Bitting – Saliva and Swallowing

Hello Everyone,

What is it about horses tongues that causes so many problems with bitting?

So we need to appreciate just what a delicate organ the tongue is and what the horse needs to do with it while there is a bit in its mouth, as well as what effect there is in relation to the bit choice.

Horse tongue “activity” as opposed to thinking tongue relief can only assist us understand what other aspects of the horses needs we need to take into account when considering a choice of bit for our horses.

The tongue is involved in the requirement for swallowing, especially during the presence of salivation and in some cases there are horses producing lots of salivation when the bit is in use.

Horses do not breath through their mouth because breathing is dealt with through the nostrils into the long nasal cavity to the nasopharynx, air then passes over the epiglottis, through the larynx, and into the trachea. The need to swallow is an important aspect of the activity within the mouth and for the horse to swallow the arytenoid cartilage, epiglottis, and soft palate change position shutting off the airway to the trachea leading to the lungs and this allows the horse to swallow so that any food or contents from the mouth travel into the esophagus leading to the stomach. Why is this important?

When a horse is working it cannot breathe and swallow at the same time and if it is having to swallow frequently for some reason it will be receiving less air into the lungs. This can be magnified in the case of an event horse working at the gallop with the need for maximum air intake and frequent swallowing due to too much saliva can impact on the horses performance and cause it to tire early.

A foamy mouth (usually a white creamy foam) is often found to be present when the bit is in place and the horse is being ridden.

It is generally accepted a foamy mouth indicates acceptance of the bit, as the horses salivary glands are activated. This is indicative of a relaxed jaw that is accepting a good level of rein connection due to the relaxed manner in which the horse is moving using itself correctly.

But too much foam can also indicate a level of tension in the jawline, with the tensed muscles pressing on the salivary glands, which is not a desirable state of affairs and one to consider if you feel something is not going quite right.

A horse with little or no salivation is a situation that indicates the horse is not relaxed, or does not seek contact with the bit.  In a relaxed horse which is happy in its mouth we have a two way thing going on with the rider seeking the contact. This can also involve increasing rider leg pressure to push the horse up to the contact from behind when the contact is falling away through a failing rear engine. We should always ride based on the premise of leg to hand.

In addition a horse moving well will seek the contact by stretching out to find it. This results in what I will call the optimum rein pressure being created which feels like a weighted rein that is almost elastic given the riders ability to assist and compensate with sympathy throughout the movement process having a more relaxed arm that can carry and absorb some rein weight and act as a counterbalance. This rein weight is then present in any gait where this involves constant motion (as opposed to an increase or reduction in pace).

Under these conditions both parties are comfortable resulting in a soft acceptance of the bit by the horse and a softly closed (untensed) riders hand with a softened wrist. Tension in the rider will always transfer to the horses mouth and the horse will begin to react to the tension by becoming more tense itself, and so we have a downward spiral as things become more and more unhinged. This is why horses usually work better for more experienced riders because they are capable of quickly setting things up between themselves and the horse and finding the sweet spot of acceptance by the horse of the riders instructions.

Where the horse is tense or hiding behind the contact and not connecting with the bit for whatever reason the saliva glands will not be activated fully if at all because the horse is not in a relaxed state.

This can also involve a horse that tends to salivate on one side only and is dry on the other side. Salivation on the one side only can indicate too much contact on that rein, as the horse is possibly not moving straight through their body and this inevitably will be found to be the stiffer side as the horse pushes against the contact resulting in the wrong type of salivation event. In this case on the other side the horse is hollowing and avoiding making any contact with the bit. Getting the horse moving straight should bring salivation on to both sides although that is only part of the improvement you will need to make and more work will need to be done to build up the carrying muscles evenly on each rein that will consolidate this progress.

While we are thinking about the bit and what the horse is doing with it that we dont like. For example such as, pushing against our hand intermittently on occasions which has us thinking maybe more tongue relief is needed or some adjustment in this direction.

