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The Bit Factor: an Interview with Gill Batt

Updated: May 3


Gill Batt from Horse Bit Advice

Gill Batt from Horse Bit Advice


When other riders told Gill Batt that her ‘problem’ horse needed a stronger bit, she went looking for an actual bitting expert to find out why that might be the answer. Only she couldn’t find one local to her. So, Gill became the bitting specialist she needed.

“To cut a long story short, one of the Myler brothers happened to be in the UK at the time,” she told MumsHaynet. “I went to one of the demonstrations, and I was absolutely blown away.

“There were so many different mouthpieces to suit so many different mouth conformations, and I'd never heard of any of this. That's when I thought, you know what, that's what I want to learn about.”

In the years that followed that revelation, Gill spent time with bitting specialists she found in the UK, and she also signed up for a number of courses. However, she still felt there was an integral part of her education missing, so she booked a flight to Missouri in the States and went to work with the Myler brothers and then to Oregon with the manufacturers.

For those who don’t know, the Myler brothers earned their spurs in the horse world through the manufacture of bits that were designed to improve the comfort level in the mouth of a bitted horse. The Myler bit comfort snaffle, in the loose ring, eggbutt and hanging cheek format, remains one of the top-selling bits in the world today.

“After working with the Myler brothers, I returned to the UK and started to collect bits to take out to different horses, and that’s where I really started to learn my trade because every horse taught me something new,” says Gill.

“When I achieved a good result, I would then apply that learning to other horses. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't, which meant I had to really sit down and assess the whys and wherefores of it all.

“I never complicated matters. For me, bitting is simple – the horse either goes well with a bit or it doesn’t. The horse doesn't care what brand you have or what colour you’ve gone for, all the horse needs to know is that it can move its tongue to swallow and it can keep its jaw free.

"All of this is important because if there’s any tension or restriction through the tongue, the hyoid (the bone that serves as the attachment for the tongue and pharynx) or anything around the poll, the TMJ (the temporomandibular joint, where the jaw bone meets the skull) it will affect the rest of the body. There is no doubt about that, and it has been scientifically proven.”


A Bit About Bits


There are a variety of bits to suit every horse and rider

“The use of horses for sport and recreation requires communication between the rider or driver and horse. One of the traditional methods of communication, dating back to at least 3500BC is through a bit inserted in the oral cavity in the interdental space. When tension is applied to the reins, the bit applies pressure to the oral tissues and, via the bridle, to other parts of the head. Horses are trained to respond appropriately to unilateral or bilateral pressure, with individual horses varying in the sensitivity of their response. The bit should not exert excessive pressure on sensitive or delicate tissues, which would cause discomfort or resistance to the action of the bit. As a consequence of its contact with sensitive structures of the oral cavity, improper selection, fitting or use of a bit can be associated with injuries such as mucosal ulcers, osteitis and sequestrum formation. Areas where the bit crosses a bony surface, such as the hard palate or the interdental space (bars) of the mandible, are particularly vulnerable to injury due to pressure from the bit. Oral anatomy, including the position of the commissure of the lips relative to the interdental space, the width of the mandible, the shape of the palate, and the size of the tongue may affect the size and shape of mouthpiece that can be accommodated comfortably. A variety of bit types are available that vary in size, shape and mechanics of action. Subjective assessment by riders suggests that certain horses respond better to a specific type of bit, which may be related to individual differences in oral conformation and sensitivity. These subjective judgements are the main criteria used to select an appropriate bit for an individual horse.”

(Manfredi, Jane & Clayton, Hilary & Rosenstein,. (2005). Radiographic study of bit position within the horse’s oral cavity. Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology. 2. 195-201. 10.1079/ECP200564.)



An Unnatural Form of Normal


A bit in a horse's mouth

“Let’s be honest, no horse wants a bit in its mouth,” says Gill. “It wasn’t designed to have a bit in its mouth. However, there is a need for bits, and if you're competing, it's still a requirement, though bitless and noseband less, should be an option, I believe.

