Meaning of The Term
have arrived at this page to learn more about getting your horse on the
bit, I would like you to ask yourself what - in your opinion - exactly is
'on the bit'?
observer, a horse is on the bit when you can draw a vertical line from his
nose to his forelock when viewed from the side. Yet, there is so much more
associated with the horse on the bit that many riders are not aware of.
The horse is truly on the bit when has rounded his outline (back and
neck), engaged his hind quarters, stepped forward with impulsion, and
brought his nose to the vertical.
fault is the excessive use of hands to bring the horse on the bit. Many
riders can quickly bring the horse on the bit through 'bullying' the horse
into submission. If you believe that a perfect outline is all about a
vertical head position, you will unconsciously focus your efforts on the
reins. The more effort you exert on the reins, the more resistance you
will receive from the horse.
have agreed that 'on the bit' means more than the horse's head position, I
will begin to refer to it as a 'rounded outline'.
are forced onto the bit are not happy, relaxed horses, and are much less
responsive to the aids. The trick is to persuade the horse to round up his
outline and engage his hind legs rather than bully him into it. It is not
an easy task and it will take a lot of time and practice, but it is
definitely achievable with most horses.
explaining the methods of rounding up a horse, I would like to stress on
the importance of a well developed classical seat. Despite common belief,
the essence of a well-rounded, responsive horse is a deep, secure, and
independent seat. So if you have not yet read the articles discussing the
basics of classical riding, now is the time to do so!
of the Seat
consider the effect of a bad seat on a horse. If your weight is on your
buttocks, your legs forward, and you are balancing yourself with the
reins, the horse's reaction will be as follows: he will hollow his back
away from the discomfort your seat is causing, throw his head in the air
and arc his neck, hold his breath, and retract his ribcage from contact
with your legs (becoming flat-sided). In motion, sitting still in this
situation becomes extremely difficult, and the rider will grip with his
legs and balance on the reins, which will bring even more tension to the
Now we will
consider the effects of a well-developed classical seat. Since the rider
has become responsible for his own weight, the horse's back will lift up,
his ribcage will expand, he will round his neck and bring his nose to the
vertical, and breathe regularly and deeply. This set of reflexes stem from
the fact that the horse is seeking contact with the rider, rather than
avoiding it. Maintaining your position and sitting to the horse's movement
will become an easier task, which will leave you to concentrate on
refining your contact (seat, legs, and hands) with the horse, which will
lead to an even happier and more responsive horse.
Do you see
the comparison between the last two paragraphs? In short, stress causes
more stress, and relaxation causes more relaxation! If you take care of
your seat, the horse will take care of his head!
horse has rounded his outline, he will produce a certain feel to you,
which you will register in your mind. When you ride another horse, how
will you know -by feel- that he is doing the right thing? All horses feel
the almost identical when they have rounded their outline. This is how
riders know how well the horse is performing - by comparing the FEEL with
the bit' is not solely about the horse's head position, you will notice a
difference in the way the horse is moving when he is rounded, which will
give you a certain feel. Remember this feel and try to produce it every
time with every horse. Having someone watch you on the ground is helpful
because they can tell when things are looking good.
picture displays the perfect outline. However, this horse is an
advanced schoolmaster and you cannot expect a green horse to achieve
this outline almost instantly
How is it Done?
classically, you allow the horse to use his body to its full potential,
and make it easier for him to round his outline. Never expect the horse to
round his outline if your seat is restraining him.
"To fully understand this, stand up for a
minute and hug one knee to your chest. You will inevitably round your
back. Now deliberately hollow your back and try again. You will be
unable to lift your knee so high - and it would make no difference if
someone were kicking you in the ribs to make you do it!"
from an article in
Horse & Rider magazine.
proceed, we must remember than it is not right to attempt to round up the
horse in rising trot. In rising trot, the seat is almost nonexistent, and
you'll have to make it up by over-using the legs and hands. So until you
are able to sit tall and still to the trot, do not attempt to round up the
horse in trot.
these steps to supple up your horse and round him up.
While in walk, maintain impulsion by creating energy through your seat
(For more information regarding impulsion from the seat, refer to
The Seat in Action) The energy you
create must be directed to his hind quarters. Try to prevent the energy
from escaping to the front. If you feel the horse beginning to get heavy
on the forehand, lighten the contact with his mouth to tell him that he
is not allowed to lean on your hands. Many trainers would advise the
total opposite and would tell the rider to pull sharply at his mouth.
This serves as a punishment, and will cause tension. By loosening the
contact, you are telling the horse, "You're alone and you better find
your balance on your own." This is an example of persuasion versus
Carry on a conversation:
Keeping a light contact through the reins should be
carried out, yet do not entirely abandon the horse. Gently 'sponge' the
reins with your fingers (meaning squeeze the reins in your fist then
relax your fingers) As soon as the horse gives in, lighten the contact
again. Sponge each rein alternatively. Use this method only to refine
the horse's head carriage, not to put him on the bit. Remember that you
should not pull at the reins, squeeze just enough to cause small
movement to the bit. This also encourages the horse to mouth the bit and
soften his mouth. Again, only use this method as a refinement, not as
the means to round up the horse.
your exercise patterns. An easy exercise to generate impulsion would be
to make various transitions within the pace and into other paces. For
example, trot to halt, then canter, then walk, then trot, then extend
the trot, re-balance, and walk. The canter/halt exercise can work
miracles on your horse's outline, but don't pressure your horse into it
if he is not yet doing walk to canter and canter to walk transitions.
Within 5 or 10 minutes of the transition exercise, the horse will
naturally land into a perfect rounded outline, provided of course that
your seat helps him, not restrain him.
bringing your horse behind the bit. An over-flexed horse will be heavy on
his forehand, tense in his back, and lacking impulsion from behind. Sadly,
many judges of dressage give good scores to horses that have gone behind
the bit and stuck their noses to the chests. This is a grave mistake and
encourages novice riders to continue in this wrong outline. Never, ever,
let your horse drop behind the bit. If your horse has a tendency to do so
on his own, create impulsion and lighten the contact to urge the horse to
reach forward and seek proper contact.
general, take it lightly and slowly. Do not expect a green horse to
instantly jump into a perfect outline. The horse will know what to do
if we will just help him. Don't jump into conclusion that your horse
is simply stubborn. Refine your seat and contact, and leave the rest
to the horse.
Although this horse looks pretty, he is in an outline that must be
avoided at all costs.