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Bit for head-shy, sensitive horse??

2276 Views 13 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  tinyliny
Hello y'all!

Well, my charming new gelding has a hitch in his giddyap: head-shy and getting worse. He's wonderfully responsive, if somewhat green, under saddle but doesn't like taking the bit, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's the bit itself that might be the problem. These are my available bits, and the one I'm using is on the top right (the French-link still attached to the bridle).

Suggestions on which one to use? I'm leaning eggbutt, but which one?

Cheers!

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Rare is the horse that will tolerate at traditional jointed snaffle over the french link. I'd be inclined to go with the kimberwike and just see if the solid mouthpiece is more to the horse's liking.

Has this horse had the mouth checked by a vet for tooth issues, abscesses, etc.? If not, that's where I'd start.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
He has a clean bill of health and had his teeth floated quite recently. I'll give the Kimberwick a try and see how he does. I'm also reevaluating how I bridle my horses to see if I might be the problem. Any suggestions out there on a gentle, firm technique?
 

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I know you said teeth recently done but are you sure he has not developed a issue with a abscess, broken tooth, cap retained if young, or a infection from something he in-bedded in his mouth eating?
Thorns come to mind, a stick or even a rough blade of grass cutting the mouth membrane and it getting sore or worse...
I would absolutely rule out a pain issue....again.

I would also carefully inspect the bit you have been using for rough spots or burrs anywhere the horse mouth or face touch it...
:runninghorse2:.....
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
So what I'm hearing so far is (a) the bit I'm using is pretty gentle, so look elsewhere, (b) double-check mouth health, and (c) double-check that the bit itself isn't in bad shape. Any other suggestions or endorsements of these fine suggestions?
 

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This is coming into the time of year where foxtails appear in pastures. An imbedded foxtail can make the mouth extremely sore. Has the horse always been hard to bridle or is this a newer thing?

How do you have the mouthpiece adjusted? The old 'two wrinkle' rule for a snaffle puts constant pressure on the horse's mouth from the headstall. You could try lowering the bit so there's one wrinkle or 'half a wrinkle' (where most western trainers adjust it) and see if that's more to the horse's liking. If you have it adjusted too loose, it's going to hit the horse in the incisor teeth or he's going to put his tongue over it, and that's the opposite problem. Also make sure the mouthpiece fits the horse. Most bits have a 5" mouthpiece, but some horses need one that is wider or narrower.

How do you bridle? If you hit the teeth with the bit or pinch the ears putting the headpiece on, it will make a horse hard to bridle.

I generally hold the crownpiece with my right hand/arm resting on the horse's poll, and use my left hand to open the mouth and guide the bit in. One issue can be that if the horse's teeth are hit, he's going to pull away next time, which means he then gets clunked in the teeth, and you can see how this becomes a vicious circle. Do you only bridle when the horse is going to work? Some horses associate a bridle with imminent physical effort or discomfort and thus try to avoid it. What happens if you go down to the barn and bridle and unbridle ten time a day? Leave the bridle on and the horse tied a few hours every now and then but don't ride? For some horses, a smear of honey on the bit for a few days can help them overcome their dislike of bridling or get past a bad experience. What happens if you bridle the horse by unbuckling the cheekpiece and putting the bridle on like a halter? Is the horse headshy about a halter? Some horses just don't like a bit, and for them, you either need to get them to accept one or ride with a hackamore or other arrangement. The old method was to put a bit on the horse and let him wear it 24/7 for a few days and he'd get used to it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

But have the mouth checked first. Ask the vet to show you the height of the horse's palate and tongue thickness. Make sure he/she looks under the tongue, alongside the tongue, at the roof of the mouth and in the 'pockets' some horses have behind the molars. A horse with a low palate or thick tongue may do better with a medium-port solid mouth just because it gives some tongue relief. A horse that won't relax with a French Link is rare. Usually that's a go-to bit for a horse that doesn't like any others. While you have the mouth checked, have the vet get a good look in the ears, too. Soft-body ticks can be deep down in the ear canal and cause a horse a lot of pain when his ears are handled so I'd also look there, as well as making sure there isn't an issue with the horse's vision and eyes.
 

