To the untrained eye or to a person who is not sensitive to the horse's experience this could seem like a very dramatic and beautiful moment.
To the sensitive horse lover this is atrocious. The bit is even underneath the tongue creating even more intense direct painful pressure on the bars of the mouth.
Why hasn't tack evolved that much over the years? Bits have been the same for 100's of years.
Sure they have gone from rusty and jagged to smooth and shiny for the most part. But can they really be comfortable?
Really, the only thing you need to do to answer that question is to press a piece of metal into your own gums.
To know the irritation and pain horses endure because of bits one need only watch a horse's mouth closely after a bridle is put on.
To know the damage bits do to the mouths of horses one can look up numerous case studies compiled by vets documenting the pressure points, bruising, tearing of soft tissue as well as the more permanent changes made to the bone and teeth over time.
This doesn't even address the pain that radiates from that area to the TMJ, poll, spine, and emotional mind.
As a horse trainer one of the first things I do when I'm retraining a horse who has behavioral problems, is to look at how all of the tack interacts with the horse's body. Making sure that it is not causing the horse pain. Often I have found that there is an ill fitting saddle or a pinching bit. The pain (as you need only use your imagination to understand) inside of the mouth is much more of a sharp pain than pain from pressure on the outside of the body. This sharpness causes them to act quickly and irrationally. When something hurts a horse their reaction is to run from it or otherwise try to rid themselves of the pain (i.e. bucking, bolting, rearing, etc) If they are unable to get away from the unreasonable situation they either go to the "Horsey Darkside" where they run, run into things, flip over, or otherwise "lose it". I believe I would do the same or worse if I was in their position. The other very sad option that happens is they learn to "tune out" or in other words disassociate mentally to avoid being in the present fully experiencing this pain.
Horses don't get to have say in what happens to their bodies unless they act out and then they are usually reprimanded. Listen to them whisper so they don't have to scream. You see the horse is actually the one whispering. We need to be horse listeners.
Another important thing I should mention is that often the owner of the horse has an intuition about how their horse feels in relation to their tack and it gets canceled out by the opinion of a trainer or other equine professional who supposedly knows more. The reality is that this "professional" is often spouting outdated information that someone else told them when they themselves were being trained years before. In most cases this person was also just passing on information before that without really investigating and thinking about it so the systems might evolve.
Here's and example: I recently spoke to a woman who's horse had cracked a tooth which then had to be extracted. Later another tooth on the opposite side of the mandible was cracked. The things this woman was being told by her vet were canceling out her knowledge as an Registered Nurse and disempowering her thoughts about how to help her horse. When in fact her information, because she works with humans, is far more advanced.
Example: I have even spoken to an equine dentist that didn't believe that sugar in feed can create an environment where cavities can occur. Of course human dentists are aware of this.
In addition to being a horse trainer/riding instructor I have worked for years as a surgical assistant in human dentistry.
It is my hope that people can be a voice for their beloved equine friend and use the powers of assertion, research, common sense, and physical empathy to be their advocate. #betheirvoice
Inge C Halliday-Horse Trainer/Riding Instructor
For humane tack options visit our new online boutique: