"Whats In Your Horses Mouth?" ~ Article By Amy McLean

"Whats In Your Horses Mouth?" ~ Article By Amy McLean


A Happy Horse starts with a Happy Mouth: Horse pacifiers – rollers, copper, & rust

Finding the right bit for your horse is a huge key to how successful you are in getting the most out of your horse’s performance.  A happy horse starts by being happy with what’s in its mouth.  There are many options for bits and not all horses like the same mouthpiece in their bit. Granted, some times it’s not the bit, but whose hands the bit is in, that can ultimately determine if the horse is responsive or accepting.  Generally, good signs that a horse has accepted, or actually approves of, its bit are the way the horse will carry his head and neck as well as relaxing in its jaw. A horse that is “soft”, or accepting of the bit, is flexing at the poll and throat latch, relaxed at the jaw, as well as not mouthing the bit; meaning constantly chewing on the bit or tossing and slinging its head.  If one sees their horse displaying such behavior, it’s always a good idea to have your horse’s teeth checked as well as consider your horse’s equipment such as the bit, the curb (if it has one), etc. A horse that is quiet in the mouth and not displaying any adverse behavior, such as tossing its head and neck, is typically a content horse. Another major sign to look for is if the horse is producing salvia.  Various metals used to make bits, such as cooper or sweet iron, will help increase salvia production in your horse’s mouth.  This is a good sign the horse is responding positively to the bit; not a sign a horse has been administered a pharmacological agent to relax or produce extra saliva. Increased salvia production will increase the effectiveness of the bit to properly roll and rotate in the horse’s mouth. So, what type of bit does your horse wear?  If your mouthpiece is shiny and the color of silver then it’s probably not sweet iron or cooper. A shiny silver colored bit is more than likely stainless steel or a combination of metals.  Many bits are made of stainless because it stays shiny and is thus appealing to many horsemen due to its appearance.  Another metal that is some times used is aluminum and generally associated with a more economy type bit.  Some horseman do use bits made of rubber or synthetic materials. Such bits may be used to start young horses but the rubber can provoke a horse to “chew on the bit” and this is something one should avoid.  A sweet iron bit or mouthpiece will generally be brown in color and over time will even rust; which is a positive thing.  Most horsemen prefer a sweet iron or cooper mouthpiece as the horse finds these most palatable. Most of your bits that are made of such materials like cooper or sweet iron will not be inexpensive. The cost of copper and special metals are continually rising; but remember you get what you pay for, especially when it comes to bits. Many bit makers design bits to encourage a horse to be more accepting of the bit by adding mouth pieces that help the horse to stay quiet in mouth as well as prevent the horse from wanting to put its tongue over the bit.  Such mouthpieces may include a port that has a roller.  Most often the rollers are made of either copper or sweet iron.  The roller aides in the production of salvia as well as keep the horse occupied inside its mouth; allowing for the horse to relax and accept the bit. Rollers are often seen in traditional cathedral bits, but keep in mind the roller itself does not affect the severity of the bit.  The same is true for the port.  A taller port may or may not be as harsh as a lower port or even a snaffle in the wrong hands.  Ideally, we want to keep the horse comfortable and accepting of the bit.  Some of the first types of pacifiers for horses were keys that were added to bits.  The keys simply hung from the center of the mouthpiece and helped increase salvia production as well as acceptance.  The mouthpiece of the bit can help the horse respond to the bit from calming a nervous tongue to making the horse softer in its jaw. When selecting a bit for your horse consider the size of your horse’s mouth, the level of training your horse has, the rules for the event you are using your horse for, and last but not least consider purchasing a hand made bit that’s custom to your horse’s need.  A happy horse starts with what’s in its mouth! Dr. Amy McLean EQUINE LECTURER AND EQUINE EXTENSION SPECIALIST, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY

This article is sponsored by Tom Balding Bits and Spurs (http://www.tombalding.com). All photos are provided by Tom Balding Bits and Spurs and are intended for the sole use in this article.

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