Doing right by our horses isn’t always obvious, especially when it comes to the equipment we use on them. Arguably, the most important piece of equipment is the bit. This seemingly benign piece of metal (and sometimes other materials) can exert great pain in the wrong hands. But it can also be something our horses rely on to perform at their best. Horses will often tell us when they are not happy with their bit by throwing their heads or worse, such as rearing. They also can tell us when they are comfortable by softly accepting the contact. However, there are points in between that can be difficult to decipher and get to the root cause of. Is it the bit itself, or the rider’s hands, or some other soreness in the horse (eg, neck, hocks) that’s not allowing him to work at his best?
When I got PJ I had to decide what bit to use. He had been ridden in a plain, single-jointed, loose-ring snaffle. I didn’t have one of those that would fit him. In dressage these days, the go-to bit is the KK Ultra. It’s a double jointed bit with a bead in the middle that is supposed to be loved by horses everywhere. I had one of those, so that’s what I put in his mouth. He seemed to be okay in it; however, he curled his lips back so you could see his shiny white teeth for the entire ride – he didn’t open his teeth just the gums. Because he wasn’t chomping the bit, he wasn’t too heavy, and he didn’t throw his head or stick his tongue out, I figured it was fine. I did suspect that he may be too light but he would carry himself correctly and not suck behind the vertical unless he was tired. I’ve been using this bit for the 2+ years I’ve had him, but over the past few months, I’ve noticed that now his mouth is opening more. Granted, I think he needs his teeth done, which will happen with the new year, but I thought it might be worthwhile to see what a different bit would do.
I looked through my bit drawer for what would fit him. A lot of my bits are 5″ because I’ve had smaller horses. PJ is more of a 5.5″. I had a Happy Mouth, single-jointed, eggbutt snaffle that I thought would work, so I tried that first. I didn’t notice a huge difference except when I did up transitions. Then he tossed his head a little. I took that as a sign that he didn’t like the bit. After two rides in it I put back on the KK Ultra and the head tossing went away. Okay, so maybe a single-joint snaffle was not the way to go. Barbara mentioned that she’s had good luck with the Happy Mouth shaped mullen mouth. Of course, bits are not cheap and buying 20 of them to find one that works is not practical for most people, but I had money left over on a tack store gift certificate and decided I might as well use it for a new bit.
Today was the first day I used it. I was disappointed that there wasn’t an immediate and obvious change. I watched in the mirrors and saw that his mouth wasn’t open as much and at times he closed his gums. There was also a lot of saliva (in a good way). I could tell that he was trying to figure out what was in his mouth but I think he liked it. One ride is not a big enough sample size for either him or me to decide if it works, but I have a lesson on Tuesday, so I will ask Barbara what she thinks. I just want PJ to be as happy as he can in his job.