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Is your bit making your horse's mouth sore?

Gail Johnson- 17 March 2015

One of the queries I am asked regularly on the advice line is how to care for rubbed or sore lips.  The sore parts can result from a variety of reasons: some owners report that their horses are very sensitive and the mouth will split regardless of bit design or what it is made from, others get sore for more obvious reasons, for example, when the rider has had to hold on too much round a cross country course.  Sores can appear at the corners of the lips, inside of the lips, outside the face above the lip corner and even quite high inside the cheeks (often as a result of lips being squeezed into the teeth). 

Most of the time with discussion and further investigation, a logical reason can be found as the cause.  This can range from an incorrectly fitted bit and/or bridle through to the horse being overdue for the dentist.  Often we find that the horse is in a bit that is slightly too large, and the rider has therefore sat the bit too high in the mouth – this means that the lips corners are already “in contact” before the reins have even been taken up.  When the rider then takes hold of the reins, something has to give and unfortunately it is often the corner of the lip resulting in splits (ouch!).  Care must be taken to ensure the sores/splits have plenty of time to heal – even they appear visually to have healed I would always advise to wait a few more weeks before using the mouth again to ensure the full healing process has taken place.

If the horse must be ridden during this time, sometimes it can be appropriate to use a hackamore or a bitless bridle and I would always suggest that advice is sought as to the most suitable design.  Although this type of equipment does not use the mouth, it works on a variety of pressure points including the nose and, as with all new tack, will need to be introduced slowly and methodically in a safe environment.  As with most things, prevention is better than cure so next time you bridle up, have a good look at how your bit is fitting and check if any adjustments need to be made.