Prob­lem #1: The Strap That Binds

Horse & Rider - - Practice Pen -

The cul­prit: In a shank bit, this prob­lem arises from the way the chin strap at­taches to the bit and causes the mouth­piece and the strap to in­ter­act. When rein pres­sure is ap­plied, cer­tain con­fig­u­ra­tions cause the chin strap to pinch the cor­ners of a horse’s mouth, be­tween the strap and the mouth­piece. De­pend­ing on its place­ment, the chin strap’s buckle can cause even fur­ther pinch­ing in this area. If con­sis­tently used in con­junc­tion with harsh hands, this bit setup could cause sores or even tear­ing at the cor­ners of your horse’s mouth.

Horse’s re­ac­tion: Head toss­ing. If you use this type of bit/chin-strap com­bi­na­tion and no­tice that when you ap­ply rein pres­sure your horse throws his head up, pinch­ing is likely the cause. Over time, your horse’s dis­com­fort will pre­vent you from ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cat­ing with him, be­cause he’ll con­stantly try to evade the bit to es­cape the pain. Rid­ers of­ten at­tribute head toss­ing to bad be­hav­ior and ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem with harsher rein pres­sure or us­ing a tie-down. Con­sid­er­a­tions: This prob­lem isn’t al­ways pre­dictable—mean­ing, you won’t be able to rec­og­nize this type of bit/chin-strap com­bi­na­tion just by glanc­ing at the bri­dle as it hangs in the tack store. Make an ini­tial pres­sure test by hold­ing the bit with your hand around the mouth­piece as you ap­ply pres­sure to the shanks. If the chin strap closes in on the mouth­piece more than what seems right rel­a­tive to the amount of pres­sure you ap­plied to the shanks, this bit could be prob­lem­atic. But you might not be able to tell if this bit will ac­tu­ally pinch your horse’s lips un­til you try it out on him. a longer pur­chase. If the pur­chase is too short for the length of your horse’s mouth, it could cause the chin strap to be po­si­tioned too close to the mouth­piece, re­sult­ing in pinch­ing. An­other op­tion is to try a bit that has built-in “slots” (drop-back curb loops) that po­si­tion the chin strap far­ther back and away from the mouth­piece and cor­ners of a horse’s mouth.

Prob­lem #2: Loose Joints

The cul­prit: If you use a swivelshank bit or any type of bit with a jointed mouth­piece, and the hinges on the sides of the mouth­piece where it con­nects to the shanks or the joint on mouth­piece are too loose, the cor­ners of your horse’s mouth can get caught and pinched. Hinges and joints with too much play are typ­i­cally found in in­ex­pen­sive, lowqual­ity bits. High- qual­ity bits tend to be made with smoother and more tightly con­nected hinges.

too much play in the joint on the mouth­piece, a horse’s tongue could also get pinched. In an ef­fort to avoid the dis­com­fort caused by this pinch­ing ac­tion, head-toss­ing is again his re­sponse. Can you blame him?

Con­sid­er­a­tions: Don’t set­tle for low-qual­ity bits. Hav­ing just a few well-made bits in your tack room is bet­ter than a wall cov­ered with cheap, un­us­able bits.

So­lu­tions: Toss the bit. If your horse gen­er­ally does well in this type of bit, in­vest in one with a sim­i­lar de­sign but of bet­ter con­struc­tion. A ba­sic but well-made, loose-ring snaf­fle, for ex­am­ple, would be a bet­ter op­tion, be­cause the rings go through sleeves that at­tach to the mouth­piece. These sleeves pro­tect the cor­ners of a horse’s mouth from any ex­cess play in the hinges, elim­i­nat­ing po­ten­tial pinch­ing. You could also at­tach rub­ber bit guards to the mouth­piece where it con­nects to the shanks. These guards pro­tect a horse’s cheeks and lips from any in­ter­fer­ence or pinch­ing caused by loose joints. Keep in mind, how­ever, that you can’t use rub­ber guards in the show ring. If you mostly trail ride or com­pete in speed events like bar­rel rac­ing or pole bend­ing, this might be a vi­able so­lu­tion.

Prob­lem #3: A Jab­bing Com­bi­na­tion

The cul­prit: A lot of rid­ers use a bro­ken-mouth­piece shanked bit when tran­si­tion­ing a horse from a ba­sic snaf­fle to a curb bit. (Two ex­am­ples of this de­sign are a Tom Thumb bit and an Ar­gen­tine snaf­fle.) In my opin­ion, how­ever, if you’re us­ing this as a tran­si­tional bit, your horse is still in train­ing. That means you’re likely still rid­ing him with two hands and us­ing di­rec­trein pres­sure to ask him to pull his head around to the right or left. Even if you con­sider your horse fin­ished, but you oc­ca­sion­ally use a di­rect rein to bend his head around in the prac­tice pen or on the trail, this bit is go­ing to cre­ate prob­lems.

Let’s say, for ex­am­ple, you use a di­rect right rein to ask your horse to come around to the right. When you

pull your right rein out from your hip to the right, the me­tal part of the shank that at­taches the bit to the bri­dle is go­ing to jab your horse’s right cheek due to the com­bined ac­tion of this bit’s shanks and bro­ken mouth­piece.

Horse’s re­ac­tion: Ev­ery time you use a di­rect rein with this bit, you’ll si­mul­ta­ne­ously stab your horse’s cheek on the same side. While you’re telling him to bend his head in one di­rec­tion, you’re also say­ing, “move away from this poke” in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. An­tic­i­pat­ing that he’s about to be stabbed in the cheek, your horse might be­gin turn­ing his head at the mere feel of your the rein. Or he might start toss­ing his head the mo­ment you mount in an ef­fort to evade any bit pres­sure, or even plant his legs and refuse to move for­ward or back­ward. Con­sis­tently giv­ing your horse these mixed mes­sages could cre­ate any num­ber of be­hav­ior prob­lems, re­sult­ing in a down­ward spi­ral of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. And over time, this pok­ing ac­tion could cause sores, hair loss, and scar­ring on your horse’s cheeks.

Dis­com­fort that leads him to gape his mouth and/or toss his head. A tighter chin strap keeps the mouth­piece from hang­ing low in your horse’s mouth and can elim­i­nate any pinch­ing, as well as gap­ing and head toss­ing.

When you ap­ply rein pres­sure to some bit con­fig­u­ra­tions, a too- loose chin strap pinches

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