It never ceases to amaze me how much time and money is spent and expert advice sought regarding the saddle and how little, by comparison, is given to the bit which is equally as important when we are trying to make our horses as comfortable as possible in order to develop a willing way of going and harmonious relationship.
If your mouthpiece is too wide then no matter how much you support your inside rein there will be too much play and it will slide across the mouth causing friction and losing its position. For instance a lozenge will not remain centrally on the tongue.
People are usually left handed or right-handed and it is perfectly normal for a horse to be better on one rein than the other, although this usually evens up through training. However if this is much exaggerated, it may be (for instance if the horse will not bend to the left) that the right hand side of the mouth is sore, as obviously the rein is not being taken forward on the right side. This may be due to over-sensitivity on that bar and the way to check the bars out is to use the ball of the finger or thumb and exert even pressure on both sides. Obviously if he flinches or throws his head up this is indicative of over-sensitivity.
If trauma such as bruising or cuts are visible, the mouth must be rested with no bit in many horses are kept ticking over in a hackamore. There are many causes of over-sensitivity and if this is found then veterinary assistance should be sought as xrays may be required as part of the diagnostic procedure. For instance, over the years we have found remnants, roots and sharp shards of Wolf teeth, blind wolf teeth and inflammation between the bars and the periosteal lining. Treatment is available for all of the above conditions and the prognosis is generally good. Bone spurs, if found, are not always as easily treated however, the discomfort may be avoided with the appropriate design of mouthpiece and cheek that removes the pressure from the problem area.
Mouth conformation varies enormously between breeds. For instance the Thoroughbreds generally have "easy" mouth conformation; the tongue tends to lie neatly on the floor of the mouth with plenty of room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth (upper palate). A thin tongue will result in more bar pressure from the bit. However, they can have angular, thin skinned bars so a slightly thicker mouthpiece will give more weight bearing surface and be kinder.
Figure 1: Gently parting the lips this is quite a large Dutch Warmblood tongue this horse was ridden in a French Link Eggbutt Snaffle. He was not stretching into the contact and was often overbent (behind the vertical) he now goes very happily in a consistent contact in the 8017 Demi Anky Snaffle. The clever shape of the Demi Anky does not squeeze the tongue's sensitive outer edges and usually encourages a contact.
Figure 2: This pony is a Welsh x Connemara with very sensitive lips and mouth (pink) and was prone to rubbing in the corners of the lips on both sides he was being ridden in a loose ring single jointed snaffle and his way of going was to toss his head then pull down trying to snatch the rein out of the riders hands. As you will see there is no real room between the tongue and the upper palate (roof of the mouth).
He is now extremely happy and relaxed, working in a nice outline and into a contact in the NS Tranz Beval (8022BEV) and he has sustained no rubs. The lozenge has eliminated the nutcracker action, there is nothing to interfere with the upper palate and the pressure in the corner of the lip is greatly reduced. The NS Tranz Beval 8022BEV is a very popular bit with the Showing fraternity.
The Irish Draught Cross and the Dutch Warmblood are renowned for having a particularly large tongue and thus everything is nearer the palate. Arabs and Connemaras also usually have very little room for a bit - the tongue is not always larger but the palate is generally lower even if they have not got the dished head - this obviously leaves less room for everything. This usually means that a single jointed bit with a nutcracker action will not be suitable. However, we now have many bits designed to accommodate this mouth conformation. Trakehners, especially when they have the dished face, can prove tricky to bit as they are generally extremely sensitively skinned and this sensitivity continues through the mouth. The same degree of skin sensitivity may apply to Cremellos and Appaloosas etc that have the pink lips.
Shires, Clydesdales, etc, generally have very fleshy foldy lips and occasionally a loose ring even though of high quality and correctly fitted may nip and they usually have the fleshy tongues as well.
We can be much more resourceful now when sourcing a bit in order to accommodate the variance in mouth conformation and the Neue Schule Collection is extremely innovative in design and incorporates both thicker/thinner and smaller/larger mouthpieces.
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