The Myler Bitting System has been around for 25 years. What started out as a family project for their own horses, has turned into life long obsession for the Myler Brothers, as well as a worldwide mission and business.
Myler Bits was started and developed by three brothers Dale, Ron and Bob Myler, all three are keen horsemen. Their mission is to help riders communicate more effectively with their horses, creating relaxed and comfortable horses in body and ultimately in the mind.
The Myler Brothers continue to test their theories on their own horses – Ron rides cutting horses, Bob is a Cowboy Mounted Shooter and Dale is a pleasure rider / happy hacker. Here is a quote from the Myler Brothers:
Bits can only do two things: create evasion or relaxation. Everything else is up to the rider.
The Myler philosophy and belief is that tongue relief is the key to a relaxed horse. Myler continually work with horsemen and horsewomen, horse dentists and chiropractors to understand the relationship between the horse’s mouth, movement and the biomechanics of the horse. They believe that when we interfere with the horse’s ability to swallow we impede his ability to perform. This is why tongue relief is so important and the main principle behind the Myler Bitting System.
One of the other key focuses for the Myler Bitting System is the Myler Levels. This is your horse’s personality, performance level and disposition / mindset.
Things to consider when choosing a Myler bit are:
- How well does your horse handle change and cope with new environments?
- How much control do you as a rider need?
- How much tongue freedom can you allow your horse?
- What performance level are you riding at?
- What potential does your horse have?
- What performance limitations does your horse have?
- What is your horse’s innate personality / general behaviour?
We use bits in order to communicate and control our horses, along with our seat and legs. The bit is the extension of our hands and when everything is right with the world, horse and rider can carry out their performance or happy hack without any problems.
However, we all know that riding and communication with our horse isn’t always that straight forward! Resistance or evasion happens to the best of us at some point or another and most of us want to understand why we are coming up against it, because we care about our horses, their health and their well being.
Generally when we come up against resistance and or behavioural problems with our horses, we usually look at the teeth, saddle and the horse’s back. Most of the time the bit is forgotten about.
It is our job to listen to what the horse is telling us, so it’s also worth questioning the bit once we have ruled out all the other potential problem areas. Ask yourself if the bit is causing a problem for your horse. Here are some signs that the bit might be an issue…
What are the signs of bit resistance?
Tension throughout the horse’s body, especially the neck muscles
An anxious facial / eye expression
A lack of fluid movement
The horse rides above the bit with a hollow back
The horse leans or gets heavy in your hands
The horse gapes, chews or chomps the bit
The horse crosses his jaw
The horse puts his tongue over the bit
The horse draws his tongue into the throat
Behavioural / control issues
Myler’s research into bit resistance found that single jointed or three-piece bits – such as the snaffle or French link are the cause of the worst resistance.
Essentially there are 7 points to apply pressure on the horse’s head, out of the 7 points pressure on the tongue caused the most evasion. Other pressure points that a bit can pin point are:
- Bars of the mouth
- Chin groove
- Hard palate
The conclusion of the research suggests that excessive tongue pressure is the source of most resistance in horses.
To test the theory, try running with your finger pressing on your tongue, see how far you get before you need to swallow!
Essentially tongue pressure affects the way the horse swallows or his ability to swallow at all. The horse will therefore find ways to swallow, which is why he evades and resists the bit.
Swallowing is a natural reflex and we all do it involuntary, it’s an awful and very uncomfortable feeling if we cannot allow this to happen. What are the effects of not swallowing?
- Inability to breathe
- Tension on the tongue
- Leading to tension in the connecting muscles – neck / back, etc…
- Leading to an inability to move forward
- Leading to potential behavioural issues
Traditional single-jointed snaffles and French links commonly used as “kind” mouthpieces, actually cause the most tongue pressure as they collapse in the middle, pinch the tongue and cause a nutcracker action on the palate of the mouth.
