What is the right bit for my horse?

By , June 20, 2016 11:02 am

I’m just back from a great clinic in the UK with Jeff Sanders. Jeff comes from the Californian Vaquero tradition, and has so much knowledge on both bringing on horses, the history of how horsemanship has evolved, and the good and bad reasons we use various tools and pieces of tack.

Most of the clinic we spent doing horses… and it was fantastic 🙂

One morning we discussed bits & biting… do you know what shape your horses mouth is and what bits will DEFINITELY not work, and what bit shapes could work?

There is a lot of lost knowledge here that probably should be common knowledge.

Thanks Jeff for the great weekend, anything that doesn’t make sense below is 100% my fault.


I started by having a look at my horses mouth. I felt the bars on both sides with my thumb so they didn’t seem sharp at all, pretty flat. This is good as with a bit if a horse has a sharp bar or two (which can be quite common, you should check your horse), bits that put pressure on a sharp bar can cause pain. Worth going out to your horse today & running your thumbs along both bars. Is one sharp? On the inside, middle or outside? If yes snaffles and broken bits can put pressure on the sharp edge that the horse can’t relieve. A straight bar means the horse can lift the bit up off the sharp bar if he needs to.

The ridges on the top of Ozs mouth seem well defined / very obvious.

Tongue doesn’t look too skinny or massively wide for his mouth.

Oz has canine teeth (the little one on the side by itself, just back from the main set at the front), so if these are in the corner of the mouth where the bit is, you’ve got a bit banging off a tooth which will be a major problem.

I saw a pony at a clinic who was doing stuff the rider didn’t like. Jeff looked at his teeth and the reason the horse was unhappy was because the bit was banging off his teeth (really sore). So he put on a hackamore (no bit) and the pony was much happier pretty much immediately.

Ozs canines are not near the corner of his mouth (good). You should open your horse mouth and see if he has a small canine near the corner of the lips where the bit goes. If so you might have trouble…………

I’m going to see if I can look at some other horses mouths at the next clinic to compare & contrast.
Other things to watch out for:

There are 2 major reasons a horse will open his mouth:

1) Your hands are too heavy (pain)
2) You’ve got the wrong fitting bit (pain)

So DO NOT strap your horses mouth shut, fix the problem instead (pain)


None. Not 1 or 2 wrinkles. Wrinkles are constant pressure that your horse will learn to zone out. So he is zoning out the exact area your are using to communicate via the reins to his mouth.


If your horse has a low palate, a broken bit, snaffle etc might hit off the top of his mouth & cause pain. Is there room between tongue and pallet?


Snaffle shouldn’t be the default ‘normal’. They are often not what tends to suit most horses mouths (no good for low pallets or sharp bars). I think years ago they were mainly just used for driving, not really for riding. Now they are just the standard ‘fashion’.


There used to be bit-smiths. And when you sold a horse, the bit that was custom made to fit his exact mouth was sold along with the horse.

Sometimes the bits were made slightly differently on each side, because often the horses mouths are different on each side so the bit took that into account.

You can have thousands of variations of just 1 bit.

ANY bit smiths in Ireland with this info?

Sadly no, not that I found on google 🙁 So as horse owners we need to know this stuff ourselves & be able to check our horses mouths & figure out what type bit we should avoid / would be best.

And – walking into a tack shop and asking people who want to sell you something, and have NEVER met your horse, means there is no way they can advise you properly on what would suit the shape of his mouth.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy