In early January SCDC met with Dr James Cooling of Horse Bit Fit.
James is an Advanced LANTRA qualified Bitting Consultant and Education and Research Manager for horsebitfit.com His approach to bit fitting is all about improving the comfort, biomechanics, contact and co-operation of your horse or pony. James has 35 years’ experience riding, training and competing in various disciplines, has worked with Monty Roberts and closely with Horse Bit Fit Founder Carol Corbett to grow the bit and bridle Consultation service across the whole of the UK and into Europe.
ABOUT HORSE BIT FIT
At the heart of Horse Bit Fit is a philosophy all about relieving pressure points to improve a horse’s natural movement and biomechanics. Based on a ‘less is more’ approach the consultation process is conducted from an equine welfare perspective.
“If a horse is not relaxed in its mouth, tongue, jaw, poll and neck, it will not be able to engage its shoulders, work through the back and use its hindquarters properly – ultimately a more comfortable horse is a better performing one”
To counteract frustrations around the repetitive ‘trial and error’ approach of bit banks, where a single bit description is all the direction we have to follow, the value of a bit consultation is that the individual anatomy of your horse is highly considered and matched to the right bit and bridle – much like a saddle fitting consultation.
Unlike saddle fitting, a Bitting Consultation doesn’t need to be a regular occurrence once you have found the right bit. It is beneficial however to consider additional checks for younger horses as their mouths change shape as they mature, if you are changing discipline and also for older horses who can develop problems and dental issues.
Here’s an overview of the standard steps
1. A discussion to understand the problems that need to be solved.
2. An untacked heath check of your horse, looking at the anatomy of the head and mouth, general conformation and any visible signs of pressure points.
3. Education on health check findings and the features of your horse’s mouth.
4. Review of your horse in action in current bit and bridle, watching their movement and making any adjustments required as well as considering any other potential contributory factors such as saddle, rider, harness or carriage.
5. Change of bit and bridle to the recommended combination.
6. Time to test the recommended bit/bridle thoroughly in your discipline to ensure the horse and you are happy.
7. A report outlining the problems, solutions and name of recommended bits and bridles.
Whilst a wide range of bits and bridles are available at consultations, Horse Bit Fit are independent consultants and do not sell bits and bridles, they simply recommend what’s best for you and your horse.
- Poorly sized bits and bridles
- Bruised tongues or cut mouths
- Sore areas on the nerve and pressure points of the head
- Head shaking and reaction to being touched on the poll/ears
- Facial expression/behaviour change during tack up
- The physical space in your horse’s mouth – thickness of tongue and flatness of palate
“Traditionally people think a thin bit is harsher and a fat bit is kinder, however every horse is different, and you need a mouthpiece that fits your horse’s mouth anatomy. Tongue pressure issues are the most common problem we deal with… an unsuitable bit may be causing significant pressure on the tongue before you have picked up the rein. This can give the horse confusing signals leading to behavioural and schooling problems. Another common issue we deal with is a ‘strong’ horse. If you ask yourself why he is strong the answer very often is because he is uncomfortable – this may also be due to too much poll and nerve point pressure.”
“With carriage driving in particular, bridles can be thick and heavy with lots of elements, such as brow band rosettes, all creating extra pressure on jaw joints and limiting poll flexion. Shank leverage and curb chains are designed to amplify your aids so you can give less pressure on the reins to get more reaction. However together they squash the tongue and the lower jaw. This can be aversive to some horses and can create a ‘flight reaction’ working against control and breaks. Studies have now proven that if you limit a horses lower jaw movement, anatomically speaking, you are also limiting the engagement of the hind leg, placing the horse on the forehand making it harder for the horse to stop in balance.”
“A successful bitting, at international level or for those who just hack is a happy client and a happy horse. In most cases, if you create a more comfortable horse you can see instant improvements. People are often amazed by the difference created from changing simple things.”
If you are interested in booking your own consultation with Horse Bit Fit, you can find out lots more information by visiting their website www.horsebitfit.com