However the often commonly overlooked aspect of bitting a horse is the fact that the horse needs to swallow and regularly, especially if we are seeing lots of salivation and in doing so the horse needs to bring the tongue forwards under the bit to allow it to swallow.

When the rein tension is increased the bit will rotate in a downward roll as the contact is further taken up and in doing so the bit will press down more on the tongue as the riders hands are above the level of the bit. The horses reaction is to draw the tongue back and in doing so this prevents the horse being able to swallow.

This can present as a situation where the horse is pushing forwards and down against the riders hands in its desperation to get rid of excess saliva by swallowing.

So frequently the horse need to relieve that situation to swallow all that saliva and so they must push the tongue forward and downward again which pushes their weight through their shoulders and onto the forehand and at the same time the rider is unbalanced by the strong desperate thrust by the horse to take a gulp.

Often this situation is directly related to the need for tongue relief but this is not always due to the presence of a large tongue in a small jaw, and so even where the is not a large tongue needing relief the mechanics involved with bit action and rotation mean tongue relief may be an important consideration due to the actions involved where the tongue is excessively impinged by bit pressure as with a traditional snaffle which apply direct backward pressure into the tongue and bars of the mouth.

That said, when we are diagnosing our bitting crisis we need to give some thought to the fact that some symptoms may be swallowing related as opposed to any resistance to the bit acceptance especially where there is a healthy amount of saliva requiring frequent swallowing actions.

While we are around this subject of swallowing we should also consider our nosebands and how we close them. Clamping a horses mouth shut tight is not only cruel it is counter productive. Discomfort is our enemy with our horses and if you believe you need to clamp a horses mouth shut this should indicate that everything else needs looking at because you have reached this point.

The horse can swallow without opening its mouth, but with the additional presence of a bit we need to provide a little more wriggle room for the horse to move the tongue around especially when they need to swallow.

Just think about the situation when the noseband has been clamped tight. We put a bit in a horses mouth and it fits perfectly. We are now on the cross country course and we have just jumped the skinny and are directing the horse hard right or hard left at pace to meet the next obstacle a few strides away, but with competitive adrenaline running high you end up needing to take a big pull which creates a momentary extreme bit position somewhere in the horses mouth (that has not been checked for comfort) and the only feedback from the tensing horse if distracted enough by the pain , will be either a run out or stop completely.

So we should ensure the horse can open its mouth a little to cope with a possibly painful situation so it can relieve the discomfort at the very moment you want the horses focus on the next fence.

I do not believe any horse should be ridden with the noseband clamped tight shut. Especially when the horse needs to swallow which we know they do, and the bit is going to change position in the horses mouth when the reins are acted upon and the tongue is drawn back.

Often you see recommendations saying leave enough space for two fingers under the noseband, grackle, flash strap or curb chain.  So have you ever measured your two fingers and compared the measurements with some one else’s fingers?

I believe in measurements as a guide, and my recommendation is that there should be one for the noseband (high level) should be 10-20mm,  and under the chin (low level) a little more room ideally between 20-30mm due to the jawline pivot action and the chin is further from the Temporomandibular joint that acts as the top and bottom jawline pivot.

Note, if you choose 10mm at the high level you need 20mm at the low level. Think of the crocodiles mouth which when moved a short amount nearer the eye this will mean the incisor end of the mouth will be open much wider and so in a similar way the horses jaw line should be treated the same way.

We want to allow enough movement for comfort without negating the reasons we are using these noseband choices. Too loose and the noseband becomes ineffective so there is a balance you need to find by trial and error in each case with the intention of leaving a little wriggle room for the horse to use.

This “rule of finger” can vary on different finger widths by 10mm easily depending on whose fat or thin finger sizes are doing the checking.

One of my grooms used the two finger rule and when I queried the bridle jokingly he rudely showed me his two fingers in reply! I immediately saw the issue, his fingers were as wide as fish fingers! So I realised I needed to provide a measurement!