Imagine the feeling of biting your tongue accidently, or catching your gums with your cutlery. It’s agony! Horses are sensitive like us, they feel pain like us, so we need to be more understanding of how our equipment fits and feels and how we go about using it too…
We need to ask ourselves if someone would be able to communicate with us effectively if we had the constant feeling of biting our tongue, restricting our swallowing and breathing, etc… I know I wouldn’t be able to concentrate with willingness in that situation… Would you?
Understanding the anatomy of the mouth
All learning starts in the same place: the mind. Get the mind relaxed and focused, and the rest of the horse will follow – the Myler Brothers
There are 7 main areas of anatomy on the horses head that can used as pressure points for communication. The main focus should be getting your horse connected mentally in a relaxed and focused way and we all know this takes time and patience. But we also start training by asking the horse to follow in the direction of his nose and then we move on to asking him to engage the rest of his body. Here are the 7 areas of the head which can be used as pressure points for control and communication with the horse.
- Nose – a delicate area due to the bone tapering at the muzzle and the nasal passages.
- Tongue – a huge muscle which takes up the whole cavity of the mouth, it is very strong and also very sensitive. The horse uses the tongue for eating, drinking and swallowing.
- Bars – this is the gap between the cheek teeth and incisors, this is actually the jawbone covered with a thin layer of skin. This is the area where all mouthpieces rest in the horse’s mouth.
- Lips – these are fleshy and covered with a thin sensitive layer of skin. The majority of the lips sit inside the mouth and around the bars of the mouth as protection of the bars.
- Poll – this is the second vertebrae at the top of the neck, behind the horse’s ears.
- Chin Groove – is the space on the lower jaw behind the soft lower lip and is where a chin strap or curb chain would sit.
- Hard Palate – is the roof of the mouth, made of bone and muscle and a thin layer of skin, a very sensitive area
Teeth are also worth mentioning as they do need dental maintenance on a regular basis. Horse’s have three types of teeth – incisors, molars and premolars (cheek teeth). Canine teeth usually appear in male horses for defence and sometimes in mares. The bit sits across the bars and lips in the gap between the canines and the cheek teeth.
It is usually the cheek teeth that can cause the most problems in the mouth, the wolf teeth especially. Some people have the wolf teeth removed as they have no function and they can be very painful if they appear and grow at the wrong angle. Always get your horse’s teeth checked by the vet or a registered horse dentist.
Bit resistance can have a huge impact on the rest of the horse’s body, right through to his tail, so it hugely important to take great care in selecting the right mouthpiece for your horse. By doing this we can help to create more harmonious relationships with our horses.
Understanding the Myler Levels
The Myler Brothers have worked on a system to help you choose the right Myler bit for your horse. This is called the Myler Levels.
The Myler Levels are based on your horse’s personality, training, experience and potential there are 4 levels:
- A level one horse will be young and green, most likely in the early stages of training
- A level one bit is dressage or Western legal restricted to a snaffle with a jointed mouthpiece
- A level two horse is young and green but with a sensible nature
- A horse coming back into training after a long time off
- A horse that has only ever been ridden in jointed mouthpiece
- A horse that is resisting a level one mouthpiece (Myler or traditional)
- If you have a challenging or unpredictable horse you may want a level two mouthpiece
- If you have a horse that is new to you with an unknown history
- A horse that is sensible, reliable, steady and honest and capable of more tongue relief
- A horse with advanced training that requires more control due to an overly bold, or flighty or excitable nature
- A performance horse in training for jumping but requires tongue relief with precise control for maximum communication
- A horse that is showing resistance in a level two mouthpiece
- A level two mouthpiece is ported to offer tongue relief to various degrees, it is the largest Myler category offering both curb and correctional options
- A horse that is advanced in his training and considered a finished product in his discipline with mild or no control issues
- An experienced horse with a very honest and trustworthy personality with mild or no control issues
- A horse showing resistance to a level two-three mouthpiece but is of a calm and steady nature
There are a number of things to consider when thinking about the Myler Levels – the more tongue relief you offer your horse the more control you are letting go of, so be sure your horse’s personality and general behaviour is very trustworthy before you give up your control.
