Do I need a stronger bit for my ex-racehorse?

Do you have an ex-racehorse that feels strong when you ride him? Here to offer some advice is Grace Muir, CEO and founder of HEROs, an ex-racer charity. 

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Q: My thoroughbred is strong and no bit seems to help. What can I do?

A: Before you start looking for another bit, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. Has your horse had his teeth checked recently - and are there any issues in his mouth causing him pain? If he's strong, he may be trying to get away from discomfort.
  2. Have you had his back checked? Back pain is another potential painful area that can cause horses to be stronger than usual.
  3. What's his physical condition like? Does he have any topline muscle or does he need to gain condition? 
  4. Has a thorough assessment been done of your horse? This may be by either a knowledgeable professional or a vet, to rule out any issues elsewhere. 
  5. What bits have been tried so far? Thoroughbreds are generally ridden in loose-ring snaffles in training and during a race. It would be an exception to the norm to use a stronger but during a race.

If you've ruled out pain or discomfort, it's time to look at choosing another bit. Go for simplicity and maybe a change of action.

Always start with a less aggressive bit at first, I'd suggest trying a snaffle with a correctly fitted flash on the noseband. 

Switching to a new bit

Before riding in a new bit, lunge your horse first as he might not have experience of how this bit feels in his mouth. 

This is a far safer option in the event of him protesting against the way the new bit feels. 

Also check your bridle is fitted correctly. It should hold the bit high enough in your horse's mouth to ensure he can't get his tongue over the bit. 

Another area to look at is the size of your horse's mouth. Happy mouth bits, which come in a range of different styles, give your horse a lot more room for his tongue, so this could solve a lot of issues in the case of a horse with a smaller mouth. 

I've found some ex-racehorses go well in a Dutch or two-ring gag as the different action seems to suit them well. However, as I said before, make sure you try any new bit first on the lunge before you try it under saddle.

There are many other bits available and if you're worried about the cost of trying different bits, try Bit Bank. 

It will give you a chance to try before you buy, so it's a great way to find out which bit best suits your horse's needs.