In summary this blog is to high light the relationship between the horse tongue, the bit, saliva, and the need for swallowing when thinking about tongue relief and the horses other basic needs while working in the bridle.

I will have more to say on some of these issues in relation to bit choice in my coming blog posts.

Hope you find the above of interest and a little thought provoking meanwhile.

Ian Taft

Saddlemasters Equestrian Ltd


Thinking of changing your horses bit

Hi Everyone

Bitting is one of those never ending subjects that can become quite confusing. Often people will say to me I have no idea about bitting and haven’t got a clue! Even experienced riders are often unsure of what to do next, and can feel embarrassed by the fact they need to ask. So ask its a confidential service!

There must be a reason why you are thinking of changing your horses bit, as no one wakes up one day as says “you know what, I am going to change my horses bit today”!

At this point it is good to stop right there and think about this. Was this decision something that has been building up over time or was yesterdays ride so bad you have decided you just have to do something?

Question the distinction in the circumstances , is it the bit or is this bad behaviour, high spirits, a feed change effect, saddle change, and consider hormones in mares throughout the year and if you need to consider some hormone therapy.

Often bad behaviour brings on a need to change the bit to obtain more control and there is nothing wrong with that, the last thing you want to feel is a lack of control when your sorting out some bad behaviour.

Before we proceed with the idea of a change we need to do a few checks in a what may seem like a boring process of elimination but is really very important to make sure we are making the adjustment in the right place (the mouth).

Competition horses are in the main well cared for with regular physio sessions, saddle fit checks, and dental care diarised on a regular basis. We are looking for soreness issues or dental issues and these can arise at any time so the fact your horse is in a routine maintenance plan does not mean they will not arise before the next appointment is due.

The question to ask your self is when were these checks last done, and are they coming due again. Or have they never been done, a new horse maybe. Check that any of these maintenance issues/routines are not contributing to a bitting problem.

When we put a bit in a horses mouth it actually does nothing, it doesn’t matter what bit we use it will do nothing in the horses mouth. Yes the horse may play with the bit to some extent but that is the horse doing something with the bit as the bit is still doing nothing it is normally a lump of metal and it does not move!

So I hope this is now leading you to understand that the action of the bit occurs when it is activated by human intervention on the reins, and this invokes a reaction by the horse as the bit acts on the various parts of the horses mouth. Liked, not liked, tolerated or detested.

If your horses work has changed it could be the bit has stopped working, that could be due to some soreness on the acting areas of the mouth, or simply the pace of the activity such as hunting where there is a lot more activity on the mouth. Horses can become strong and the rider needs a bit more control which when addressed with the right bit it can actually reduce the amount of work done by the rider which reduces the number of moments of pressure on the horse mouth.

An important thing to understand is the bit is used to control any movement by the horse whether that is a forward movement, a directional movement, or a reduction in movement to the ultimate degree of stopping moving altogether.

When considering bitting it is useful to understand at what level is your horse working at in his flat work. A young horse will be less balanced than an older horse that has been schooled correctly and having developed the right carrying muscles and so one would expect to assist the young horse with more corrective actions that aid the horse trying to figure out how to balance with your weight on its back. The older horse correctly schooled will be stronger and more capable of controlling his/her movement in spite of the riders influence and should feel like an easier ride.

A young 500kg horse with a 75kg rider added to its back that pivots like a pendulum is a lot for the horse to learn to handle and the more experienced rider will be able to sit more quietly in the saddle than a novice rider, and so balance is easier to maintain and that means less falling in or out on the circle, and a lighter contact on a straight line as balance is maintained and forward motion controlled through the contact.

So we do need to be sure we are not bitting the horse up for the wrong reasons as balance is something developed over time with the right sort of work and not corrected over night in the mouth.

Pressure creates pressure and the intention should be to avoid discomfort where possible as the rider never really picks up the issue of discomfort as they are not the one with a bit in their mouth.

