Having a better understanding about the mechanics of riders' hands' interactions with the horse's head can improve your horse's performance, comfort, and well-being, noted one researcher at a recent equitation science conference. Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, explained that bits, nosebands, and headpieces all exert pressure on horses when we place pressure on the reins, which can vary considerably.

But new biomechanical findings in equitation science can help riders make more informed decisions about equipment use and also dispel certain myths about bridles, bits, and reins.

According to Clayton, soft tissues such as the tongue, for example, are better suited to handling pressure than hard tissues like the nose bone and the palate (the roof of the horse's mouth). "The horse's tongue can be very sensitive but it can also withstand a lot of different kinds of pressure," she said during her plenary lecture at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands.

"From my point of view, I would be a lot more concerned about pressure directly on the hard tissues (and) the bones, rather than the soft tissues which have a lot more ability to absorb the forces," she said.

Radiograph of Bitted Horse

Using radiographs (X ra