“So, from my point of view, a bit should be used to send a signal to the horse of what you would like it to do. They're not telepathic. So, if you put pressure on, it’s pressure-release. You get the horse to respond to the pressure on the tongue, meaning it should come away from the bit and the rider then releases that pressure.”

While agreeing that getting a true contact and implementing pressure-release training is a simple enough concept, Gill admits that it is a hard one to get right, and it’s not always rider error, it also has a lot to do with the equipment used.

“What happens is, if applying the pressure is an uncomfortable action – and this is why I have never fitted a single jointed mouthpiece in the 25 years I’ve been doing this, though if a horse is comfortable with a single joint who am I to say otherwise – it can encourage the horse to move away or to curl its tongue,” explains Gill. “When I fit a bit, I am looking for a way to keep the horse’s tongue lying in the jaw and to keep the ability to swallow freely.

“A lot of bits collapse, which means they squeeze the outer lip and put pressure on the bars of the mouth to get the horse to come back, to soften and become lighter at the front. But a lot of horses experience too much bit pressure so when they come back it’s dramatic, with the head in either an exaggerated response of too high or too low.

“My aim is to find a mouthpiece that encourages the horse to come out; to stretch from wither to ear, to lift their core and lift their back.”

When Gill’s expertise is called upon, the first thing she does is a pre-bitting requisite check covering aspects such as whether an equine dental check been carried out in the past six months, a saddle check, any therapy treatments or physio visits etc. The idea is to gather as much relevant history as possible in order to give an informed opinion. Once she is armed with that knowledge, Gill will watch how the horse and rider go in their own tack in order to assess where any evasion, restriction, or tightness is.

“I'm not judging the rider’s riding skills,” Gill insists, “but I will be looking at the way they ride and then I will test a bit that I feel might be a better fit for both horse and rider. If the horse responds well to the change, it tends to immediately transfer to the rider and the whole picture softens.

“I always try to keep it as simple as possible because ‘less is more’ in my book, and if you have the right bit for the horse and it’s the right shape, the horse understands more quickly what you're asking of them it so it responds quicker. So, when I hear people talk about a ‘control problem’ I prefer to look at it as a response issue. If the horse responds quicker, the rider will reciprocate by releasing the rein quicker.”

While many riders place horse welfare at the very top of their checklist in terms of horse ownership, the signs of discomfort displayed by horses when being ridden are frequently missed or ignored as behavioural issues.

“I think it’s fair to say that most of my customers want their horses to be responsive, but in a comfortable way, and most bit evasion stems from the fact that the horse is trying – very politely – to tilt their head so they can slide the bit through their mouth so they get the flat end or the flat piece of the bit so there's no squeezing and pinching. A lot of horses are seeking more stability, and it’s something we often fail to pick up on.”



But Which Bit is Best?


A loose ring snaffle bit with lozenge

A loose ring snaffle with lozenge


For Gill, who lives in Tenterden, Kent, there is no one correct way of going with bits, though she steers clear of French links as a rule and has little love for leverage bits in the wrong hands.

“When I assess a horse, I will always check inside their mouths because the horses might have a low top palette or a very short front from lip to corner, all of which make a massive difference to the shape of the bit needed.

“The reason I don’t use French links is because the knuckles of the bit, if you get something fine like a thoroughbred, very often sits up. It then gets stuck into the top pallet because they're very narrow through the jaw. I've spoken to a lot of dentists and they really don't like them either.

“Out of preference and experience, my starter bit, if you like, would have to be a lozenge of some form. If you have a young horse, a full cheek lozenge snaffle can be very helpful while they are learning the aids and signals as they won’t pinch the mouth.

“Although there is some debate about cheek pieces, with many people believing pelhams are overly strong, I like to talk about them in terms of turning the volume up and down. With a pelham I can turn the volume up if I need to because sometimes it’s a matter of safety, say, should you be in heavy traffic. I am also in favour of spreading the pressure rather than having it concentrated on the tongue or the lip.

