If the Bit Fits

Cow-horse legend Don Murphy explains how to select the bit that best matches your horse's mouth.

Ever pulled on a pair of ill-fitting boots? Maybe they were too small, cramming your toes together. Or they might have been so roomy that your foot sloshed around until you rubbed a blister on your heel. You probably started walking funny, your ankles got tired and your otherwise chipper attitude got stomped all over, too.

Poorly fitting apparel or accessories are annoying enough, but imagine that the area of discomfort is in your mouth. Even worse, imagine getting punished for trying to avoid the pain.

According to trainer Don Murphy, a respected horseman and member of the National Reined Cow Horse Association's Hall of Fame, this describes what too many horses must deal with each time they are ridden. Murphy says that many riders fail to notice whether a horse's bit fits properly in the animal's mouth, and that is a mistake. How a mouthpiece lies across a horse's tongue and bars greatly determines how well that horse performs and progresses through training. The best bit, he says, is not only comfortable for the horse, but also helps the rider give clear, subtle cues, which make training effective and less frustrating for the horse and the rider.

"If you get the response you like, you will have a nice horse in the long run," Murphy says. "You get different results from the bit not sitting properly in your horse's mouth. You'll find that your horse is going to say ‘no'somehow—by opening his mouth, using [wringing] his tail, pinning his ears or flipping his head.

"A lot of people just put a bit on a horse and try to force the horse to perform. The horse might do it, but there won't be a long-lasting effect."

For the rest of the story, pick up the May 2007 issue of Western Horseman.