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Switching the Bit

One of our most popular and loaded questions is, “What bit should I use?” Having the right bit is very important, but there are multiple elements to consider before changing the bit. We’ve explains all

Is your horse or pony in pain? A bit change can’t fix body pain.

  • Have you had your horse or pony’s teeth floated recently?

    • The importance of equine dentistry is often overlooked, but just like humans, as your equine partner grows, changes and matures, so does his/her teeth and mouth. They can develop share edges, waves, ridges, sores, cavities and other issues that can cause the bit to sit wrong, hit teeth and be very uncomfortable if we don’t maintain them. It’s recommended to have your equine dentist check teeth at least once a year, especially for horses and ponies under the age of 10, as they’re growing and changing the most in those years. Fun Fact: horses and ponies lose their baby teeth like humans!

  • Has your equine partner had a chiropractic adjustment recently?

    • Have you ever slept wrong, fell or tweaked something that didn’t allow your head or part of your body to function properly for days, maybe weeks? That can happen to our equine partners, too! Just like humans, if they’re experiencing pain, they will compensate somewhere else to escape it. Look into having an equine chiropractor examine your equine partner if unexplained issues start to come up.

  • Is your bit causing pain?

    • Maybe the style of bit you are using works fine for the horse or pony, but it’s too big or the headstall isn’t adjusted correctly, which is causing rubbing or pinching on the lips, cheeks or tongue. Your bit should fit snug up to the corners of the mouth with one to two wrinkles in the above the corners of the mouth and no more than 1/8” extra on the sides.

Does the saddle fit and function properly?

No matter what your experience level is, it’s important to have all aspects of the saddle balanced so the rider can be balanced. When it’s not, we’ll see riders balance on the reins, lean forward or backwards and they’ll often loose confidence or fear going faster or turning tighter.

  • Are the fenders positioned correctly?

    • Sometimes saddle makers poorly position the fender too far in front or too far behind. If you see your rider’s feet going forward, causing them to learn backwards OR their feet going backwards, causing them to learn forward, it’s a good sign your fenders need blocked. Excessive balancing on the reins is also a good indicator that the fenders aren’t positioned correctly. This correlates with the bit because poor body position causes riders to put constant pressure on the horse or pony’s mouth causing frustration, pain and dullness overtime.

    • To “block the stirrups”, tie them evenly to the front D-Ring with a piece of twine or leather so they stay in one place. IF that makes a difference, you can take it into a local saddle shop to have them permanently blocked

  • Are the fenders the correct length?

    • When the fenders are the proper length, the rider will have about a fist (two or three inches) between the saddle and right between their legs when they stand up in the stirrups. They’ll have a slight bend in the knees, similar to an athletic position. This allows the rider to balance and absorb the shock of faster speeds by engaging their leg muscles and knees, versus bouncing on their booty, flopping around or squeezing with their legs and accidentally telling the horse or pony to go faster.

      • Too long: the rider can’t balance because they’re legs and knees can’t engage leaving them unstable and the only way to hold on is the reins, saddle horn or squeezing excessively with their legs.

      • Too short: rider feels like a pogo stick about to bounce out of the saddle at any time. Again, compensating by balancing on the reins or holding on to the saddle horn.

  • Are the stirrups even?

    • Stand directly in front of the pony and look at the stirrups. Are they even? Over time, as we mount and dismount, the leather will stretch a little. You may need to punch more holes to even them up.

  • Does the saddle fit?

    • Ill fitting saddles can cause pain and discomfort that cause the horses and ponies to act up. Make sure your hand can slide evenly under the bars of the saddle from front to back without any major pressure points. You generally start where the first concho in front of the swells sets and ease to the back. Your saddle should fit consistently snug. If your hand stops anywhere you may want to consider a different saddle pad or saddle, but even the most expensive saddle pads, can’t fix poor quality saddle problems or the build of your horse.

How experienced is your rider?

  • Sometimes the issue is more from a lack of experience than is it the bit or equipment. It can be very beneficial to schedule a lesson with a reputable coach or professional. They can also assess your equipment and tell you what they believe will work best for the rider and horse or pony.

How experienced is the coach?

  • Are you a parent trying to coach your child(ren)?

    • If so, let’s face it, even kids with the most educated parents don’t listen to their advice. We recommend scheduling a lesson with a coach or asking a friend or family member to help. Not only will your kid(s) listen better, but you’ll gain credibility when the coach says the same thing you have been. Life will be easier for everyone!

  • Already have a coach?

    • There are times we sign p kids for lessons, but they aren’t a fit. Maybe the coaching and learning styles just don’t mesh or the coach isn’t as educated as you through. Maybe it’s a friend or family member and you know it’s not a good fit, but you don’t want to hurt their feelings. If they’re not doing their job well, for the sake of their future, the riders and the horse or pony, be honest and move on.

How experienced is your horse or pony? Click to listen to the podcast episode “Finding the Right Horse.”

  • Is your pony super tuned?

    • Sometimes we find ponies that are tuned up performance ponies that have a few too many buttons for the beginners who are just learning. Those ponies get confused and frustrated because they’re getting mixed signals. You can either get lessons consistently to advance your child to the pony’s level or trade/sell the pony for a less sensitive pony.

  • Is your horse or pony young?

    • A common myth is that we can buy a young horse or pony for a young rider and they’ll grow together. On a rare occasion does it work. Even well started ponies and horses will become untrained overtime with an uneducated rider. Beginners need a horse or pony that is going to teach them right from wrong and that already knows the difference. Like a good kindergarten teacher, they need to be fun, but firm. Push a child to pay attention and execute tasks, but still be there if it takes a few ties. Young horses and ponies don’t have that kind of patience or knowledge.

  • Is your horse or pony naughty?

    • Sometimes it doesn’t matter what bit, rider or equipment we have on a horse or pony, they’re just not willing or suitable for being a riding pony. If you’re at your wits end and you’ve tried everything, move on. There are better matches out there!

Once you’ve addressed and/or eliminated the potential contributors, then you can move on to looking at your equipment! For more support, schedule a coaching call with professional to discuss what’s going on with your horse or pony and rider.


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