Thursday, October 25, 2012

Best Bet Bit for Babies?

I  was recently on a popular horse forum and a young woman asked about what bits people would recommend for her two year old. He was being very mouthy with the snaffle bit she was using and she was concerned. She was wondering if she should try a curb bit. Several "red flags" flew up in my mind upon reading this post, so I decided to answer.  My first comment was that a two year old is too young to be ridden, and I quoted Dr. Deb Bennett on how a horse's skeleton matures. Fortunately, the young woman responded that she is not riding the horse, just doing ground work and wanting him to get used to a bit at this point.  This was my reply:

"Glad to hear this -- smart girl!  Always a good idea to have a horse's teeth checked before starting bitting. When it is confirmed that the teeth are okay, what we do with the babies is get a very soft, flexible, rubber, mullen mouth snaffle (no joint in the middle).
These bits are absolutely useless for riding; their sole purpose is to get the baby used to having a bit in his mouth. The soft rubber INVITES chewing and mouthing, which is absolutely normal behavior for a baby first experiencing the bit. Once they quiet down because it's just not a new thing anymore, we move on to a jointed snaffle, usually a D-ring because the straight sides against the horse's face help when you are teaching them to turn (the bit won't slide through the mouth like an O-ring tends to). 

The bits I personally prefer are the KK Sprenger Ultra bits. They have two joints and a softly rounded lozenge in the middle (not a flat piece like a French link, which can be harsh on the tongue). The double jointed bits seem to be accepted more easily by a majority of horses -- there are always exceptions who prefer a single joint, but I'd say about 95% of the horses I've worked with prefer the double jointed bits. These bits put less pressure on the sensitive (and easily damaged) bars of the jaw, and more on the strong, flexible tongue. They allow great subtlety of communication, as the sides are more independent of one another. They also do not have the "nutcracker" effect of popping up and hitting the horse in the palate -- a real problem for many horses and the cause of much head-tossing and mouth-gaping.

I recently asked Dr. Hilary Clayton (top researcher of all things related to riding!) at MSU whether she thought the single jointed bits or double jointed bits were more comfortable for the horse, and it was her opinion that the double jointed bits were more comfortable based on their function and the physiology of the mouth.

The KK Sprenger bits are pricey, no doubt about that. But they are totally worth it, in my experience. The craftsmanship is amazing -- there are no gaps to pinch in the swivel parts at the corners of the mouth, and the metals used are gorgeous and hold up extremely well. Leave it to the Germans to do something so precise and high quality! 

You will find many opinions on this topic, but experienced trainers will all tell you that you definitely do NOT go to any kind of leverage bit (curb or otherwise) on a baby. The horse has to be trained to understand and accept the bit first before you can move on to leverage bits, if you desire to do so. That's why you see the young horse classes called "snaffle bit futurities". All those horses are too young to be ridden, but at least they have them in snaffles!

I hope this is helpful for you."