“For me, a cheek bit like a hanging cheek or a baucher will sit the bit up, and stabilise it, therefore encouraging the horse to come out and stretch forward to it, again, lifting the core and the back so you are building the correct muscles. Of course, for some horses that’s perhaps a step too far so we would go to a full cheek or an eggbutt, something that still protects the corners of the mouth.

“And if you have a horse that is quite strong-minded, rather than keep it in a snaffle and have the horse strain or brace with the lower jaw against it, causing lots of pressure on the TMJ, it might be better to add a little curb pressure, perhaps a strap, to get them to give a little, especially when it comes to sturdier types of horses, like cobs, that push their shoulders in and their jaw out and just stay there. Whether you are six stone nothing or a 12-stone bloke, if that horse locks on, you’re done for.”



The One-Wrinkle Debate


To find the right size bit for your horse, Gill suggests buying a cheap, plastic bit, like a Happy Mouth, popping it into your horse’s mouth and marking it on either side. You then measure the distance between the marks and add a quarter of an inch.

“There are bit measurers, but they are really quite expensive, and you don’t need to buy one,” says Gill. “If you've got a particularly well-behaved horse, you can even use a smooth dowel rod to mark the size.”

Once you are armed with the right bit size, you then need to decide on the right hole to fit it on.

Gills says, “I like to place the bit a little higher than most of the textbooks say as this lifts the bit over the thicker part of the tongue, allowing more space for the horse to move its tongue and swallow, and it also avoids the flatter part of the top palette area, just in front of the cheek teeth to the incisors.

“I hear a lot of people say there should only be one wrinkle in the corner of the horse’s mouth, but over the past ten to fifteen years, a lot of horses – and I’ve spoken to many dentists and physios about this – have evolved, with so many now showing a warmblood influence with that very short front of lip to corner mouth. This means that many of today’s beautifully shaped bits are sitting too far forward for them, which can make them fussy with the bit and in some cases getting their tongues over the bit.

“So, when I am assessing where to place the bit, I look to the cheekpieces. If you pull them away from the horse’s head and there’s quite a gap, it's going to sit too low, and then you'll have your horse constantly trying to lift it, which can lead to repetitive tongue strain, and then the hyoid is overworked, and then that will become tender and so on and so forth.

“Also, horses’ heads are not necessarily symmetrical, so although the ideal is to have the holes equal either side of a bridle, it sometimes doesn’t work like that.

“Another problem I see comes from riders using leverage bits that pull the bridle headpiece tight behind the ears, where there are many nerve endings, which can make them sore.”



Join the Bit Club


Now in her 60s and after 25 years of fitting bits, Gill is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, she is even adding another string to her bow – offering online bitting courses for Horse Owners, Professionals and Bitting Consultants.

She says, “I’ve been a bit specialist for 25 years and I’m still excited and passionate about it. I also strongly believe it’s a skill set that is achievable for everyone and that everyone should be equipped with at least the basics of it. That way they have less chance of being pushed into using bits that aren’t suitable for their horse, creating an unnecessary issue. No one knows their horse better than the owner and, as the owner, you will know how your horse is responding to a change in bit, so why not learn the basics of it?”

Due to start this winter, Gill’s online courses will come with lifetime access and offer different levels to suit different needs and grades of interest.

“It is possible for you to know more and to learn more,” says Gill. “Bitting specialists are not members of an elite club in which only a few are privy to the art. If anything, every horse owner has a care of duty toward their horse’s welfare and wellbeing so they can stand up for their horses.

“Our horses don’t have a voice, and though I believe there’s a massive sea change coming in regard to horse welfare, especially in competition, we all need to up our game and be their voice when it’s needed.”


To contact Gill go to www.horsebitadvice.com

1 Comment


Really interesting article. Will have a look at her course too.

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