Form VS Use: bits vs bitless

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Form VS Use: bits vs bitless

Post by Sydney on Mon Feb 16, 2009 2:19 pm

I wrote this about two years ago for university. It needs to be updated because I have learned much since then but it may help some people explain the issues bits can cause. Right now Zoe only has permission to post it on her website but if anyone else would like to use it please notify me first. Thanks Smile

Form vs. Use

There are over forty recognized diseases and ailments caused by regular
bitting of a horses mouth and many times more that amount in behavioral
problems. Almost every horse owner has done it, bitted their horses and
had a behavior problem and then proceeded to blame the problem on the
horse. Webster defines the adjective “cruel” as willfully or knowingly
causing pain or distress. So why is it every time a horse runs away
with a rider, grabs the bit with it’s teeth, and refuses to let go or
shakes his head so violently he nearly unseats his passenger, we still
put a bit in a horses mouth time after time?
There is a list of
diseases and other ailments caused by bits that goes way beyond
traditionalist training diagnoses on the horse, and delves into
science. Sometimes these ailments are not caused by the bit but they
can be aggravated and worsened by the use of one. Some horses are more
susceptible to these diseases than others due to the conformation of
their head, neck, and mouth.
A very common disease that more than
half of horses ridden with a bit contact, is mandibular periostitis or
better known as bone spurs. The area of the mandible when inspected on
the skeleton of dead racehorses showed that most of them had very large
bony growths right where the bit would rest on the bars of the mouth.
This disease is not limited to racehorses, any horse with a rider with
heavy or inexperienced hands can bring it upon a horse. Other injuries
such as stepping on the reins or being tied by the reins and pulling
back, along with several types of bitting rigs can cause mandibular
periostitis. (Johnson, 2002)
Less common, but still probable is the
injury of the interdental space of the maxilla. This injury can be
caused by a jointed bit of any kind. When a rider exerts pressure on
the reins the bit acts in a nutcracker effect, pushing up into the roof
of the mouth and causing trauma. In older horses it is common to see
the first molars to come in contact with the bit eroded away. Equine
dentists file the first molars to create what is known as a “bit seat”.
Wolf teeth are commonly compressed painfully or even pulled out of
place. Most horses have them removed at a young age because they are in
the way of the bit.
The list of bit induced oral problems is equaled
only to a list of respiratory diseases. A very common problem caused by
flexion of the poll and the opening of the mouth with the bit in place
is asphyxia.(Cook, 2003) When the horse is asked to carry it’s head and
neck in such a position that the soft palate becomes elevated as the
laryngeal entrance becomes significantly smaller cutting off or
decreasing the air flow to the lungs due to the reflex of breathing and
swallowing. (Krainer, McCracken, 1994, 1998) The saliva created by the
tongue moving over the bit needs a place to escape and the horse either
has to do that by swallowing or drooling. It would be expected that
horses cannot swallow and breathe properly at the same time it simply
is like rubbing your stomach and patting your head in unison.
A
horse that breathes normally when loose in a paddock suddenly emits the
sound known as “roaring” typically emitted by RAO (Recurrent airway
obstruction) diagnosed equines is an effect of bitting. The horse will
only emit this sound when bitted, ridden, or driven, and it will go
away completely when worked without a bit. The name of this condition
is known as dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP)(Merck, 2006).
DDSP
occurs when the apex of the soft palate rests on the epiglottis and
creates a barrier that does not allow air to efficiently enter the
larynx. The noise the soft palate resting on the epiglottis can be
characterized as a roaring, gurgling, or a decreased ability to
inspire. (Merck, 2006) Some horses can overcome this by using a flash,
grackle nose band or tying the tongue to reduce the action of the
horses mouth when bitted.
Other respiratory diseases that are
afflicted upon horses, which are ridden with a bit include, collapse of
the larynx, low blood oxygen levels at the time of exercise,
Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), pulmonary congestion, and
Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter. (cook, 2003) There are many more
diseases out there veterinarians think are related to the bitting of a
horses mouths but science has yet to investigate them.
Trigeminal
neuralgia, almost every horse owner has experienced it. A horse that
violently shakes his head when being ridden. Many vets have blocked
several of the cranial nerves in an attempt to stop the bazaar ridden
behavior. In reality it is the bit to be blamed Of course there are few
other cases that head shaking can be place upon, such as, other medical
issues, not only the bit (cook, 2003).
This condition can be caused
by sensitive horses anticipating the pain and pressure of the bit in