Other things to consider are whether your bit is legal for your discipline. You may want to check with the governing body before competing. It’s ok to ride and train at home in a correctional bit, but you will need to swap into your legal mouthpiece on competition day.
Very few horses need the tongue pressure of a level one mouthpiece, so if you have a sensible youngster you might start in a level two mouthpiece. Most horses will eventually resist the tongue pressure of a level one mouthpiece.
To select the right Myler bit for your horse, ask yourself the following questions:
- What Myler Level is my horse currently working at?
- What Myler Level (traditional or other) is my current mouthpiece?
- Compare your horse’s Myler Level with the Myler Level of your mouthpiece
- Ask yourself if the resistance is due to the wrong mouthpiece for the level your horse is currently at – e.g. too much tongue pressure or too much tongue relief…
Understanding horse behaviour – “Horsenality”
Parelli have a great way of understanding horse personalities and I think it would help you understand where they would fit within the Myler Levels. Parelli have even created a modified version of the original Myler combination bit with the Myler Brothers called the “Cradle Bit”.
Parelli Natural Horsemanship is an education program that helps people to learn and understand horse behaviour and horsemanship skills. Parelli has a program of learning which is based on four levels of skills and Savvys. A dedication to never-ending self improvement that will build your relationship not only with your horse but also with people and life.
To learn more about Parelli Natural Horsemanship click here.
Have a look / have a go at completing the below chart to understand your horse’s personality and gain a greater understanding of where your horse would sit within the Myler Levels.
How might you link your horse’s “Horsenality with the Myler Levels?
Further to my research and my experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, I see that you might be able to cross reference Parelli Horsenality with the Myler Levels as detailed below… Remember each horse is different and this is only to try and illustrate the levels for you…
Myler Level One = Right Brain Extrovert or a young horse’s first bitting experience
Myler Level One is good for a horse with moderate to extreme tendencies, they like the tongue support as too much tongue relief can make them feel lost or unsteady – this type of bit holds their hand and can comfort them.
Myler Level Two = Right Brain Introvert or Right Brain Extrovert who is advanced and more centred
Myler Level Two offers both tongue relief and tongue pressure, it allows tongue relief for a hesitant horse to come forward into the bit, yet the tongue contact will provide support and emotional comfort.
Myler Level Two-Three – Left Brain Extrovert
A Myler Level Two-Three bit offers more tongue relief than a level two bit but if you have a left brain extrovert you may still need a little tongue pressure. However, this type of horse may still draw his tongue back and hold his mouth open against the tongue pressure, so you may then need to go up to a Myler Level Three bit to avoid this happening.
Myler Level Three – Left Brain Introvert
Myler Level Three bits offer the maximum tongue relief great for an introvert who is not very forward going and inclined to overflex. Once you offer them the tongue relief they feel free to move forward and they are more quiet and comfortable in their mouths.
Features of the Myler Level Mouthpieces
Let’s have a look at the features and characteristics of the Myler mouthpieces:
Myler bits have a curved mouthpiece to allow the horse’s tongue to pass under the bit, allowing him to swallow naturally. Myler Level One mouthpieces have a more exaggerated curve as the bit rotates on to the tongue and wraps the bars of the mouth providing tongue pressure without applying bar or lip pressure.
The Myler Curve is present to some degree in all Myler mouthpieces.
Independent Side Movement
A lot of the Myler bits offer Independent Side Movement, this works with a barrel in the centre of the mouthpiece that is a bushing not a roller and allows the rider to move each side of the bit independently. This provides very precise and clear communication with the horse and it prevents the horse’s shoulder from dropping.
A few of the Myler bits offer a twist version. A twist mouthpiece appears to have a plaited effect and this is designed to provide more concentrated pressure to the bars and lips of the mouth. The Myler version of the twist has no sharp or pronounced edges to offer a softer not harder pressure. This ensures the horse responds to pressure and not pain!
A lot of research has gone into the width of the mouthpiece for horse bits, and it has been found that due to the anatomy of the mouth there really isn’t a lot of room for a bit. The optimum thickness of a bit is 11.11mm, this is due to the tongue filling the cavity of the horse’s mouth and leaving limited space. A thicker mouthpiece will take up too much room and interfere with the tongue and lips, whilst a thinner mouthpiece will be a much sharper feel on the horse’s bars and lips.
