By Fiona Dearing, bit right EQUINE

When I went to Pony Club back in the dark ages of the 1980’s the general rule of bit fitting was to be able to place your little finger between the lips of the horse and the cheekpiece of the bit on each side. This ‘rule’ served me very well over the years and I had followed it religiously ever since. Imagine my surprise when doing my bitting course to discover this was no longer the case! No one had sent me a memo when this changed!

Unsurprisingly, many things have changed since I was at Pony Club and many of them are for the welfare of the horse. We’ve learned more about anatomy and those who know far more than I have engineered bits to suit the tolerances and intolerances of horses in all disciplines.

So, here’s the skinny on making sure your bit fits. The first thing is we can do away with our little finger! The reason we want a bit to fit appropriately width wise (we’ll talk about mouthpiece thickness in another article) is so the movement in the mouth is minimised. Think about a bit that has lots of room between the horse’s lips and the cheekpiece of the bit for a moment and how much movement over the tongue and bars that creates when one rein is picked up to turn. If the bit has a lozenge in it or any shape or movement all those links are travelling over sensitive structures creating ‘noise’ and sometimes making it harder for your horse to ‘hear’ your aid.

With a fixed cheekpiece, such as Eggbutt, Dee Ring, Boucher, Full Cheek etc, we want that to sit nice and snug to the horse’s lips. Ideally we don’t see any of the mouthpiece between the horse’s lips and the cheekpiece of the bit. None of these cheekpieces have moving parts so there’s nothing that is able to pinch in a well made bit. We don’t want the bit to fit so snug that the lips are pushed inwards. The only exception to the ‘snug’ rule is when your bit has a single joint. Due to the way these styles of bits close up in the mouth we do want a little bit of space either side so the lips aren’t pushed into the mouth.

With a loose ring cheekpiece, because there’s movement we do want to give between 2-5mm each side to allow the bit to move freely and for the sensitive skin to not be pinched. You may notice your own bit has a nice deep bevel to further minimise this occurring.

Lastly, how many wrinkles should you have? I find this is largely specific to your own horse. The ‘rule’ is two wrinkles but a fleshy mouthed horse is going to maybe have more and a fine mouthed horse may end up with the bit too high in his mouth if we place it at the two wrinkle mark. The two wrinkle rule is a good measure to keep in mind but we don’t want lips looking stretched to get those wrinkles. When a connection is taken up on the reins we don’t want to see cheekpieces on bridles become floppy either, that would be an indication the bit is sitting too low in the mouth.

Our guest columnist, Fiona Dearing, is a bit fitter working throughout Victoria, Australia. She can be contacted directly through the bit right EQUINE Facebook page.