags. The Myler Combination Bit, however, is a hybrid of the bit and the hackamore, combining mouthpiece, shank, ring cheek, curb and noseband to utilise the pressure areas of the nose, curb, poll and mouth. Because the pressure exerted by the rider is dispersed between the various points, the Myler Combination Bit offers an extremely humane communication tool.
Whilst a thin mouthpiece will exert relatively more concentrated pressure over its smaller area, a thick mouthpiece is not necessarily kinder for the horse because of limited capacity in the mouth.
Mouthpieces can be made of various metals, rubber, and even plastics. Whilst rubber and plastic are obviously softer and less cold, they can catch and drag a dry lip and need to be replaced more often than metal. Stainless steel, whilst being strong, comparatively cheap and smart, has little taste and can dry some horse's mouths. Copper encourages salivation which aids a soft mouth, but copper is expensive and soft and so an alloy of copper, Sweet Iron, is often used as it combines the advantages of copper with none of the disadvantages.
Most English style Myler Bit mouthpieces are made of stainless steel, but there are small strips of copper inserted at each corner to encourage salivation. Exceptions are the Loose Ring Comfort Snaffles and the Combination Bit mouthpieces, which are all made from Sweet Iron (these also have the copper inserts).
Myler Snaffle bits are unusual in being able to take a curb chain, attached with J-hooks or quick-release hooks to the small holes at the top of the cheeks. Snaffle curb chains lie far higher up the horse's jaw than the curb chain found on a Pelham or Kimblewick.
The bit works by causing pressure on various points on the horse's mouth and/or head as the rider pulls on the reins.
With the correct bit; adequate training; and competent riding, the rider is able to communicate effectively with his much larger and stronger partner.
Most bits work largely off a horse's tongue, creating a backward and downward pressure into the tongue when pressure is exerted on the reins. Many bits can only act on the part of the tongue which sticks up above the top of the bars. Jointed bits, however, can drive downwards into the centre of the tongue way past the level of the bars.
To get an idea of how this feels: put the tip of your finger onto the centre of your tongue and press down with just a little pressure. Now try walking around for a few minutes while still pressing on your tongue. Try and swallow. NOW imagine replacing your finger with a pound of cold steel and replacing the pressure with the full body-weight of a rider standing in their stirrups and hauling on the reins.
Horses produce around 6 gallons of saliva a day, salivating at the highest rates when exercising strenuously (e.g. being ridden). Horse's tongues are just like ours, they must twist and elevate in order to swallow. If the bit is pulled hard onto the horse's tongue by the rider, he will not be able to swallow.
The horse will seek relief from the tongue pressure, and ideally will relax at the poll and bring his head down onto the vertical (the front of his face at a 90oangle to the ground). When the horse responds in this way, the rider ideally responds straight back, releasing the pressure on the reins and allowing the horse to work in a "Comfort Zone". In practice, however, inadequate rider knowledge or skill and poor bit design will often not give the horse enough tongue relief even if he does come onto the vertical, so he will continue to resist and evade the action of the bit.
In addition, if a horse is constantly working against the rein pressure on his tongue, he builds up tension through his entire lower neck. This will lead to the horse overdeveloping muscles in the underside of his neck as opposed to his top line, weakening his entire action, giving him a poor appearance and making it harder for him to relax at the poll and come onto the vertical in the first place.
Bits act on the bars with backwards and downwards pressure on the top of the bars, or inward pressure on the sides of the bars, depending on the mouthpiece. Whilst the horse is generally more tolerant of bar pressure than tongue pressure, the bars can be bruised and damaged permanently, so the tongue is the best buffer to use in a young horse needing more rein aids.
Poll pressure is exerted when the bit cheek is designed to give a little leverage. Poll pressure will release endorphins which have a calming, analgesic effect. Most horses therefore respond well to poll pressure, which encourages them to break at the poll.
Curb Pressure from double bridles, Pelhams and Kimblewicks acts upwards and forwards against the chin groove where the mandible nerve is located, and will encourage the horse to break at the poll. Too tight a chain will cause its over-engagement without using the pressure points of the mouth, thereby causing unnecessary pain to the horse. Too loose a curb chain causes the mouthpiece to roll too far forward before it becomes effective.
