Uneven Bit Pressure

At last weekend’s show, I noticed several times where snaffle bits were pulled out the side of the mouth. This was just a coincidence, but it does happen fairly often. Usually I see it maybe once a day or weekend when I judge, or I might not see it for several weeks.

Even though the reins are loose, this snaffle hangs out to the side of the mouth.

When I do see it I make a mental note to check the other side of the horse’s mouth after he changes direction. This is to help me possibly determine why the bit is pulled to the side. My first thought is usually that the bit is too big or placed too low or maybe both. There’s also the possibility that a rider has a dominant hand that constantly pulls the bit to one side.

In the case of this show, all three times the ring on the second side was actually disappearing into the horse’s mouth. Of course, as a judge, I can’t step down and personally check the bit. At the bottom of the test sheet, I will usually make a comment something like this: “Bit pulled to right (or left) side of mouth constantly throughout the test.”

However, when I see this at a clinic I can get closer to the source of the problem. The first thing I will do is ask the rider if the horse braces against one side of the bit – the answer is usually yes. The next thing I’ll do is ask the rider to halt and release the reins. I then attempt to manually center the bit in the horse’s mouth to check the fit and size of the bit. It’s interesting how often the horse will then use his tongue to shove the bit back to the side or else clamp his teeth down on the bit and not let me move it.

This tells me that the horse is likely experiencing pain from the bit and is placing it where he can avoid discomfort. And, usually the bit involved is both a single-jointed snaffle and a little too large. If the horse has a palate that is on the low side, the nutcracker effect of the bit is going to shove that joint right into the roof of his mouth. If the horse places the joint toward the side of his tongue rather than the middle, he’ll feel better.

This is one reason why double-jointed bits became so popular, because they usually don’t force the joint to point up. If the tongue is very large, however, it may be hard to find any snaffle bit with joints where the horse won’t be inclined to move it to one side. Horses that lean on the bit or go faster than the rider intended and thus force the rider to pull on the bit may also be trying to move the bit joint(s) to a position where it doesn’t hurt.

As I judge, I can’t say why a bit is displaced to one side, unless I obviously see a hand that is more active than its partner. Usually, I can only make the observation on the test and leave it to the rider to sort out the reason. A rider should always ask herself if she feels the same amount of pressure on both sides of the horse’s mouth. If the answer is no, then she has to look for the reason and next ask herself if the unequal pressure is coming from her hands or starts at the bit.