So we need to work though the reasons we are changing the bit, and it is most likely that by changing the bit to a more comfortable bit we will reduce or eliminate the discomfort created by the action of the riders rein pressure on the bit in use ( acting on the horses mouth).

Horses will generally run away from discomfort which is a different situation to one where the correct bit is in use and the horses mouth is being put under an increased level of pressure to communicate effectively. Under these circumstances the horse understands and complies with the request, and the pressure is quickly alleviated by the riders softening leg and hand which provides the reward the horse is seeking, and so we now have effective communication without the argument created by any accompanying discomfort.

It cannot be stressed enough the importance of understanding the process of riding from leg to hand. This has a direct correlation to the effectiveness of the bit in use and ultimately its choice.

A common complaint is that the horse carries is head too high. This can be corrected by schooling and riding the horse forwards and riding the horse down onto the bit from behind. Effectively using the riders leg to hand rather than trying to fix the horses head through incorrect bitting choice with a bit that forces the horse into a false outline and plenty of discomfort.

Horse that move in a false outline through bad schooling are usually “bitted up” with more severe bits to pull the head down through poll pressure which restricts movement and has them going as we say “upside down” (head up and dropped back) and this is not a comfortable way for the horse under saddle and it also makes transitions up or down difficult to execute for the horse where undue increased pressure ends up acting on the mouth. These horses do not track up well and so the muscle development through the top line is usually poor.

My advise to anyone with a horse that has become this way is to look at reschooling assisted by working initially on the lunge line with the use of the chambon. This way you can encourage free movement and strengthen the top line and the carrying muscles of the hind quarters. This work should be built up slowly recording the time spent on each rein (a total session of 20 minutes maximum and no more that five minutes on either rein at a time to start with) and using a simple hollow mouth German snaffle as the bit choice.

Remember lunge work puts pressure on joints and muscles and should be done in moderation with frequent rest periods and built up over a period of days and weeks. A weight lifter never started with a lot of weight on the bar and certainly built up the number of repetitions over a period of time and your horse is no different.

After a few weeks (6-8wks) of building up to 30 minutes lunge work you should already be finding a difference in the ridden work. At this point you may well need to change the bit but possibly for a milder one that encourages more contact.

In terms of the bitting choices there are five main manufacturers of bitting that offer similar but different solutions and all are based on comfort.

Myler, Neue Schule, Bombers Bits, Nathe and Sprenger.

Each manufacturer has approached things slightly differently and the main theme involves tongue relief, pallet relief, and bar pressure.

The one thing I do know is that whatever the technical attributes of any such bitting solutions you can only take things so far in terms of bitting expertise as the horse will tell you if you have got it right or not.

In conclusion I hope the above makes you consider the horses current situation and capabilities, the riders contribution, existing prevailing circumstances, and other related factors that may have led to the decision to change the bit.

In my following series of blogs we will discuss some of these bitting solutions in more detail.



Ian Taft

Saddlemasters Equestrian Ltd


Saddle Fitting and Regular Saddle Checking

Saddle fitting is without question a contentious subject as horses and ponies can change shape. In this article, we discuss some of the reasons you should make it a priority.

In young horses changes in saddle fit can be a result of the growing process as a horse matures.

Saddle fit can alter over time because of changes in the horses work which is developing new muscle brought about by changes to its training program, and it is often due to your horses weight changes as we move through the seasons, or alterations in the quantity of work your horse is being given at a particular time. This is why we always take a template when checking for saddle fit so that it can be used to size the right saddle and be kept and referred back to each time your horse is checked.

That said the problem could be the saddle itself, saddle fit can change due to changes in the distribution or compaction of the saddles own flocking material that can need re-adjustment or replacement completely.

