Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

Seen on Facebook:  “Anybody know of a good bit to use on a horse that runs through commands and fights the bit? I need to try a new bit because the horse I’m riding has a hard mouth.

Jumble of bits

When your horse runs through or fights the bit, it’s called evasion.  Common bit evasions include:

  • Chomping, opening or crossing his mouth
  • Running away
  • Leaning on the bit
  • Shaking, throwing or tossing his head
  • Going behind the bit (nose to his chest.)
  • Going above the bit (nose straight up)
  • Tongue hanging out

Unfortunately, moving up to a stronger bit or adding a gadget (eg. draw reins) is a common solution.  While it may work in the short term, it doesn’t address the real source of the problem.

If you want to eliminate the problem and build a better,  more trusting and willing partnership with your horse read on.

Following are 3 causes of bit evasions and how to correct them.

Cause #1 – Dental Problems & Poor Bit Fit

Horses run from pain.  Sharp teeth, ulcers inside his mouth or an injury to his tongue will be aggravated by the bit – even in gentle hands.

The Correction – Have your vet or equine dentist check for sharp or broken teeth, ulcers and even damage to his tongue.    Just like you, your horse should have his teeth checked by a professional at least annually and in some cases every 6 months.

Cause #2 – Poor Bit Fit

If the bit is too wide or sits too low in the mouth, it will move around too much.  If it’s too narrow or sits too high, it will pinch and damage the skin and bars in the mouth.  Bits also cause pain if they are too fat, too thin or don’t leave enough room for the tongue or push up into the palate.

The Correction – Check the size of the bit and how it fits the shape of your horse’s mouth.  It should not stick out on either side of the mouth or pinch the corners of his lips.  It should be about ¼” wider than the measurement from lip to lip (corner to corner).  Find the style of bit that works with the shape and size of your horse’s mouth having enough room for the tongue, not pressing on the palate and fitting easily between the bars.

When fitted correctly, the bit sits quietly across the bars without pulling up the lips or moving up and down.  Remember “a wrinkle not a smile“.  For most horses, this means at least one but no more than two wrinkles in the corners of the lips  However, for some horses there may be no wrinkle at all.  Adjust as necessary to ensure the bit fits comfortably without sliding up and down loosely.  

Cause #3 – Busy or Unsteady Hands

Hands that are busy, unsteady, tense, see-saw,  pull or constantly bump the horse’s mouth cause pain and discomfort.  They are also the sign of a tense and unbalanced rider.

The Correction – Develop an independent seat.  You should never use the reins for support, balance or the primary means for controlling your horse.  Your hands must work independently from your seat so that you can influence your horse without creating tension or resistance.  You will be balanced, able to follow and work with your horses movement – applying your aids at the right time, with the least amount of pressure and without tension.

For your horse to be able to perform at his best and be a confident, trusting and willing partner, he needs to be pain free, balanced and relaxed.   You can help him develop this way of going by being a quiet, balanced and relaxed rider.

Your Turn – What do you do when your horse evades the bit or gets strong?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

  1. YES. this is a subject so important I’m surprised others haven’t addressed it. My Arab gelding, Jordan, came to me with a habit of evading the bit. He’d do anything-nose down, nose up, tossing the head, to keep the bit from acting in his mouth. I discovered why when within a week or so of purchase, I had him floated. His left tush was missing. The scar on his jaw/gum indicated that the tush had been ripped sideways out of his jaw. The vet said it looked as if his bit had hung up on something and Jordan had panicked and fled with ugly consequences. So, whether the bit he was in caused his evasion out of fear or remembered pain, Jordan evaded it. That was a simple fix, in my mind:I put Jordan in a soft English hackamore. He never tossed his head or ducked contact again.
    So…sometimes, taking the bit out of the mouth completely is the best answer.
    Second: I prefer to ride bareback. When I do, for the first ten minutes, I have my friends lead Raven around while I’m bareback, during which time I ride with my hands behind my back. You’d be amazed how it helps you balance and relax. By the time we’re both relaxed and warmed up, I can then take the reins and not worry about balancing on them.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great that you’ve found something that works for your horse as well as continuing to work on yourself. 🙂 Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people who think the bitless bridle fixes the issue and don’t do anything to improve their hands by improving their seat. Your horse is fortunate that you care enough to do both.

      I’m working with an Arabian mare who also has serious issues with bits due to her previous training. We have switched her to a bitless bridle and it has really helped to eliminate much of her stress. But she still needs the rider to have steady, quiet hands that follow the movement.

      Enjoy your journey..

      P.S. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about riding with a bitless bridle

  2. Comment numero tres: thank you, also, for addressing ”wrinkles’ (in regards to the number of). The advice on this is alll over the map..some say NO wrinkles, most say two or even three. I’ve never liked the idea of a horse having the bit so high up that it makes him look like a clown, and yet one doesn’t want a bit so loose it clanks against his teeth. I’d never heard of ” a wrinkle not a smile” but it puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it? the hard part is convincing people that more wrinkles isn’t better. I swear, if you could shove a bit in a human’s mouth and say, ok, we’ll put three wrinkles in…I think people would start to think about what it does to the horse.

  3. Very helpful. But I would like to 1 on 1 if possible. My horse is a gelded draft cross. He is amazing. His only issue is when we canter I can’t stop him. It’s straight balls to the wall. I tried stopping him as soon as he breaks. Then let him run and ease into it. Finally he is either tired and can’t run anymore or I had to seriously use the halter to bund his top lip in a crude twitch and then pull on the pole strap to stop him. All the while riding on his neck almost to get up there. When I’m riding aside the kids I teach back and forth down the trail line he is immaculate on control from everything like jumping brush and logs to cutting back and laying over to switch directions in an emergency. I love to let him run and the ride is amazing. He just won’t stop when I ask. I’ve tried everything from wonder gags to ports. Hacks. you name it. And lunging does nothing cause he can seriously do 2 hours a side at a canter and not wind. Any suggestions?

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