The bit is the assembly of components that contact and control a horse’s mouth. It includes the shanks, rings, cheekpads and mullen, all of which have their own specific actions to give the horse different amounts of pressure. It is often used in conjunction with a bridle to offer more control, but it can be used alone and can also be adjusted to match the horse’s individual needs.
When a horse is not feeling well under saddle, the first thing to check is whether or not their bit fits correctly and is placed properly in the mouth. A bit that is too narrow may rub against the molars and cheek teeth, leading to pain and sensitivity.
Checking your horse’s mouth regularly is not only important for ensuring that their bit is correct size and positioned properly, but it can also help you notice changes in your horse as they age and progress through the various stages of life. For example, a Galvayne’s groove (an indention in the upper corner of the incisor teeth that appears at about age 10 and migrates downward by about age 15) is not uncommon in horses, but it should be checked because it can indicate that a horse is having difficulty chewing.
Having a horse that is having discomfort with their bit can make them fidget, try to evade the bit or even buck and bolt during riding. Taking the time to carefully examine their mouth and checking that their bit is the right size, fit and placement can greatly decrease their discomfort and make them much happier under saddle.
While this seems obvious, it is worth repeating that you must be sure to put on a head light and wear latex gloves before examining the inside of a horse’s mouth. There is a small possibility of contracting the disease rabies from a horse’s saliva if they bite you in the wrong place and you do not protect yourself.
To begin, have your horse halter up and stand them in a loose fitting halter. With your left hand holding the halter and your right hand on the horse, lift their lip to see the inter-dental space, incisors and bars.
You can also use a commercial bit sizer to quickly measure the width of your horse’s mouth, but it is fairly easy to do at home with a piece of string or a stick that is smooth and thick enough to slide into the mouth without pinching. Tooth Floating
When a horse chews, they move their mouth side to side and this brings their cheek and tongue into contact with their lower molars. If these teeth aren’t “floated” with specialized dental tools, they can cut the inside of the mouth, resulting in painful ulcers. This is why it is so important to have your horses’ teeth floatated on a regular basis. Floating not only helps keep the teeth healthy, but it also allows for better communication with your horses’ bit.