A saddle may fit well on the day the saddle fitter is asked to carry out the fitting. Only to find that later on during the season someone will say your saddle does not fit and the saddle fitter is often blamed for a poor earlier fitting which is often due to one or more of the above changes as opposed to a bad saddle fitting on that day, the use of templates can prove or disprove this and explain any changes that have taken place during the interim.

All wool flocked saddles should be checked twice a year ideally to check the requirement for adjustment or addition of flocking material due to possible changes in the panels flocking position. In addition, the horses shape may have altered, and this may mean reducing flocking content in certain areas or adding some more. Flocking can also move position especially if the saddle has been under flocked in the first instance. This unbalances the fit and can lead to saddle slipping to one side with the rider unknowingly starting to compensate for the slippage. This means the horse is now carrying weight to one side and finding it hard to stay straight in work and is likely compensating for the uneven load on its back. So now the rider has another set of problems and is doing their own compensating and having to make continual hand or leg corrections to keep the horse straight.

Flocking can also become compressed and hard and very often it has not been changed in years which can mean it is has no cushion effect whatsoever and this can lead to sore backs and serious long term affects such as atrophy particularly in the wither area.

The saddle tree should be checked to ensure it is not showing signs of twist, and there are no other signs of damage that affects the saddles performance or comfort for the horse. Checking to ensure saddle tree rivets are still tightly fitted and not broken and rolling around pinching loose within the leather panel is important.

For safety reasons girth straps should be checked to ensure they are secure, and the girth holes have not become elongated which is a precursor to a tear in the leather girth strap.

The saddle type should be considered to see if it is suitable for the range of activities the rider wishes to engage in and that it is also the right saddle size for the rider. Some riders have more than one saddle for each horse to cater for the changes in the type activity they are engaged in such as going from a dressage test to a jumping competition.

Rider leg length is critical to saddle size and the rider being in the correct position while sitting in the plate. Equally important is ensuring the saddle does not sit over the T18 thoracic Vertebrae which is essential to the horse’s comfort when carrying its rider and to prevent discomfort and back pain issues for your horse.

Saddle width and gullet size are important to ensuring there is no impingement or pressure on the horse wither or the spinal processes. The saddle tree design should be suitable for the curvature of the horses back and croup high horses or high withered creatures dictate how the saddle will sit or move depending on tree design flocking and panel fit. Bridging can occur which means that the saddle is pressing on four points with increased pressure which was not intended. This means the rider is denied the closeness and feeling through the saddle as they are sitting on the bridged part of the saddle over the horses back.

Shoulder movement in terms of shoulder freedom when compared between double or single flap saddles (mono-flap) is often a debateable subject in that some horses are more sensitive than others which can lead to a variance in the outcomes reported. In competition horses it is easier to gauge a difference given the more extreme demands put on the equine athlete ridden under competition conditions.

Girth design can be equally important especially if the girth design is preventing full movement backwards during stride pattern and extension, so an anatomical girth may be more beneficial under these circumstances.

The saddle fit should be considered an initial and ongoing requirement throughout a horse’s life to ensure the maximum performance, safety, and comfort are enjoyed by horse and rider.

Saddles should be checked every six months and at present it is estimated that less than 10 % of the horse owners invest in these checks and less than 15% of horse owners invest in having a saddle checked every year.

Approximately 65% of riders think they know how to fit a saddle and do not seek advice from a qualified saddle fitter when buying another saddle and most do not get saddles checked at all. If the horses previous saddle was a medium wide often that is what gets purchased when it is due for replacement even though it might now be a bit tight. Given the horse may have been four years old back then and is now a mature seven-year-old.

This leads to horses that do not perform as well as they could at the very least, and accidents, injuries, lameness, sore horses that need physio, chiropractic or veterinary attention at great cost and inconvenience.

To sum up, it is false economy not to make regular saddle checks and re-templating your horse should be a priority. It is important to think about your own saddle maintenance policy as a responsible horse owner to your own and your horses benefit.

Neue Schule: What are the differences between the Turtle Tactio and the Turtle Top Mouthpiece?

