“I think we have to be open to innovations in bit design and materials,” says Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, Ph.D., MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center dressage chair, Equine Sports Medicine, Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. Dr. Clayton’s work has included years of research studying the position and action of various bits in the horse’s mouth with financial assistance from the U.S. Eventing Association.
“From my research, I’m convinced that pressure on the palate is one of the main causes of bitting problems. Some of the new bit designs seem better in this regard. Both the Herm. Sprenger KK Ultra and Myler’s Comfort Snaffle present a smoothly rounded surface to the palate, whereas single-jointed snaffles have the angles of the joint pointed toward the palate in their normal position,” Dr. Clayton says. “Signs of pressure include the typical bit resistances, such as tossing the head, reluctance to accept the action of the bit, et cetera.” Dr. Clayton also thinks some horses lean on the bit to relieve palate pressure. “Leaning tends to cause the bit to be embedded more deeply into the tongue, so it moves away from the palate.” She says some horses will “partially displace their tongue over the bit to form a cushion between the bit and the palate.”
Dr. Clayton acknowledges Dr. Jane Manfreddi’s research contributions.
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This article first appeared in the April 2006 Issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.