Horse Journal OnCall: Do I Really Need to Use a Bit?

We just trail ride, but if I should use a bit, how do I get him to accept it?
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We just trail ride, but if I should use a bit, how do I get him to accept it?

I have a 3-year-old Paso Fino whom I began to ride last summer. Before starting to ride him, I put a bridle on him with a snaffle bit. He never refused to take it, but he chomped on it the entire time. I'd leave him in his stall, chomping away, while I did chores nearby. When it came time to ride, though, I just stuck with a Parelli hackamore (rope halter with rope reins and lead attached). Due to his rotund shape, I rarely ride him with a saddle, because, tight as I pull the girth, it still slips when I try to mount from the ground. And being so comfy, he's really rather nice to ride bareback.

If a bit is comfortable, most horses don't mind wearing it.

If a bit is comfortable, most horses don't mind wearing it.

My question: Should I continue to try to get him to work with a bit, or just forget it? I won't be riding any discipline that requires it—we'll just trail ride for fun. If you think he should be wearing a bit, how will I get him to accept it quietly? And should he hold it still in his mouth before I try to ride with it?

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds: If you’re not planning on training for or competing in any discipline that requires a bit, then the answer is, no, you don’t have to teach your horse to go in a bit.

But, should you decide that you want to further your horse’s education by doing so, here are some thoughts.

First, it’s not at all unusual for a horse to mouth or chomp on the bit when it’s first introduced to them. They have to get used to the taste and the feel of it—rather like you putting on a new pair of shoes. But he may be doing it because the bit is uncomfortable in his mouth, perhaps because he needs to have his teeth power-floated. He could even need to have some teeth extracted or to have a bit seat filed in his front molars. These are very common issues with young horses. I’d strongly recommend having a veterinarian certified in dental care or an equine dentist attend to him before proceeding with the bit.

Also check the adjustment of the bit in his mouth. Many people place the bit far too low in their horses’ mouths. You should see one to three wrinkles in the skin at the corner of his mouth. The bit should not be banging against his incisors—that will make him very uncomfortable.

Your horse could also have a dislike of, or preference for, certain bit materials. Instead of a metal bit, try a plastic-covered or rubber-covered bit. You could also try different types of metals.

No, he doesn’t need to be able to stand without chomping on the bit before you try to work him. Working may end his distraction with the bit, and horses really should move the bit with their jaws and tongues, not just hold it inert, while working.

To prevent your saddle from sliding off him, I’d recommend three changes. First is weight loss. I’m afraid that your description suggests an obese horse. Less food and more exercise are in order. Second, you may need a wider saddle, for his comfort and your security. Third, I’d recommend a breastplate to help hold the saddle in place.