A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Parts of the bit: The Mouth Piece, wide and thick

Ok, carrying on from the discussion on bits, lets talk about the part that the horse feels most.  The size, shape, and angle of the mouth piece can matter a lot to a horse, and can give very different results.

First, and most importantly, is the size of it.  There are 2 measurements to this, width and thickness.

The width will vary from horse to horse.  Now, I grew up as an English rider, and we have bits in 1/4 inch increments usually.  Since i have begun playing around in western, I've noticed that everything is the same size.  Your horse had better wear a 5 inch bit, if it plans to ride western, or you will be spending a small fortune in custom bits!  Ok, that's my initial impression, and layered with a touch of sarcasm.  Regardless, not all horses have a 5 inch wide mouth though.  My drafts wear 6 inch to 6.5 inch bits.  My arab wears a 4 and 3/4 inch bit, and most of my sport horses sit in a 5.5 inch bit.

If your bit is too narrow, it will pinch the horse's lips, or rub.  If this happens enough times, the horse will have open sores.  Now, any one who has ever worn a new pair of shoes that left a blister, tell me how fast you pulled those shoes off once the blister popped.  Now, imagine just how much it would hurt if you kept walking in them, open blister and all!  Well, that's how a horse feels who is wearing a bit that is too small for him/her.

The best way to measure your horse's mouth is with a section of garden horse, or other similarly sized object.  Mark the measurements out on it (I use tape) and wrap a rope around one end of it.  The rope should be on the 0 inch side.  Slide this into the horse's mouth, and loop the rope over the horse's poll, then back around the hose.  The rope does nothing more then allow you to stabilize the "bit" in the horse's mouth while you get the measurement.

Once you have the "bit" sitting where it should, make sure the 0 side is directly flush with the horse's lips.  Read the measurement, or mark the width (more tape, or a pen, or even simply holding with your finger) and remove the silly looking contraption you just put on your horse's head.

Here's a really bad picture of what the bit measuring contraption will look like:

Now, I highly recommend that you do this when you are alone, with no one watching, and be kind to your horse and make sure their pasture buddies can't see them in that hideous contraption!

Once you have a measurement from lip to lip, add 1/4 inch to it.  That is the size of bit your horse needs to be wearing.  Round up to the nearest 1/4 inch size (so a 5 and 7/8ths mouth would wear a 6 inch bit).  See, you want to have a bit of space between the horse's lips and the side piece, but you don't want to have a lot of room.

A bit that is too small will pinch, but a bit that is too large can gag.  There's a lot of extra metal there, and especially a jointed mouth bit can flex up inside the horse's mouth into the back of their throat.  If your horse is chewing on his bit, then it's probably too wide for his or her head.  A properly fit bit will allow your rein commands to translate more clearly to the horse.  Bobbles on the reins will not be as annoying, and a steady pull will actually put pressure where it is designed to.  Just like we want our shoes to fit (too big feels funny, and too small hurts) your horse wants a bit that fits too.

If you want to know about all the bad things that can happen with a poorly fit bit, I highly recommend this site.  It's filled full of information, and has been a go-to source for me for a long time.

The next measurement that matters most, is the thickness.  "Common Knowledge" says that the thicker the mouth piece, the more kind the bit is.  While that idea is good on the surface, the theory doesn't always pan out for every horse.

Some horses have itty bitty tiny delicate mouths.  For one of those horses to have a nice fat, thick, gentle snaffle shoved in its face makes it feel like it is choking to death.

Have you ever seen a dog get something caught in their teeth?  The dog flips out, pawing and scratching at its face while it gapes its mouth open, and will even fall over in its attempts to remove the object?  Well, that is how a dainty mouthed horse feels with a gentle but thick bit in their mouth. 

It doesn't matter if it is a snaffle or a curb, a solid mouth, mullen mouth, twisted mouth, or what ever else you can think of.  The thickness of the bit needed depends upon the depth of the horse's pallet.

My point here, is that if you're putting a nice fat bit in your dainty mouthed quarter horse thinking that you're being kind, well, think again.  For some horses the thinner option is the more kind.

But your horse will (or should) give you a hint as to how it feels about the bit you have it in.  If your horse is always fussing with the bridle, nosing, rooting, rubbing, etc, or if your horse just isn't listening to the rein commands, then you might have a bit problem.  So often I hear people say that they need to get their horse's teeth checked because of how the horse is acting.  Well, your bit can give similar responses if it's not a proper fit.  Check that first (because usually you don't have to go any further then your tack room).  Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't have your horse's teeth checked as well, but some times the answer really is as simple as being too kind.

Now, I'm hoping that some one here knows a method for measuring a horse's mouth for its thickness.  I have never been taught one.  Instead, I just base the bit size on a guess, and change things around subtly as I work with the horse.  Start with my "completely medium" bit, and move to a thicker or thinner one based on nothing more then my gut feeling.

Of course, there are more options on bits then just thick and wide, but rather then type out a whole book, I'll cover more tomorrow. 


  1. I've found the shape and "lie" of the bit that a horse will prefer also depends on the height of the horse's palate and the size of the tongue, and just plain personal preference. For horses with large tongues, a ported mouthpiece can make them more comfortable, and for those with low palates, a bit with more than two parts to the mouthpiece can help - a regular single jointed snaffle may poke a horse with a low palate in the roof of the mouth.

  2. Oh eesh, I forgot to mention the size of the tongue in there! Thank you Kate for mentioning it.

    I didn't realize it would be so easy to leave out so much when trying to make a quick little blog on the parts of the bit. Keep me in check will ya?

  3. "Have you ever seen a dog get something caught in their teeth?"

    Yesterday in fact! I bought my dog a yogurt treat and the little goober grabbed out of of my hand and ran off... then came back with it stuck between his teeth on the roof of his mouth.

    Loving these posts! I always like to see level-headed posts. It seems like only a few things are actually, truly, cruel, most of the stuff that's seen that was it just misused a lot!

  4. It seems like only a few things are actually, truly, cruel, most of the stuff that's seen that was it just misused a lot! "

    You are the winner!

    I can't think of a single piece of tack that was designed with cruelty in mind. I can think of many that **I** would never choose to use, but they were all designed for a specific purpose, with the assumption that the rider would be skilled enough to use them.

    Remember, back when much of this tack was designed, using a horse was a common way of life. Just like you naturally expect a 20 year old American to understand the most basic rules of driving (e.g. red light means stop) it was assumed that those using these training aids would understand the basics of their use. If you didn't "get it" you didn't need it. (Just like I have no idea what a serpentine belt is, or where it goes, so I would never even dream of trying to change one in my car!).

  5. We have a dainty little arab mouth which loves her chunky hollow mouth bit rather than a sensible size for her mouth. Strange animals!