Bits for Hard to Stop Horses

The Riders Hands QuoteIf you have ended up here because you are looking for product reviews on bits for hard to stop horses or an article on what bigger bit you need to be able to stop your horse you will be sadly disappointed.

We have all probably heard people say “that horse has a hard mouth”, “it bolts and can’t be stopped”, “you can hang off its mouth all day and nothing changes”.

These phrases make my hair stand on end and quite frankly all I can see is distress for the poor horse being described.

I don’t doubt you may have a horse that you can’t stop but the last thing you need is a different bit, and below I will explain why.

No such thing as a hard mouthed horse

Yes there you go, I have said it. There is no such thing as a horse with a hard mouth.

Shank BitIt is physically impossible. You may have inherited a horse who has had people hanging off its mouth for a long time but the mouth of the horse itself has not changed.

A horses bars and gums do not physically change and become hard through bad riding thus requiring the installation of a bigger, harsher bit to overcome the hard surface.

You can certainly damage a horse’s mouth through the use of harsh bits, tie downs, ill-fitting equipment that pulls or cuts the horse’s mouth.

Some of that damage if bad enough may result in scaring which changes the composition and feel of the mouth but it will be just as sensitive as it ever was.

What does happen is the horse’s mind becomes hard. He finds himself, by the sheer act of self-preservation, having to harden his thoughts to deal with the abusive treatment of his mouth by those who should know better.

When you listen to people who say “you need to try this shanked bit” or “that harsher bit work for my horse”, you are simply avoiding the real problem which is that your horse does not respect you and does not feel inclined to respond to your requests. Fix that and you won’t need a bigger, stronger, harsher bit.

How does it happen – my rant!

If like me you traipse off to any and all horse events you will have no doubt noticed there are lots of different riders’ within any discipline, riding lots of different horses in lots of different gear.

Little girl kissing her ponyIt is not necessary to single out any particular discipline or section of the riding community for being hard on their horse’s mouths. It is happening daily around the world in every sport and by many riders’ both amateur and professional.

I do not make exceptions for children riding ponies either. There is no reason for them to be hanging relentlessly off their horse’s mouth and standing up in the stirrups to haul back in an attempt to stop the pony. Children are as capable of learning to be soft and giving as an adult. If you can’t teach your children this then they shouldn’t be on the pony in the first place.

Another cringe-worthy moment, and I see it so regularly, is people sitting on their horses gossiping, to someone who has stopped for a chat, holding a constant contact on their horse’s mouths.

Let’s not get into just sitting on your horse for no good reason (another one of my bugbears) but every time you take up contact with your horse’s mouth it should mean something. By standing there applying pressure you are diminishing the mouth of your horse and teaching him to ignore you and the pressure.

If your horse can’t stand there without moving while you have a “brief” chat then you need to teach your horse to halt and stand still. Not just keep applying pressure in the hope that he will stay in the one spot. In a lot of cases the horse is standing quietly not doing anything wrong at all and yet the person still feels the need to hold their horse’s mouth – why?

Pulling and jabbing on your horse’s mouth while riding, unconsciously or even worse deliberately, is likewise not only cruel to your horse but is destroying your horse’s responsiveness. It is no wonder that so many horses are hard to mount, when they have a constant fear that you will be causing them pain through the bit when you ride of course they don’t want you up there.Bitless bridle

I ride my horse in a bitless bridle regularly. It is amazing the number of people that will say “ohh aren’t you going to put a bit in his mouth?”

I do this to remind myself that I don’t need a bit in my horses mouth to stop him, to be more gentle with my hands if I feel I am becoming heavy-handed (it happens to the best of us) and sometimes just to fine tune my horse and make sure he is in fact listening to my seat and aids and that he and I are not becoming reliant on the reins and his mouth.

Yes I know using a bitless bridle is not necessarily any less harsh (when used harshly) than having a bit in the horse’s mouth. It is however quite revealing what you learn about yourself and your horse when you put him in a bitless bridle for the first time.

