Bridling a horse
The main function of the mouth is for eating grass and other food (biting, selecting and chewing) as the first part of the digestive system. A healthy mouth is important for the whole alimentary function and thereby for the live of the horse.
The mouth also plays an important role in the communication between horses. Communication with the man, through a bit and bridle is on the other hand an artificial role, where we are using the shape and sensitivity of the mouth to control the horse.
All components of the bridle and their fitting affect the horse; the bit, the headstall and the noseband. The interaction between the bit and the mouth is further described in the following text.
The interdental space (between the incisors and canine teeth in the front and the jaws in the back) with the bars is the place where we put the bit.
Although often thought of by the riders that this part of the mouth is shaped to carry the bit, the main purpose of the interdental space is totally different. It‘s natural function is to seperate foreign bodies from the digestable food and avoid the horse to eat something that can harm it. It has also the function to store the food and bring it further back in the mouth.
Thus the area is very well supplied by nerves giving rise to reflexes that for instance open the mouth and throw foreign bodies out of the mouth. These reflexes are not turned off when the bit is put in there. Understanding the nervous reflexes is necesary for the understanding of the horse‘s response to the pressuere putted on it by different equipment.
The bit is carried by the tongue and the lower jaws which need to be relaxed for correct contact.
It mus be borne in mind that the tongue and other soft tissues fill up the oral cavity so to accommodate the bits, some space must be made. Although very strong, the tongue is also quite pliable and in fact well suited for receiving pressure.
„The term contact is often reduced to the connection of the hands holding the reins and the horse‘s mouth.The quality and refinement of this connection, however, is not only a result of a feeling hand. The way the rider influences the horse‘s back with his weight, and the wey he applies his leg aids determine the degree of tension or looseness in the horse‘s entire sceletal musculature, and with the suppleness of the neck, poll and the horse‘s back.“ Gerd Heuschmann.
Choosing a bit
The equipment will always cause potential risk for damage of the tissue. We can express the risk as the load of the tissue by the equipment multiplied by the time applied. By this reason constant pressure over time is more likely to make damage than short overload.
When choosing a bit the main task should be to minimize the triggering of the basic reflexes and nerve functions and thereby to keep a good communication between the hand of the rider and the mouth of the horse. Bit that is adjusted in conflict with a a basic reflexes will raise the risk of development of lacerations of soft tissue and even damage of the teeth.
It is important that the load is mainly absorbed by the soft tisssue of the mouth; the tounge and the cheek. Putting pressuere on the teeth and/or the bars increases the risk of lacerations in the mouth.
If the bit is too long the soft tissue on the cheek will be pressed between the first cheak teet and the bit and result in pessure wounds inside of the cheeks.
Changing bits and bridling regulary avoydes the load to be concentraded on the same points all the time.
If the bit is adjusted in the way that it activated the reflxes, the the bit will be lifted in between the first cheek teeth multiple times during the riding which will cause damage to the hard tissue of the teeth.
Bits with a port increase the risk of painful lesions on the bars.