With a Myler snaffle, the curb chain sits far higher up the back of the horse's jaw. The chain will help the bit remain stable in the horse's mouth, it provides another point of pressure and encourages the horse not only to break at the poll but also to "roll over from the withers" i.e. round his back and neck for the optimum working position.
Most bits, when no pressure is exerted by the rider, lie directly on the surface of the tongue and bars, and so a thick heavy bit can be uncomfortable even without rein pressure.
Traditionally-jointed bits can catch the tongue in the joint, even making it bleed in extreme cases. There is also no limit to their degree of collapse, so they "nutcracker" in onto the outside of the lips and bars.
Bit design can lead to the horse receiving confusing signals: If a rider is trying to lift a shoulder or work on a stiff side, the rein signal will be partially carried through to the other side of the bit, either because the mouthpiece is solid, or because the joint rings can lock. With a single jointed snaffle, the rider can be giving the correct aid to the horse to lift his shoulder, whilst the bit design causes the joint to lock and the centre of the bit to drive down into the middle of the horse's tongue. This results in "miscommunication" or contradictory signals from rider to horse.
Myler Bits are designed to avoid many of these problems. They are comparatively thin, so the horse has less to accommodate in his mouth. All the mouthpieces are curved and many are ported to allow greater tongue room, and most cheeks have the facility, with the hooks, to stand the bit up in the horse's mouth so it doesn't lie on the tongue and bars unless actively pulled there by the rider.
There is a wide variety of mouthpiece shapes to suit different mouth structures. The centre barrel acts as a safe, comfortable sleeve over the patented bushing system which allows each side of the mouthpiece to be activated independently, thus avoiding miscommunication. The barrel also restricts the degree of collapse of jointed mouthpieces, giving them more of a wrap feel rather than a nutcracker effect.
If the horse is comfortable and relaxed in his mouth, he can focus on what his rider is asking him to do.
There are various signs of resistance to the rider, including:
Being Behind the Bit, where the horse brings his head back further than 90oto the ground, tucking his head into his chest. This moves the horse's centre of gravity forward, pushing his weight onto his forehand and making him stiff and heavy in the shoulder and weak in the hind quarters.
The rider will automatically give the horse more rein to encourage him to move his head out, and the horse will thereby have reduced the rein pressure on his tongue so he is able to swallow.
Being Inverted, or Above the Bit, where the horse pokes his nose, or flips his head, snatching at the reins. The horse will be stiff through the poll, with his lower neck braced and possibly overdeveloped at the expense of his top line.
The horse is trying to change the angle of bit pressure, so he can get his tongue underneath the pressure, where he will be free to swallow.
Over-Active Mouth, including:
He is using his tongue and jaw to move the mouthpiece away from his tongue so he can swallow.
Again, the horse has changed the angle at which the pressure acts on the mouth. Only the bottom half of the jaw moves, and as it drops, it takes the tongue away from the pressure and allows the horse to swallow.
The tongue will move with the lower jaw, thereby evading some of the pressure from the bit and allowing the horse to swallow.
All these actions will free the tongue up so the horse can swallow.
Leaning, the horse can lean forward onto the bit, with his head lowered, making him very heavy on the forehand.
The horse is trying to get his tongue below the action of the bit so he can swallow.
However the horse resists the rider's rein signals, it is his attempt to evade the pressure of the bit on his tongue so he can swallow.
The traditional approach to a resisting horse is to increase the severity of the bit, or to add gadgets such as flash nosebands or martingales. These do not solve the problem, but merely mask the symptoms, forcing the horse, through pain or immobility, to submit to the bit.
The Myler approach is completely the opposite. Seeing the bit far more as a means of communication than a means of control, the Myler's advocate using the most comfortable bit possible, so that no restrictive gadgets are required to force the horse into the "correct" position. The horse's tongue should be given as much release as is right for that particular animal at that particular stage in its training, and the most appropriately shaped bit selected to suit the mouth of each individual horse.
The Myler's aim is to make the horse comfortable and accepting of its bit, so it can relax and concentrate on what its rider is asking it to do.
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