The taste of the mouthpiece is very important and also how quickly it warms up. Research shows that horse’s prefer it when a bit oxidizes – i.e. a sweet taste is released when the metal comes into contact with the horse’s saliva. Myler Western style cheekpieces, combination and cradle bits are made of sweet iron with a copper inlay. Myler English styles are made from stainless steel with a copper inlay. Myler loose ring cheekpieces come in both options of stainless steel and sweet iron.
Any mouthpiece with any cheekpiece
In addition to the Toklat Myler (manufacturer’s of Myler Bits), Myler can also hand make any combination of mouthpiece and cheekpiece, so you really can have a bit that is totally made especially for you and your horse!
Characteristics of the Myler mouthpieces within the Myler Levels
- Curved bars
- Independent Side Movement
- Wrapping of the bars and lips
- Rotating on to the tongue
- NO collapsing and NO pinching of the tongue, bars or lips
- Introduces some tongue relief with less tongue pressure
- Available in broken and mullen style mouthpieces
- Curved bars
- Independent Side Movement
- Rotating on to the tongue
- NO collapsing and NO pinching of the tongue, bars or lips
- The Level Two Mullen can restrict the ability to swallow and elevate the tongue this is because it sits solidly across the bars and lips. Depending on the thickness of the horse’s tongue, depends on the restriction
- Broadest category with various degrees of tongue relief
- This Level has two categories – Curb and Correctional
- Correctional bits are ported bits that collapse on to the bars and lips as well as rotate on to the tongue when a contact is taken up – this provides control and tongue relief – short term fix for an issue such as leaning or running through the bit
- Curb bits are ported bits that sit solidly across the bars and lips, offering tongue relief with less tongue pressure than a correctional bit. The port gives room for the tongue and depending on the cheek style it usually offers poll, bar and chin pressure
- Curved Bars
- Independent Side Movement
- Rotating on to the tongue (Curb – NO, Correctional – YES / NO)
- Maximum tongue relief
- Minimal tongue pressure
- Almost exclusive pressure to the bars, chin and poll
- Generously ported
- Curbed and sits solidly across the bars and lips
- Curved Bars
- Independent Side Movement
- No collapsing on the tongue, bars or outer lips
The Myler Combination Bit is worth discussing, as it looks like a real contraption! However, it is actually one of the kindest bits for your horse due to the poll, nose and chin pressure it applies before any pressure is applied to the bars, lips and tongue.
The Myler Combination Bit is a hybrid of a ring bit, shank bit and a hackamore. Available in several different mouthpieces so you can select the right amount of tongue relief / pressure for your horse.
The unique benefit of the Myler Combination Bit is that you can control the pressure applied, if any to the horse’s nose, poll and chin. The pressure is only ever applied if the reins are engaged and it synchronises the pressure simultaneously with these three pressure points. The unique design also ensures that the bit will never tighten up on its own to apply unintentional pressure.
The Myler Combination Bit if used correctly will not action the bars, lips or tongue of the mouth unless the horse doesn’t respond to the rein being engaged. The movement of the ring until the stop is engaged is about 1 inch, so there is plenty of leverage before the mouthpiece is engaged..
Myler believe the Combination Bit is an indispensable tool for any horseman or woman. Ideal for young or green horses, horses with control or training issues, horses re-training and horses doing fast work such as cross country and show jumping.
I could go into more detail about each mouthpiece and each cheekpiece but Myler have a book that tells you all about these, along with a free DVD which is a visual guide to the Myler Bitting System. The book is called The Level Best for Your Horse the Myler Bitting System.
It is worth saying that Myler offer bits for all disciplines, not just Western riding. Whether you are a pleasure rider, a dressage diva, a show jumping super star or a brave event rider Myler can supply you with a bit that is suitable.
For more information and advice on choosing a Myler Bit for your horse contact Customer Services at Naylors Equestrian…