horse, don’t worry about your bit. If not, follow th­ese steps to find the right bit for him.

Eval­u­ate the Bit

To best eval­u­ate your cur­rent bit, en­list the help of a knowl­edge­able horseper­son. This per­son will be able to see be­hav­iors from the ground that you may not be able to see or feel from the sad­dle.

Choose some­one who knows how to read a horse’s ex­pres­sion and pos­ture. As you ride, ask your helper to see whether your horse’s mouth is slightly open. Is there day­light be­tween your horse’s lips?

Are your horse’s lips tense? Is he tens­ing or pinch­ing his nos­trils? If you look at his eye, is it calm with only black show­ing? Or do you see the white part of the eye, in­di­cat­ing pain or dis­com­fort? Is he flick­er­ing or rolling his eyes? Th­ese are all signs of ten­sion. Ask your helper to watch for th­ese signs while you walk your horse on a loose rein with his head down, as you turn and stop. Is your horse’s mouth re­laxed at this slow gait?

Then speed up and start rid­ing with more con­tact. Are there more signs of ten­sion?

If your horse holds his mouth slightly open, and you can see day­light through his lips, it means he’s sucked his tongue into his throat to avoid bit pres­sure. This is very common and usu­ally goes un­no­ticed, ex­cept from the ground. Your horse may be mostly com­pli­ant and obe­di­ent, but hold this mouth-open pose.

If your helper sees any of th­ese signs of bro­ken mouthpiece. Busted: A curb bit has shanks that ap­ply pres­sure on a horse’s mouth us­ing lever­age. A snaf­fle bit has no lever­age or shanks. If your bit has a bro­ken mouthpiece, but also has shanks, it’s a curb, not a snaf­fle.

With­out shanks, a snaf­fle bit pro­vides di­rect con­tact from the rider’s hand to the bit’s mouthpiece.

A Tom Thumb “snaf­fle” isn’t a snaf­fle at all. Even though it has a jointed mouthpiece, its long shanks ac­tu­ally ap­ply max­i­mum tongue pres­sure. The joint al­lows the bit to col­lapse over the horse’s jaw like a nutcracker and put down­ward pres­sure on the tongue, like a nutcracker. bit dis­com­fort, try a new bit or bit­less head­gear.

Bust Bit Myths

The same horse, out­fit­ted in a com­bi­na­tion bit with nose pres­sure, was a gen­tle­man on the trail the next day. The rider gained con­trol of the horse’s nose and could give him di­rec­tion with­out pulling on his mouth.

This horse is calmly play­ing with his bit. Note that his eyes are re­laxed and his mouth is hang­ing loose even though it’s open.

A horse may avoid the bit by open­ing his mouth or stick­ing out his tongue.

On a re­cent tele­vi­sion shoot, this horse and rider ap­plied to work with Julie Good­night for

help rid­ing out alone on the trail. As it turned

out, the horse’s bit pro­vided lit­tle con­trol; he turned his head and headed home. He could raise his head and open his mouth to avoid the

bit’s pres­sure.

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