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19 February,2018

Understanding Bitting In Horses by Sue Paine

Bitting has always been an absorbing topic to me, and so over the past few months I’ve been delighted to be involved with a group of bit fitters, called Horse Bit Fit. The group is formed of 10 or so bitting consultants, dotted around the UK, and I am the proud representative for the South West. Since October 2017 I have been driving all over Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset to meet horses and riders to help and advise with their bitting and bridle issues – as well as continuing as a saddle fitter.

It’s been a fascinating journey, approaching these two aspects of tack fitting. Over the years I’ve seen so many horses and ponies and been able to help make them happier and more comfortable under saddle, and now I’m able to help them be comfortable in their mouths and heads, too. Horses are incredibly stoic (well, most horses are incredibly stoic, the dipstick Thoroughbred out in my field must have missed that memo) and do their best even in saddles that hurt and bridles that pinch, and it is such a joy to see the transformation of the horse when in tack that really fits. A lengthened stride, a softer back, a brighter eye – it’s what makes my job such a dream. It’s such a pleasure to see how a change of bridle, or parts of a bridle – longer, shorter, looser, or even gone entirely! – can make such a positive difference. I’ve seen horses from all walks of life – happy hackers to dressage divas to eventing stalwarts – be transformed thanks to a different bit, longer cheek pieces or a new headpiece.

Attitudes towards tack fitting is changing very quickly. We are able to measure pressure with the use of high speed cameras and pressure mats to more fully understand the effects that the equipment we use on our horses have. I recently attended a dissection which demonstrated how the range of movement in a horse’s hind leg can be seriously hampered when its tongue is restricted with the use of an ill-fitting or unkind bit, or an overly tight noseband. The tongue of a horse is an incredibly strong muscle, which extends way back into the head of the horse, and attaches to a small group of free moving bones known collectively as the hyoid bones. These bones are attached to ligaments, which run down the neck, under the scapula, along the abdomen and eventually into the quarters. Often if a rider is struggling to keep impulsion or to leave show jumps up, or whose horse leans on her hand, the problem can be traced back to the movement of the tongue. Restricting the tongue reduces the horse’s ability to swallow – which often manifests itself in what appears to be an overproduction of saliva. To understand how uncomfortable this would be, just take a second to think about what your own tongue does when you swallow.

Other issues can include breathing restrictions, cheeks pressed too tightly against the molars which can cause abrasions, and trapping the tongue between the bars of the mouth and the teeth.

A Horse Bit Fit consultant will examine the shape of your horse’s head, feel for any pain points around the base of the ears, the poll, the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) area and inside the mouth. We look for characteristics that will inform the choice of bit and bridle, such as fleshy lips, a large tongue, the condition of the teeth and how often they get checked by a dentist. We will look at what you currently use, and watch the horse moving under saddle. Once we have a good idea of any changes we feel would be of benefit to the horse, we start to make alterations, monitoring the response of the horse. We carry a wide selection of bits and bridle parts with us for this purpose.

Having a good vet, farrier, saddler, physio or instructor is a no-brainer if you want to keep your horse sound and comfortable. A consultant from Horse Bit Fit is the final piece of the puzzle.

Sue Paine – Dragonfly Saddlery saddle fitter and Horse Bit Fit Consultant South West

www.dragonflysaddlery.co.uk

http://www.horsebitfit.com/sue-paine-consultant.php

Call: 07496378721


2 Comments

  1. Sarah Porter says:

    Very interesting as just this week have tried our showjumper on a hackamore as not been able to find a bit that he seems happy in – always appears to back off from tongue pressure. Amazed by the lengthening of his hind leg stride – suddenly started forging after one session. So much calmer and happier alteady 🙂

    1. Sue Paine says:

      It is simply amazing how a horse can move once his pressure points are relieved. I have had clients improve their dressage scores by over 5% in less than 3 weeks just by making them more comfortable

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