Talk About Tack: Bit Placement: One Wrinkle Or Two?

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Question: Hey Julie,

I have read everything (I think) on your website about bits, but nothing says where it should be positioned. Some say you should see a wrinkle in the mouth and others don’t. When I use the wrinkle advice I have a heck of a time getting the bridle on. So I lower the bit and my instructor grumbles that the bit is too low in his mouth and she tightens the bridle. Who is right?

Jean from South Jersey

Answer: Jean,

Good question! This is a long debated issue and as is often the case, it may not be a matter of right or wrong but what makes the most sense to you. If you ask different trainers, you’ll get different answers to this question, but I’ll be happy to share my opinion with you and you can decide if it makes sense for you!

I like the bit to be up into the corners of the horse’s mouth, but not putting any pressure on the lips (no wrinkles). To me, the horse that is lightest in your hands is one that you ride off of such subtle movements of your fingers that you are really only playing with his lips. With heavier contact the pressure is felt on the tongue and then to the bars of the gums or possibly the palate, depending on the bit. If your horse is most responsive, you should be able to ride him from lip pressure. If the bit is up higher in the mouth, there is constant pressure on his lips which is not only uncomfortable but also means you have to use more pressure to get through to him.

There should never be a gap between the bit and the corners of the horse’s mouth because this might cause the bit to bang on the horse’s teeth which, as you might imagine, could be quite painful (horses have nerves in their lips, gums, palate and tongue just like we do).

With green colts learning to carry a bit in their mouth for the first time, I like to put the bit a little higher in the mouth until he gets used to it so that I do not risk him getting his tongue over the bit. If he learns to do that right off, it might become a bad habit that you’ll fight forever. But once he is no longer trying to spit the bit out (may be a few minutes, maybe an hour or a week), I’ll drop it down to a more comfortable level, so that he can suck the bit up into his mouth and carry it where he wants it.

I check bits in every single clinic that I teach and I make a lot of corrections in bit placement, both lowering and raising bits routinely. Another problem I see a lot (and a major pet peeve of mine) is the bit out of level in the mouth from side-to-side. Usually this is caused by a crooked brow band and not only is it uncomfortable for the horse but sometimes the unlevel brow band will pull the cheek piece of the bridle dangerously close to the horse’s eye and may even rub a sore there. As soon as you put the bridle on, before adjusting the noseband, throat latch, curb strap or anything else, you should level the bit in the mouth and level the brow band, pushing it up to the ears so that it steadies the bit. And while we are on the subject of pet peeves of mine regarding the bit, another thing I hate to see is someone from the ground holding the horse by two reins just behind the bit as they lead or even just hold the horse. This is putting unnecessary and perhaps painful pressure on the horse’s mouth for no reason. Turning and twisting the bit in the horse’s mouth for leading is poor horsemanship and demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the fact that there is a metal bar in your horse’s mouth. It’s far better to keep a rein looped around the neck and lead him with the rein, not the bit.

So now you know my opinion on how the bit should be in the horse’s mouth and you undoubtedly got more than you bargained for in the answer! I hope this makes sense and helps you decide what is right for your horse.

Enjoy the ride!
Julie

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