The purpose of the bit is for communication and control. In order to achieve communication we need relaxed, confident acceptance of the bit by the horse. Research conducted under controlled scientific methods has recently radically enhanced our understanding and knowledge of mouth anatomy and the different pressure points required to achieve comfort. Applying this knowledge to the design and manufacture of horse bits enables us to more effectively redress bad ways of going or evasions and promote ways of going that develop correct muscle structure and a soft, consistent contact. This emphasis on scientifically informed design has been coupled in our range of bits with the unique recognition that a high thermal conductivity of the mouthpiece must also be significantly influential in bitting. Responding to these scientific advances in knowledge we are meeting a basic requirement best observed by P.R. van Weeren who has commenteda: "….The answer should be based on sound scientific work, as only this can yield a good basis for discussion. The answer should be honest and unbiased, because the horse deserves this after 5000 years of unselfish and faithful service."
For those of us brought up with the weight of tradition being our best means of deciding on horse welfare and training this research has provided a wake up call. We have had to re-evaluate and reconsider our objectives and the methods by which we achieve them. Many traditionally held beliefs have been effectively dispelled in the light of increased knowledge and scientifically controlled testing.
Let's look at one very basic assumption: Traditionally people have believed that a fat mouthpiece is kind and a thin one is severe. But this cannot be a universal rule. There is a happy medium to be found and if there is insufficient room in the horse’s mouthb then fat is not kind. Indeed a bit that is too fat for the limited space within the mouth may even impair the horse’s ability to breathe and swallow, especially when coupled with hyper flexion (behind the vertical).
Another view holds that different mouthpiece materials can influence and stimulate salivation through smell and taste. But excess salivation is seen with all types of bits, in some horses frequently, in some less so. But importantly we cannot scientifically quantify taste and relate it uniquely to excess salivation. Horses, being grazing animals, salivate constantly but salivation has not been seen to increase with the sight and smell of food. In fact, some celebrated research showed that in dogs, salivation could be stimulated by means other than the presence of food (Ivan Pavlov (1927)). It is in the spirit of a 'parasympathetic' nervous system response that Hilary Clayton's researchc might suggest a link between excess saliva and the presence of the bit. From a bitting perspective we only require sufficient saliva in order to lubricate the bit to avoid any friction which could cause rubs.
For many years, people have thought that any bit in the horse’s mouth would inevitably impair the horse’s ability to breathe and swallow. This perception became very firmly rooted despite the very clear understanding in veterinary literature that horses breathe predominantly through the nose with the structures of the mouth playing only a secondary role. Scientifically controlled research now can suggest that modern ergonomic designs of mouthpiece might actually enhance the horse’s ability to breathe and swallow, by stabilizing the pharynx, depressing and steadying the tongue towards the back of the mouth, thus creating a larger respiratory channel.
Another misconception that has come to light is the use of Key Bits. Key Bits or 'Players' (loosely attached thin plates in the center of the mouthpiece, for example), were traditionally used when first bitting as it was believed that mouthing and increased salivation was beneficial. On the contrary however, the rider’s objectives are to achieve relaxed, confident and quiet acceptance of the bit, focusing the horse on the signals through the rein for a soft, consistent contact. This cannot be achieved if the horse is first trained to be over-active in the mouth, fixating on the presence of the mouthpiece and trying to play with it.
Quiet, relaxed acceptance of the bit optimizes communication between horse and rider and enhances performance. If our objective with bit design is to be perfected it will use materials and designs intended to discourage mouthing rather than encouraging it. Rather than designing a bit for the horse to ‘explore’ whether by taste or feel, we aim to make the bit itself ‘neutral’ – simply comfortable. This radical re-think overturns what most have taken for granted and rider and horse experience will show how well we have achieved our objectives. Lower oxidation and higher thermal conductivity are scientifically definable features. Thus, scientifically informed design, “honest and unbiased” as van Weeren suggests, is the cornerstone of our approach.