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Don't actually ride in the kimberwick. He doesn't need that kind of pressure. But stick it in his mouth and see how he packs it
and his general response. If it looks positive, go look for the same mouth in a snaffle cheek. I'd be inclined to get a solid cheek over a loose ring for a sensitive mouth. They usually don't like the noise.

The two sensitive ones I've had to look for bits for have ended up in a ported D ring and a Mullen mouth eggbut.

Other ones to try is a boucher or French link(or both, I have one
and quite like it). Check the width of the bit too. Some can't hold big bits, other like the fat ones.
I switched my horses' bridles a few weeks ago, basically the same bit but one is fat, the other skinny. I could feel a difference in how they went.
 

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I had one mare that HATED snaffles. Just hated them. She was anxious, tossed her head, spooky, just all around a pain, and I tried a ton of different ones. Went on a trail ride with a friend and forgot her regular bridle, so I put a curb bit on her for the day because that's what I had in the trailer, and she was a different horse. Happy, relaxed, no spook, no head tossing, no resistance. Rode her in some sort of curb after that for years and she was a peach. You didn't need the leverage, she just liked that better than a snaffle. Sometimes you have to do what works for your horse. If you have good hands, you should be able to ride in whatever the horse likes without causing any issues. Heck, one old trainer I worked with started his 2 y.o's in a high-port, loose-shank correction bit and he turned out some of the nicest, softest, happiest horses you'd ever want to see, so just because you 'should' ride in a snaffle according to the powers that be doesn't mean it works for everyone. Do what works for you and the horse. I've known plenty of horses that go better in a leverage bit than a snaffle.

The Kimberwick isn't a bad bit to ride in just to see how it goes. Try it with the reins through the rings or on the top slot if you're worried, and of course, ask the horse to back and flex on the ground first (always a good idea whenever you change a bit) but it's not a severe bit by any means, and a horse that goes decently in a snaffle will not find it overly harsh.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I have rather exclusively bridled him for riding (time to spend some extra time training on the ground!) and I'm going to start practicing a new way of bridling because I can't seem to avoid accidentally clanking his teeth with the way I was taught - thanks so much SilverMaple. I've had this gelding for two months now, and he's always been sensitive about his head (hates fly masks/bridling, is really jumpy with his head, and good-naturedly tolerates a halter). I'm going to head out to the barn, inspect the bit I've been using (thanks, horselovinguy!) and practice a more gentle way to bridle with my other horse, who I swear is made of steel and doesn't let a darn thing ruffle him. Thanks, all!
 

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Some horses just have less room in their mouth than others due to a low palate or thick tongue or both, and so don't do well with a regular snaffle bit. I use a Myler Comfort Snaffle and have yet to find a horse that doesn't like it.

I'm sure there are videos out there to show bridling techniques. You should also try desensitizing your horse to having his head handled and teach him to lower his head. These are things that have worked for me.
 

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If I were you, I would go out and buy a fleece hackamore. They seem to work miracles on my horses, and none of them are head shy. The hackamores don't damage their mouths, and create a whole lot less pain. Pain may be the reason he is head shy. He knows that if he accepts the bit, that it's going to hurt him. I would strongly recommend trying out a fleece hackamore. If you don't get a hackamore, stick to a basic snaffle. NOTHING with a curve, like the curb but, and nothing with long shanks, for the shanks make more pressure in their mouth when you pull. Eggbut or D ring snaffle would be your best option out of the bits, but I would really reccomend a fleece hackamore. They can be used for English and Western, so don't worry about it looking weird in the show ring.
 

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what was this horse using before she came into your possession?

Would you like to take some photos of how the horse is bridled? bit position, and maybe a video of you putting on? to see if the way you are doing it has anything to do with her reaction.
 
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