AAEP Convention Preview: Learning About Bits and Bitting


Veterinarians at the AAEP sessions in San Diego who want to learn more about how bits function and how horses react to certain types of bit pressure would do well to attend the Nov. 26 session on "Bits and Bitting." Tom Lenz, DVM, will be the moderator, with presenters including Dwight G. Bennett, DVM; Dean Scoggins, DVM; and Greg Darnall, president of the National Reining Horse Association.

Bennett, who recently co-authored a book on bits and bitting, will present "Bits and Bitting, Form and Function." Bennett, who is retired from instructing at Colorado State University, will describe the mouth structure of the horse and the various bits that are used.

The horse owner should realize, Bennett says, that bits are for communication, not for administering punishment. The good rider, he says, will use "the seat of his pants" and his legs more than the bit to give the horse signals or commands.

Bennett also will be reminding his listeners that the size of a snaffle bit will determine its severity. The average mouthpiece for the snaffle, he says, is three-eighths of an inch wide. Many horse shows, he says, have outlawed the use of bits with mouthpieces that are only a quarter of an inch in diameter because of their severity. A narrower bit applies pressure to a smaller, more focused area and can thus be far more painful.

However, he adds, a mouthpiece that is unduly large also can become "too much of a mouthful" for the horse. A mouthpiece that is a half-inch in diameter, for example, might be too big.

Bennett also will discuss curb bits and the pressures they can exert on the mouth. The goal with bits should be to give the horse a signal to which it will respond with as little pressure on the mouth as possible.

To this end, he will explain how bits work. For example, a curb bit with swept-back shanks will be capable of delivering a more subtle and soft signal than one with shanks that are straight down.

Curb bits also change the ratio in leverage depending on the length of the shank, Bennett says. With the snaffle bit, a pound of pull on the reins yields a pound of pressure on the bit or mouth. However, a curb bit with an upper cheekpiece that is 1 1/2 inches long and a shank that is 4 1/2 inches long will convert one pound of pull into three pounds of pressure on the bit.

Scoggins, extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois, will emphasize the value of preliminary dental work before a horse is put into a training program, as well as continued dental work as the training continues. He will discuss how the soft tissue in a horse's mouth can be impacted by a bit or other devices, such as the cavesson on a longeing halter. The tissue he refers to is located between the lips and the bars in a horse's mouth.

Painful pressure can be placed on this tissue even when a hackamore or cavesson is used, he says. Because of the horse's upper jaw structure, he explains, the cavesson or hackamore might bring pressure to bear on some cheek teeth. The pressure exerted with a pull on the reins or longe line can push soft tissue against the edge of the teeth. If the teeth happen to have jagged edges that are in need of floating, the result can be pain that will cause the horse to toss his head and resist the training efforts of his handler.

Closing out the session will be Darnall speaking on "Bitting and the Performance Horse."


About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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