The Neue Schule Turtle Top (top left) and Neue Schule Turtle Tactio (bottom right).

The Turtle name is derived from its central link shape, which itself, takes inspiration from the Box Turtle.

Initially, in order to achieve the optimum position and angle for comfort we captured the angles of the horses nose and tongue line (there is 10° difference), and also the angle of the cheek piece and rein. Then we measured the degree of clockwise rotation that occurs when a rider takes up a rein contact on a snaffle. This is what we call the ‘working angle’. Then we factored this in and reconfigured the bore axis accordingly. This means that we changed the angle of the hole that the bit cheeks run through at the ends of the mouthpiece cannons.


So what does this achieve?

1.  The concave underside of the bit lays flat on the tongue and remains this way as you ride, offering a smooth profile with more weight bearing surface and reduced pressure. However, there is very little bulk between the tongue and the upper palate meaning that it is no longer necessary to use a fat bit to achieve the large weight bearing surface.

2.  The upper surface of the central link in both bits is gently curved and widened. This matches equine palate anatomy fitting neatly under the palatine arch.

3.  The mouthpiece remains further back in the mouth negating the need to over-tighten the cheek-pieces. This reduces the pressure in both the corner of the lip and on the poll.  This is not only more comfortable for the horse it means your subtle half halts are more readily felt.

The Turtles wrap around the tongue rather than laying along the tongue (shown left).

4.  The horse is much less inclined to draw the tongue back or stick it out to the side owing to an uncomfortable mouthpiece. Old habits do however die hard and if he has ingrained tongue evasions (and these do tend to appear when a horse is stressed or excited) then there is the physical restriction of the locking cannons, which won’t lift into the upper quadrant, to help eradicate this. (The lifting of the bit’s cannons is not a rein aid that a rider would give as the hands would have to be directly above the horse’s ears in order to do so.)
Chomping and chewing is also discouraged, helping to prevent damage to the tooth enamel.

5. The resulting stability of the bit in the mouth gives clearer rein aids and the horse has fewer distractions.


So what is the difference between the Turtle Top and the Turtle Tactio?

The Turtle Top offers a very even weight-bearing surface across the whole of the mouth, whereas the Turtle Tactio utilises the centre of the tongue in order to alleviate bar pressure.  This is comfortable for the horse as the centre of the tongue is depressed down onto the floor of the mouth whereas the outer edges of the tongue are not pushed down onto the angular, bony bars that are not well cushioned and therefore are much more prone to damage.

The Turtle Tactio in mouth

The Turtle Top in mouth


Fitting made easier

Turtle Top, Turtle Tactio and the Flex design concept together make identifying the optimum length of your bit easier than ever. The improvement in fit to mouth anatomy means that selecting the ideal Turtle Top or Turtle Tactio with Flex bit for your horse is readily achieved.

Simply use the Neue Schule colour coded measurement chart for guidance.

Products are available in sizes between 108 and 168 mm (that’s 4¼ inches to just over 6½ inches) – so there’s an ideal size for every horse!

Simply lay your existing bit on the chart and the size of the Turtle Top or Turtle Tactio bit you need is indicated. The colour band that best envelopes the mouthpiece of your bit from inside cheek to inside cheek indicates your ideal size.

Welcome to Saddlemasters

About us

Saddlemasters sells quality equestrian products that assist all riders from the beginner right through to the professional rider competing at top level. Our staff are trained saddlers and we offer saddle re-flocking and repair by Master Saddlers qualified staff, as well as our saddle fitting service to ensure your horse or pony is fitted with the right sized saddle, bridle, or bit, which means your horse will be comfortable and perform to their very best. We are a highly rated internet-based saddlery store providing secure shopping payment facilities with certain product lines available on Amazon.

New saddles shown online are view only for you to choose a model you like before making a fitting appointment. New saddles are made to order and are sold in the UK only. We visit you by appointment – find out more about our saddle fitting service here.