What sort of mouth has your horse really got?

Do you know what sort of mouth your horse has? You don’t want to be finding this out when your horse has started bolting or you are about to get into a train wreck because he has spooked at something and is leaving at a rapid rate of knots!

Widely recognised as one of Australia’s most respected horseman John O’Leary recommends you score your horse’s mouth out of 10 before you start re-mouthing so you know what you have to work with and how much better you can get it.

Watch John’s video below to get a good idea on how you can test your horse’s lateral mouth.

Another easy test although not as precise, is to put your horse in a bitless bridle, in an enclosed area and ride around on a loose rein. When I say loose I mean zero contact, holding the buckle, and see if you can get your horse to turn and halt. If you can’t you are risking your safety because you have no steering and no brakes. Check out our article on Riding On The Buckle for some hints and tips on how to do this.

Any horse with or without a bit can keep trucking along in any direction, they are 500 kilos bigger and stronger than you, you want to make sure you have the mind of your horse and are not relying on brute strength to stop him.

Re-mouthing a Horse

Many horses do need re-mouthing this is very true. What is not true is that the act of re-mouthing them physically softens the mouth. If done correctly the re-mouthing softens their mind.

Racehorse with chain bitAny horse can be re-mouthed and to be perfectly honest probably most should be before being ridden.

There are many systems or ways to re-mouth a horse, the internet is littered with suggestions on this topic. Personally I have used and recommend John O’Leary’s method.

He has produced a DVD which allows the novice horse owner to re-mouth their own horse, yes you can do it without a professional horse trainer.

John has tailored the system specifically towards the novice, it is a logical step by step system, explained in easy to understand language, he is confident that anyone can do this and I am proof that they can.

I used John’s method on an off the track thoroughbred I had some 4 years ago with brilliant results. While my horse, Kev, was certainly not one of the worst I have seen by a long shot, as an ex-racehorse he was very used to ignoring the bit after many years of pressure and pain in his mouth while racing.

You can get John’s DVD Re-Mouthing the Horse by clicking here. It is over 7 hours of very thorough, easy to understand and implement training for you and your horse.

I am not associated with John and do not receive a cut of this product sales, this is simply the best way in my opinion.

Get Off Your Horse Mouth

Ask yourself the following questions honestly:Bridle and bit

  • Are you causing your horse undue pain and suffering through your actions either consciously or unconsciously?
  • Do you know what score your horses mouth is? Does it need improving and if so how are you going to do that?
  • Do you really need the style of bit you are currently using? That extra bit of equipment to restrict his head?

If these questions are hard for you to contemplate or answer than seek out some good quality training either face to face, via DVD or online.

Training which teaches you to build a partnership with your horse.

Training that puts the horses’ welfare and dignity first before the riders’ ego.

Your horse will surely thank you for it.

So in summary what is the best bit for hard to stop horses – there isn’t one.

Let me know in the comments below if you have a hard to stop horse and what you are doing to try and help the situation. As always if you have a question pop it in the box, I’d love to help you out.



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Horses are my passion. And while not everything in horses is black and white, and there are many choices you will need to make for your horse, I hope to explain things in a way that helps you make informed decisions, so you can provide the very best life to your horse.

  • terri dixon says:

    I do not own a horse , only because I do not own the land but in my younger days dreamed of owning one. I have ridden many horses and sadly to say never once thought about its mouth more ridding stable’s should read your article so they would be more informative to there riders. great learning Thank-you for sharing.

    • Heidi says:

      Hi Terri, unfortunately many people who own and ride horses don’t think about their horses mouth or their mind for that matter. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it is an all too common occurrence and I have to say in my younger years I was no different.

      I think times are changing with more people being exposed to the natural horsemanship way of treating our beloved horses. Not to say it is the be all and end all, but developing a partnership with our horses will always be the most important aspect of owning a horse for me.

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