How can I keep my horse on the bit?

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In this clip above Dane Myler – who started Myler with his two brothers – talks about the importance of a horse’s mindset when bitting. “Relax the mind, control the animal.” 

Question: What can I do to keep my horse on the bit? I compete in dressage and all my test sheets say that he has ‘irregular contact’. I currently ride in a loose-ring snaffle – should I change it?

Suzanna Stuart-Monteith from Shaws Equestrian replies: 

Without more information about your horse, it is difficult to recommend one particular bit, but I hope the following helps you to understand why he may be resisting and gives you a few suggestions.

Tension in the tongue

The primary action of the bit is on the horse’s tongue, which is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. It is connected directly to the horse’s sternum, his shoulder and the TMJ (temporamandibular joint), which connects the jaw to the skull and is the an important nerve centre governing the horse’s balance and coordination. Tension in the tongue therefore has a direct impact on the horse’s ability to move freely and well.

Myler bits

Restricting the tongue also makes it hard for him to swallow, which creates physical and mental tension. This manifests itself in a number of ways, such the horse going above or behind the bit; crossing his jaw; getting his tongue over the bit; or leaning on your hands and running through the bridle.

These resistances are all ways in which horses try to reduce the pressure from the bit on their tongues.

We recommend Myler Ported Snaffles because ports give the tongue space to swallow. The barrel in the centre gives jointed Myler bits a wrapping action instead of working like a nutcracker and pinching the outside of the bars and lips, which is what your regular single-jointed or French link-style snaffle will be doing. The barrel also protects the tongue from being pinched or caught in the joint, which can be another problem with traditional bits.

Choosing the right bit

When communicating with people we adapt our verbal and body language according to their age and understanding, so why should we use the same tool to communicate with our horse throughout his training?

The range of Myler bits gradually allows a horse more tongue freedom as he progresses through his training. By paying attention to his changing bitting needs, you can ensure the bit is an effective communication tool, rather than a cause of resistance.

Early training

Early in the horse’s training the choice of bit is particularly important to prevent lasting damage to the mouth and to avoid triggering a cycle of resistance. Riders can use the sensitivity of the tongue to give clear signals, concentrated in the centre, which can be released quickly and evenly when the horse does as he is asked. Myler’s 04 Low Port Comfort Snaffle is ideal for a young horse, as it encourages him to move with the bit because it wraps around the outer lip.

Refining your aids

As the horse progresses in his training and starts to show some balance and collection, you will want to refine your aids for more precise work. The tongue can still be used for signalling and control, but with a more subtle, spread pressure.

It is still too early to release the tongue completely, but a bit with a small medium port, such as a Myler 36 Forward-Tilt Ported Barrel you can give more tongue relief.

Tongue freedom

Once a high degree of collection and athleticism is achieved, the mouthpiece can give maximum tongue relief, although the bit you choose depends on the horse’s disposition. As a rule, the calmer the horse, the more tongue freedom you can give him.

A Myler 33 Ported Barrel is suitable for a well-mannered horse, who is established in his schooling and who is working well off all the aids.

For more great bitting advice don’t miss Effective Bitting For Dressage on H&C Play.

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