Importance of proper placement, fitting and adjustment of a bridle and bits.
While significant attention is often paid to correctly fitting saddles to horses, it seems like little is paid to the proper fit and adjustment of the bridle. Too often I see people bridleing their horses with the bit hanging excessively low and many times even bumping around on teeth. Another common mistake is fastening a throat latch too tight, or caveson too loose and improperly judging how taught a curb chain or strap should be. Occasionally I see bits adjusted too high, but most often a horse will strongly indicate his disapprovel of a bit hiked too hign, in such a manner that even inexperienced horse owners can understand, so that tends to be more of a rare occurance.
A poorly fitted bridle can cause a number of problems. Not only can it cause pain and discomfort for the horse, it is also potentially dangerous to a rider. Often times what appears to be bad habits can be the result of a horses response to being hurt or uncomfortable due to a poorly fitting bridle. A poorly adjusted bridle or incorrectly fitted bit can cause mouth sores and clank painfully on teeth. Horses sometimes react, by rearing, head tossing, excessive chewing, lip flapping and opening of the mouth. A poorly adjusted bridle can result in the bit shifting or being pulled into and through the horses mouth, the horse getting his tongue over the bit and the bridle even being pulled off if the horse stops or pulls back while being led.
As if pain, injury, discomfort and safety aren't enough reasons to pay adequate attention to properly adjusting your horses head gear, yet another reason to make sure it fits correctly is function. An improperly fitting bridle isn't going to function properly, making it difficult to obtain the desired headset and collection, or regulate the gait, pace, speed, and direction of the horse.
For all of these reasons it's good to familiarize yourself with a few basic concepts regarding the proper adjustment, placement and fit of your horses bridle and bits.
Although there are several kinds of bridles the basic rules for adjustment are generally the same with both
English and Western Bridles.
English and Western Bridles - There are four places to check for proper bridle adjustment: bit placement, curb strap, throatlatch, and ear piece or brow band. Be sure the brow band does not hang down in the horse's eyes. The ear pieces or brow band should rest comfortably around the ears and above the eyes. Make sure the bit is neither too high nor too low. The bit should rest on the bars of the mouth. You want the bit high enough to create a slight wrinkle in the corners of the mouth. If there are several wrinkles, the bit is probably too high. On the other hand, if the bit hangs so that it comes in contact with the incisor teeth, it is too low. The curb strap or chain should be loose enough that two fingers can easily slide between the device and the horse's chin, but it should still be tight enough that it places pressure on the chin when you pull back on the reins. This ensures that you have enough control of your horse. The throatlatch piece should be just loose enough to allow room for bending and flexing.
Double Bridles - Once again be sure the brow band does not hang down in the horse's eyes. The ear pieces or brow band should rest comfortably around the ears and above the eyes. The bits must be placed neither too high nor too low. The bits have to be correctly placed on the bars (the spaces between the front teeth and the molars) without knocking on the teeth.
Adjust the snaffle bit high enough so that the bit touches the corners of the mouth enough to create a slight wrinkle. If there are several wrinkles, the bit is probably too high. On the other hand, if the bit hangs so that it comes in contact with the incisor teeth, it is too low. The bit must also not hit the horse's premolars. This is easy to achieve with a horse with a normal mouth, or a rather high-split mouth. However, when a horse has a low-split mouth, the snaffle bit is often placed too low and slips under the curb bit. This modifies the effect of the two bits. The horse then raises the tongue and he can become uncomfortable in his mouth. It's better to have a slightly more wrinkled corner of the mouth in this case.
Place the curb bit slightly lower then the snaffle bit, without touching the canines, especially when dealing with a male horse. Do not hesitate to add holes in the side pieces of your bridle, even if it does not look so good. It is very important.
The noseband should not allow the horse to open his mouth too far, permitting him to slip the tongue over the bit. It should just give the horse enough space to swallow and play with the bits.
The curb chain must always lie flat and loose when the reins are loose. It has to tighten without slipping up when the bit is at an approximate 25 to 30 degree angle. The bit must never be at an angle greater than to 45 degrees. A tight curb chain is very uncomfortable, the horse will set his head below the vertical and/or slip his tongue on top of the curb bit or on top of both bits to avoid pressure; loosen the curb chain.
The fine tuning of the bits is done progressively and can change occasionally when the bridle leather stretches over time.