their mouth. A past injury such as, an injury of the spinal column,
tooth problems, ulcers on the tongue, breathing problems, a sprained or
strained muscle of the back, and/or neck when being ridden can
aggravate and lead to this condition long after the initial injury has
healed. The list can go on and on for the bit related problems of head
shaking.
Some horses can become dehydrated when they refuse to
drink because of a painful lesion caused by a bit having been
previously in their mouth. Some horses gain scar tissue on their lips
and corners of their mouths by bit’s that pinch and an overzealous
riders hands. Others refuse to eat and have permanent scarring in their
minds and mouths from the memories of the length of steel that was
inserted there.
The bit not only affects the cranium but also
affects the spine, the surrounding muscles, the back, legs and many
tendons because of the use we put it up to. An example is metacarpal
and metatarsal osteitis or splints caused by the horse being constantly
on the forehand. When the leg strikes the ground in such a manner it
creates trauma in the metacarpal and metatarsal bones and depending on
your horses conformation he may, or may not, develop splints because of
this. (Merck, 2006)
Bits are not the only thing we stick on a
horses head that can cause medical and mental problems. Bridles and
bazaar contraptions come in every size, colour, and fancy sparkling
styles you could possibly imagine and you can attach them to your
horses head and bit every way fathomable. The most popular English
bridle is the Caveson. It consists of two straps that attach to the
bit, a nose band, a brow band a throat latch, and all the straps
connect to create the crown piece which goes over the poll. With the
bit in place in the mouth the only other misunderstood part of this
bridle is the nose band. The Caveson nose band is used to keep the
horses mouth closed when he opens it excessively to avoid the bit
placed in his mouth.
There are many types of nosebands out there.
Almost all of them are designed to place some of the bit’s pressure on
the nose and keep the horse from opening his mouth excessively when
being ridden. The whole idea of nose bands in every shape and form is
to provide support for a horse being ridden with a bit.
The Aachen
Caveson, or flash nose band is designed to keep the horses mouth shut.
When the horse continues to fight this type of nose band the results
are it usually tightens. An overly tightened nose band can lead to
asphyxiation because the delicate nasal passages are held in an
unnatural position by the flash attachment. When the nostrils cannot
flair properly and the horse cannot breathe through his mouth due to
anatomical conformation he is stuck to breathe the best he can and
thus, the rider to hope nothing long term comes out of an injury.
Another
problem the flash nose band creates is ulcers of the mouth. With a
regular Caveson already designed to keep the horses mouth shut and a
flash keeping it tight shut the horses teeth, especially if not
serviced, can cut into the cheeks, pinch the tongue and create
infected, painful sores in the mouth. Crank nose bands work similarly.
to the Caveson but are tightened with a pulley strap mechanism to
result in maximum tightness, which human hands could not otherwise
achieve by pulling a strap through a buckle.
The Grackle or figure
eight nose band was designed to keep the horse from opening his mouth
or crossing his jaw when being ridden. It was also said to keep the
horse from getting his teeth completely on the bit and allowing him to
run away with his rider. This bridle; however, does avoid the teeth,
and letting the delicate cheeks become free of being pinched by a tight
nose band.
The drop down nose band offers a different degree of
mouth closure. The nose band is situated where the mouth will have the
most leverage to open, about an inch above the relaxed non-bitted mouth
and below the bit when the horse is completely bridled. If tightened it
can also restrict airflow like the flash nose band. It is designed to
place some of the pressure of the bit on the more sensitive areas of
the nose. It does not allow the teeth to be in constant contact with
the cheeks but still keeps the mouth closed to keep a horse from
avoiding the bit.
Western bridles are very similar in bit’s except
the nose band. Classical western riders do not use nose bands, but
those riding in speed events often have tie downs. Tie downs are used
to prevent the horse from excessively raising his head.. It is also
referred by some riders as an aid to keep the horses balance. Would you
be able to walk across a tightrope if your arms were tied to your waist?
The jointed snaffle and non-jointed bit exert pounds per pounds that
your hands are placing upon the reins on the horses mouth. Add a curb
chain and it is roughly amplified by ten. The mouthpieces of most bits
can vary in thickness, type of metal, ports, number of joints, and a
vast assortment of other add-ons to cause pain and injury to the horse.
The most commonly used English bit is the loose ring, egg butt, Dee
ring and full cheek snaffle. Each have the same mouth action but with
different attachments for the reins and functional uses, such as, for
horses that get pinched on their lips or cannot stand the rattle of a
regular loose ring snaffle. When the reins are pulled upon by these
