A monthly column on Bits and their Application
Last month we covered the tom-thumb snaffle and some of the reasons why a horse may find it uncomfortable - even if they have found it to be a comfortable bit before.
We must remember that change is inevitable. We make progress (hopefully) in our training, our horse grows (either up or older) and changes occur in the jaw area. These changes may be because the head is being carried in a different manner as elevation and self-carriage is achieved, or it may be because the teeth are at the next age-milestone. But, whatever the reason, if the horse is telling us he is not happy then it is up to us as the professional part of the team to ask why and to make changes.
If the problem has been caused by a badly machined bit with a slack wiggle where the wings and the mouthpiece join, you should choose a bit that has the wings and the mouthpiece moulded smoothly together. There are a variety of tom-thumb styles (with varying popular names) available for purchase. Go and look for one similar to a fulmar snaffle with the rings to which the reins are attached set outside the wings. You will be able to find such a bit with long or short styles of wings and I would look for the short, spoon-shaped wing which won't interfere with the molars. This style of bit will act upon the same areas of the horse's mouth as before but it will not cause any pinching of the skin in the corners of the lips.
This style of bit - with the rings set outside the wings - also has the advantage of a milder, more even, bearing surface on the bars and the tongue. To test this theory, hold a tom-thumb snaffle, with the rings attached beside the mouthpiece, up against a similar sized snaffle with the rings attached on a short extension outside the wings. Move your two hands towards each other and you will find the loop formed by the first snaffle is in a definite ?v? shape whereas the loop formed by the second snaffle is in more of a ?u? shape. This slightly softer outline gives a responding softer nutcracker action.
If there is a milder action against the internal areas of the mouth, many resistance problems will disappear because there is no longer a reason to resist. If you feel that the problems your horse is showing stem from the quite severe nutcracker action of a single jointed tom-thumb, you will need to look for a type of snaffle with a wider ?u? shape than that which the single jointed bit provides.
A slightly curved mouthpiece, such as the older type of Australian 'FM', will give this shape but, unfortunately, this style of bit usually comes with rather long sidebars. A better choice would be a mouthpiece with a small ring in the centre (commonly know as a French snaffle). If you test the nutcracker action of this bit by holding it up against the two types of tom-thumb discussed in this article you will find the 'u' shape formed is even softer in its outline. This style of bit gives an even more even bearing on the bars of the mouth. It has a delayed as well as a softer nutcracker action and it allows the horse greater room for the tongue - thus lessening the possibility of the edges of the tongue being squashed onto the bars or onto the molars.
If you can restore the horse's confidence by using a milder version of bit without losing the effectiveness or attributes of the tom-thumb then a change of bit for a short or longer period is well worth the expense of the purchase. I have found that a horse that hangs onto a single-jointed tom-thumb will settle more happily onto a milder mouthpiece. If a bit is constantly causing discomfort most horses just fix their heads into the least painful position and hang on - it is logical that a still bit will hurt less than a moving one. You, as the professional partner, have to give the horse the courage to explore a different mouthpiece, take support from it and accept the softer messages being given by the hands.
Next month we shall look at the kimblewick again.