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September 2021 issue is now available!


Is It Time to Change Bits?


From Aimee Robinson, Valley Vet

A Kansas State University associate professor and Toklat, Myler bit expert outline warning signs for horse owners.

While enjoying a ride with your best horse, she throws her head in frustration and pins her ears. You chalk it up as an off day, one of many as of late, but it could be much more than that. It could be time to change bits.

“It is important to understand what the bit is doing and what to watch for,” cautions Chris Blevins, MS, DVM, Associate Professor, Equine Field Service with Kansas State University. “It is our responsibility to keep our horses comfortable.”
If your horse is experiencing bit pain and discomfort, you may notice signs of bit resistance.

“There are several signs of bit resistance,” says Judy Auble, with Toklat and Myler bits. “The best way to determine whether your horse needs a new bit is to pay attention to how your horse reacts to your rein action and rein pressure.”
Could it be time to change bits? Watch for these warning signs:
  • Inverting, when horses ride with their muzzles held high
  • Riding behind the vertical, as horses tuck their nose into the chest
  • Gaping, when horses drop their jaws behind the vertical, relieving tongue pressure
  • Running through the bit or being heavy on the bit
  • Riding with their tongue out of the mouth
  • Consistent throwing of head and pinning of ears
“If you think your horse is experiencing bit resistance, look for the behavior repeated frequently and routinely,” Auble said. “When a horse inverts only once in a while or is fussing because his trail buddies left him on the trail, it could be more of a behavior or training issue.”

When exploring new bit options for your horse, take into consideration not only what you are doing with your horse, but also which mouthpiece best fits your riding style, recommends Dr. Blevins.

In an Equine Field Service presentation, Dr. Blevins, with a focus on equine dentistry, explained the abnormalities that can arise from a bit. The bit is a major communication device between rider and horse. But an improperly fitting bit or improperly used bit (rough hands) can actually cut the tongue, result in mandibular periostitis (bone spurs), and trauma caused pinched or cut tissue in the mouth.

Indications that the horse’s mouth is sore are: opening a gap in the mouth, pinning the ears, tossing the head, and fails to travel straight (which can be mistaken for lameness). Blevins showed photos of what mouth pain from the bit looks like. Further, Blevins explained the nerves of the mouth and teeth, their connections, and trauma caused by bits.

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