bits they exert pounds-per-pounds of pressure onto the bars of the
horses mouth. If jointed the bit will fold, press on the bars of the
mouth, and jab into the hard palette. This action is often referred to
as the “nutcracker effect.”
Some bits, such as, the strait bit and
ported or curved bits allow less or more room for the tongue to move
around. The strait, non-jointed bit lays flat on the tongue,
compressing it. Bit’s with ports or a curved mouthpiece allow the
tongue to lay in a more natural position. Of course there are double
jointed bit’s, which allow the tongue to lay in a more natural
position. When the reins are pulled upon with this bit in a horses
mouth the usual V shape of a single jointed bit turns into a U.
Curbs and bits with shanks add an increase of pressure exerted on the
horses mouth and poll. The longer the shank on the bit the more severe
the pressure when a curb chain is added and a rider holds the reins.
When a rider pulls back on the reins that are attached to a curb bit
the shank moves rearward, the curb chain tightens on the mental nerve
and puts pressure on the poll causing the horse to have no escape but
give into the pressure. The mental nerve connects the lower lip, chin,
and just behind the chin to the brain giving it feeling.(Krainer,
McCracken, 1994, 1998)
Western bits with large ports can create
additional damage further back in the horses mouth on the hard palate.
These bits are designed so a rider should use almost no bit contact on
the mouth and use other forms of riding aids such as the seat, legs and
neck reining. The port does not move. If a horse were to suddenly throw
his head up in the air and a rider holding on to the reins in a regular
western fashion the port would jab sharply into the hard palate and
cause trauma. Horses being ridden in western with a port have actually
been euthanized because the port of the bit ruptured the hard palate
into the nasal cavity. Such injuries can happen quite easily if a horse
steps on a rein. (cook, 2006)
Unfortunately, in most associations a
rider would be disqualified as it is an offence to ride without a bit
in a horses mouth. Some English events such as hunter and some jumping
or western barrel racing allow the use of a hackamore, bosal, or side
pull. Even when the hackamore and side pull are used it still exerts
pressure on the sensitive nose and cartilage structures of the face as
well as the poll because of the shank action.
Hackamores can be just
as unnerving to a horse as a bit because they use a shank under the
chin in the same fashion as a curb bit. A side pull is gentle and
provides good steering but limited breaks. A bosal is essentially a
nose band made of rawhide woven over metal or a stiff core (cook,
2006). The bosal applies pressure both on the nose and under the chin
when rein pressure is applied. The Mecate reins are also usually made
of horsehair and rough to encourage the horse to neck rein and move
away from the irritating rein pressure.
The only bridle that has
been known to allow horses with previous bitting problems to put it in
their past are the no-bit bridles from various companies. These bridles
do not harness a bit and the control comes from the nose band, and two
rein straps that cross between the underside of the head just after the
chin and before the cheekbones. To turn this bridle, one should apply
indirect pressure on the opposite cheekbones. Stopping power is applied
to the bridge of the nose where the nose band lies and gently tightens
the rein straps under the head. These bridles feel identical to any
snaffle bit but provide a happier, more in tune horse and virtually no
ways to harm the horse. Of course anything can become harmful if used
improperly. (cook, 2006)
It is easy to see why some horses are only
controllable when ridden in a rope halter or bit less bridle. There is
no pain. When pain is involved the horse goes into flight mode, looking
for a way to escape the pain and discomfort of a bit or other
mechanical device, which humans use to control the horse.
In
conclusion, there are many way’s in which, you can use a bit and each
and every one of them can and usually will cause mental or physical
damage to the horse. There are also many more add-ons and different
types of bits and bitting devices not mentioned here. The information
provided above should make it easier in future decisions about bitting
your horse








Resources

Thomas J. Johnson, 2002
http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/AAEP/2002/910102000458.pdf

W. Robert Cook, 2003
Metal in the mouth: the abusive effects of bitted bridles
http://www.bitlessbridle.com

Robert A. Kainer and Thomas O McCracken, 1994, 1998
Horse anatomy, a coloring atlas

2006; Merck & Co., Inc.
http://www.merckvetmanual.com
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Sydney

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Re: Form VS Use: bits vs bitless

Post by lightertouch on Tue Feb 17, 2009 6:16 am

Fascinating stuff Sydney, thanks for sharing! Very Happy
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Re: Form VS Use: bits vs bitless

Post by Sydney on Tue Feb 17, 2009 6:27 am

Glad you liked it. There is gonna be another version with a lot more information on it soon.
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Re: Form VS Use: bits vs bitless

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