“BREAKING-In” or “Starting” a young horse for its working life is an age old tradition that started when man first had the idea of climbing on a horse’s back to use them for hunting, war and agriculture. This tradition has changed very little over the decades and mainly consists of teaching a young horse to accept a saddle, bridle and rider, however, with all the information available on how to break a horse, or best methods when breaking, there is little to no information about which bit you should use to first introduce a young horse to being ‘bitted’.
When on my calls as an equine dentist, I have discussed with some clients who have experience breaking young horses which bits they use and why during the process. The main thing I have learned is that there is a clear divide between the traditional breaking bit and a snaffle…
Breaking or “mouthing” bits with keys, also known as players, are said to be designed to encourage the horse to mouth and accept the bit and can be a calming distraction to the horse. Traditionally, these bits are fitted and the horse is left in a stable for a number of hours to focus and play with the keys, but some argue that breaking bits can encourage over-activity in the mouth and would, in many instances, promote evasions such as drawing back the tongue and possibly trying to get the tongue over the bit.
When introducing the bit for the first time, the snaffle is fast replacing the breaking bit, with some people choosing a lozenge bit or a soft rubber Mullen type. It would make sense that the horse’s first experience of carrying a bit in its mouth should be as mild and comfortable as possible. It is worth bearing in mind that the first bit may not be the last type of bit your horse will carry, so keeping the experience as nice as possible will help with future bitting.
It is always beneficial to have your young horse’s mouth examined by a vet or dental professional before introducing a bit, regardless of which type you choose. It is essential to check for wolf teeth or any other pathology that may hinder the horse’s experience.