We purchased a 6 year old mare approx. 6 months ago. She was previously bridled with a D Ring Snaffle. We have tried transitioning her with other Snaffles and a Touch Plus. She seems to really fight the bit (tossing her head, etc.). I feel part of this is a maturity and confidence issue, but wonder what would be a good bit to move her to? I have had her teeth checked and there seems to be no problems there. Currently we are doing lots & lots of trail riding and just getting her confidence up. Thanks! Kathy
Kathy, The first thing always to do in situations like this is to check for physical causes. Check her teeth to see if she has wolf teeth (very sharp little teeth on the front of the back sets of teeth), which can cause your horse a lot of pain with a bit in their mouth. Not all horses have wolf teeth but the ones that do generally have them removed at a young age. Another thing to check for is scarring in the mouth or on the tongue that may also be causing her pain. Once a physical cause is ruled out, you can assume it’s a training issue. The only reason a horse throws its head and resists the bit’s because the rider is hurting your horse’s mouth and/or the pressure confuses your horse. Therefore, another bit’s unlikely to solve the problem, unless you’re going to a much milder bit. In my experience, about 98% of the time, when a horse has a bitting problem, the rider, not the bit, is causing the problem. Changing bits, strapping your horse’s mouth shut or tying his head down will not resolve the problem, it simply puts a band-aid over the symptom. Most people put relentless pressure on their horse’s mouths, rarely giving an adequate release to your horse. The more pressure on the bit, the more pain in your horse’s mouth, the more your horse becomes anxious and fractious. Often these horses will speed up in an effort to run away from the pressure, which ends up getting them more pressure because the rider gets more tense, and the downward spiral continues.
In this scenario, the rider typically wants to put more bit in your horse’s mouth to control the speed and that generally makes the problem worse. Changing bits will never fix a training problem, only training will. In fact, going to a stronger bit will almost always make a training problem worse, because your horse will have even more anxiety. Taking a fractious, anxious horse to a milder bit and putting a rider up that has good hands and lots of release, will almost always help your horse. To resolve bitting problems, two things have to happen. First, your horse must be taught how he is supposed to respond to pressure: give to pressure and when you give you will find a release. He must learn to give both laterally (to the side) and vertically (dropping his nose down and in). When you put light pressure on the reins, your horse must be taught that as soon as he gives, the pressure goes away. For most people, when your horse gives, they are unaware of it or being greedy and they continue to pull, so your horse loses his incentive to give. Secondly, your horse must be given an escape from the pressure. The release must come within a second of the desired response of your horse; never hold continuous pressure on the reins. So often in clinics I see people applying relentless and meaningless pressure on your horse’s mouth for no reason whatsoever. The rider is oblivious to the pressure, but your horse is not. In fact, there’s a metal bar in your horse’s mouth and he has nerves in his lips, tongue, gums and palate just like we do. No horse anywhere wants pressure on his mouth and he will always look for a way out of it. If giving to the pressure or doing what you asked doesn’t relieve the pressure, he will try something else like gaping his mouth open, tossing his head or running through the bridle. Your horse does not have a bitting problem, he has a rider problem and he will almost always respond immediately to a rider with good hands. I have no idea what a ‘Touch Plus’ bit is, but it sounds like a gadget to me. There are no shortage horse training gadgets on the market because there’s no shortage of people looking to buy a solution to their horse’s problems, rather than consider that the problem is them. If I were you, I would take this horse back to a D-ring snaffle, have her mouth checked for physical causes, and keep her on a lose rein until she learns to trust your hands.
Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician