In my eyes bit evasion is the horse trying to tell us that there is something wrong and forming an evasion is his only way of communicating his dislike or discomfort.
Commonly we attempt to rectify bit evasion by use of a stronger bit or a flash or noseband that can force the mouth to stay shut. In some cases this does seem to work for a time, whilst the horse finds another way of demonstrating what he has already tried to tell us. The result is that we compound the problem intensifying the dislike or discomfort over time.
Common signs of evasion:
• tongue out to one side or over the bit
• clamping the bit between his teeth to one side
• holding his tongue up in his jaw away from the bit
• bearing down or pulling hard
• bringing his chin to his chest
Any of these will negate the action of the bit, making it impossible to ride effectively.
Bit evasion may be instigated by:
Tongue Restriction – A horse needs to swallow freely at all times. When in work, the heart rate rises and the horse needs to swallow more frequently. If restricted, the horse will manoeuvre the bit in its mouth to make that possible.
Sizing – Too small and the cheekpieces will push into the side of the mouth squeezing the inside of lips and cheek against the teeth causing pain and blistering. With certain bits the lips may be drawn down into the hole nipping the lip. Too big – and the bit will slide. When turning it’s possible for most of the bit to be outside one side of the mouth catching the tongue as it moves across.
Fitting – It is important to treat each horse as an individual and although there are guidelines to fitting, some horses prefer to be outside the guidelines, this will be dependant on each horse’s unique mouth and facial conformation.
Different Materials – Rubbers and plastics tend to be lighter with less impact on the teeth but may drag on the mouth tissue and may be bulky and prone to damage. Some metals are said to be warmer and more palatable, manufacturers have their own blends and combinations. Stainless steel is the most commonly used bit material varying in quality, reflected in its price.
Bit Diameter – large diameter bits have the advantage of dispersing the pressure across the bars of mouth but the negative is that it is more difficult for the horse to accommodate it in the mouth, effectively holding the jaws apart. Thin diameter – bits may be sharper in their signal but take up less room within the mouth, therefore allowing the jaws to be at a more relaxed and comfortable position.
Jointed bits – It is possible to pinch the tongue with any jointed bit particularly, the single joint (nutcracker). Other jointed bits such as the French link with a plate in the centre and the lozenge lessen this effect. The apex of a jointed bit when brought into action may arc into the roof of the mouth causing discomfort. When the arms of a jointed bit move inwards they push the cheek and lips against the teeth this may cause damage to the soft tissue inside the mouth.
Straight bar (mullen) – gives no collapse but reduced signalling ability, often materials used are bulky and inflexible so they offer no additional space for the tongue and can be restricting. This may encourage a horse to pull or lean on the bit, trying to create space to move the tongue to swallow. Because of the lack of movement in a straight bar when trying to indicate for bend or turning when pressure is exerted via the mouthpiece can slide across the tongue and bars causing rubbing or friction depending on material.
Ported mouthpieces – whilst providing more space for the tongue it must be taken into consideration that the more space (larger/wider port) the less control. It is necessary to gauge the horse’s level of education and the riders experience when choosing this option.
Other than western riding we tend not to use very high ported bits that are designed to work on the roof of the mouth. Individual horses will have a varying degree of top palette space so this should be assessed when considering a ported bit.
I will be covering individual bit evasion in more depth in the subsequent issues. If you are experiencing a bitting problem I will be pleased to hear about it and may use your case as an example.
This series of articles will show that, although by changing the bit you can make a positive difference, there are always contributing factors to consider at the same time.
Next month: Lena Pearson-Wood (Equine physiotherapist) and I discuss Effects of continual bit evasion through the body
Gill Batt-Denzey 07912 224277 firstname.lastname@example.org