[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his month we look at damage to the mouth caused by poorly fitting and unsuitable bits. If a horse is poorly fitted, he will experience and express discomfort. Discomfort can explain a lot of a horse’s behaviour. Many horses have damage in their mouths caused by the bit or mistreatment of the bit, which owners may be unaware of. Natascha sees lots of bit-related damage to the mouth during her work as a bit fitting consultant.
Wounds in the corners of the mouth
The most common damage caused by the wrong choice of bit and bit handling are wounds in the corners of the mouth. Of course, this can originate from pulling the reins too much and bad riding in general, but I also see this a lot with riders who have very friendly rein handling. So what can cause these wounds and what can be done about it? There can be many causes behind the problem, and these are divided into four main categories:
- The bit is rubbing.
2. The bit is giving too much pressure on one spot all the time.
3. The bit doesn’t fit.
4. The horse has a physical problem.
What causes rubbing of the bit? When the bit hangs too low and the rider takes up the reins, the bit will slide up the mouth. Even with a loose and friendly contact, the bit will still go up and down in the mouth and rub the corners. If the horse is sensitive, this will damage the mouth. The assumption that ‘hanging the bit lower is kinder for the horse’ isn’t always true. If you ride with some rein contact, this is something to keep an eye out for. The solution in this case is adjusting the fit of the bit to where it is more stable in the mouth.
Another cause of rubbing is a rider who has an unsteady hand. If the bit moves from the left to the right, you can also create rubbing wounds. But if the rider has a steady hand, and the horse is moving his lower jaw from left to right, you will have the same problem. You will have to search for a bit that makes the horse more comfortable to keep his jaws steady, and check for physical restrictions that could possibly be found in the joint of the jaw or in the teeth. Let a dentist check your horse regularly to rule out any physiological issues. People think tightening the noseband is a solution for a lot of problems, but this is merely treating the symptoms, not finding the cause.
Too much pressure in a concentrated area
If a bit is too thick, a horse cannot move the bit when it is not comfortable, and it will end up staying in one place all the time. When the reins are pulled, the bit will create more pressure and wounds can easily occur. When the bit is too high in the mouth, the same thing can happen. Make sure there is some space for movement in the corners of the mouth, but not too much or too little.
The bit doesn’t fit the horse
Depending on the size of the horse’s mouth, the bit may be too thick and consequently won’t fit, but the shape of a bit can also cause wounds in the corners of the horse’s mouth. When you ride with a double-jointed bit and the middle part is too wide, the inside of the lip will end up getting stuck between the joint link of the bit – especially when the rider makes a single rein aid. When the bit is too wide, the chance that the rider pulls the bit half out of the mouth is greater than with a bit that is the right size. These wounds are a bit more difficult to detect because they are more on the inside of the corner of the mouth. To check if your horse has wounds, you need to pull the inside of the corner of the mouth to the outside. The solution for this is finding a bit that doesn’t pinch the mouth, and this will take time. Firstly, you have to let the wound heal and then you have to try another bit. The material of the bit can also be the root of the problem. Some bits can cause burn wounds in a dry mouth, such as rubber or plastic bits.
If the horse has a wound on only one side of the mouth, most of the time this has to do with the rider favouring one side, or a physical restriction of the horse bending to that side. The rider wants to make a turn to the right, but the horse’s body wants to keep the neck or the whole body to the left. If the physical problem is not fixed, no bit will help you out. If the horse is not balanced on both reins and always stronger on one side, it’s recommended to seek help from a physiotherapist, chiropractor or vet. A healthy horse should at least be able to walk in a round circle to both sides without becoming strong on one side.
Wounds on the bars of the horse
Wounds on the bars will occur when a horse withdraws the tongue or presses the tongue against the bit. If the tongue is withdrawn enough, the bit will come into contact with the bars of the mouth instead of resting on the tongue. This can damage the bones of the bars and the gums. You see this a lot with horses in a double bridle. It’s already difficult to fit one bit correctly – two bits are an even bigger challenge. The withdrawal of the tongue influences the mouth and the whole body. The solution in this case is a combination of bit fitting, training and checking the horse’s physical shape.
Wounds on the tongue
Fortunately not as common as the other wounds described, I still see a few of them. In most of these cases, the length and shape of the tongue makes proper bit fitting a challenge. If your horse’s tongue damages easily, the best thing to do is ride with a rein pressure device and find out what agrees with the tongue without causing damage and in which bit the horse rides most lightly.
The full article appears in the July issue (112) of HQ.