What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Resists or Roots Against Bit


Resistance to the bit takes many forms. This includes simply pushing through the bit, being unresponsive to it, opening the mouth (gaping) either with tension on the reins or not, biting down on the bit with the cheek teeth, head tossing and shaking, and rearing, among others. It helps to consider these different behaviors when observing bitting resistance.

When a horse resists the bit, there are several potential reasons. There may be a physical reason such as a dental problem, wound in the mouth, or ill fitting bridle or bit. A horse may have simply not been trained to understand to yield to pressure, or they may have been taught the opposite - that resistance is the most rewarding behavior. This is usually a result of poor rider/trainer timing or technique.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
    • If this is a slowly but consistently worsening problem and you are unsure of the cause.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's mouth (wear gloves) looking for other problems. Try to assess bit and bridle fit. Consider your own technique and knowledge. Consider the cues you are giving, improve them if you can, and seek help from a qualified trainer if you are not confident solving the problem, or are not having success.

Have your vet examine your horse and tack to ensure that the problem is not being caused by a physical issue.

What Not To Do

Do not just go out and buy a new bit, without first understanding bit and bridle fit, the mechanics of what you are trying to accomplish with a different bit, and without ruling out other potential causes.

your vet's role

Your vet can perform a careful physical and oral exam to rule out the common causes of this behavior. It may be of value for them to see the behavior while the horse is being ridden, and to evaluate the bridle and bit.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • Do you notice the behavior at all when the horse is not being ridden?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Did the horse just acquire this behavior?
  • What is your experience level?
  • What is the horse's experience level and level of training?
  • Has the feed, management, rider, riding style, or tack changed?
  • Have you been riding the horse all along or are you a new rider?
  • How long ago was the horse's most recent dental exam?
  • Has your horse had a dental exam performed by a vet or dental tech working with a vet?
  • Does your horse show any other signs of dental problems, such as difficulty eating, slow eating, dro
  • Does the horse have a history of dental disease?
  • Have you found any physical reason for the behavior?
  • Do you remember a particular incident that may have caused the horse to develop the behavior?
  • Do you notice other behavioral changes?
  • Describe the type of exercise and riding that you do with your horse.
  • Are bit and bridle of appropriate fit, type and are they adjusted properly?
  • If your horse is a mare, is she showing signs of heat or estrus behavior?
  • Do you feel confident in managing the training aspects of this behavior?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP