Archive for May, 2010

On The Bit, A Personal Search for the True Meaning

 Posted May 3, 2010

 Part Three:

Throughness and Self Carriage = On the Bit.

 Because it is misunderstood, or perhaps mistranslated,  we have stiff, unhappy horses leaning into the bit.

 On the bit:

 Wouldn’t it be surprising if after all these years that on the bit  really means  “off the bit.”  It seems more correct since we want the horse to come through the back and engage the hind leg but not to put pressure on the bit.  The bit is where you make subtle innuendos about where to be and what to do.

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Part Two of Three

Is a Bit Necessary?

Is a bit necessary?  The use of a bit has a long history, it goes back to biblical times, James 3:3 says,  “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us and we turn about their whole body.”  Even though the use of the bit is an ancient practice, nowadays, the horse has a different purpose.  Today the horse is for sport and show instead of conquering nations, so we consider the use of the bit in a more sophisticated approach.  

 If you pull on the horse’s mouth you create resistance in his jaw and often if you pull on his mouth to stop him the horse will  run through your hand, or, the “bit.”  A bit in the horse’s mouth does not automatically give the rider control. How should the rider manage the bit?


The bit is the receiver of all aids.  It lays in the mouth of the horse, a place of extreme sensitivity, waiting for communication.  If there is too much pressure on the bit the horse can’t think of any thing else, because it creates noise in his head.  Without subtle use of the bit, the bit is rendered useless. The bit is there for control, but if you use it thinking that it will give you control, it won’t work. It will cause even a well-behaved horse to explode from time to time.  A miss use or over use of the bit causes a loss of control and often puts the rider and horse in danger.

Proper Use of the Bit

  The length of your reins limits how far the nose, with the bit, can reach.  That means he can’t stretch his frame to a length that give him control and then he can hollow his back.  Dressage is about shortening the body of the horse, in part of make it easier for the horse to carry the rider and not hollow his back.  The bit allows you to do this, if used as communication. You cannot pull on the bit to shorten his body, you have to push the horse to the bit or (off the bit) to shorten his body.

The bit is a major part of a half halt. After limiting the length of your reins to where you want the horse’s head to be, (this has to be long enough for the neck to stretch before giving) then my expression is, jiggle or sponge the rein, this tells the horse to soften the jaw. It is important that the horse doesn’t  find your contact and place weight in it, so it is your responsibility to not allow your hand to be harsh or heavy on  your horse’s mouth.  Engagement or pushing the horse to the bit must be executed without putting pressure on the bit and without allowing the horse to take the bit or lean into the bit. As you signal with a jiggle or sponge of the reins, to talk to him about your control, he must not be allowed to put weight in your hand. You take the weight off the bit with a brush of the whip or a kick with the leg, but you must remember not to hang on his mouth for this to work.  The horse easily understands this, it is the rider that has difficulty letting go and not hanging on the horse’s mouth.

 A complete half halt includes the bit. But if your horse is leaning on the bit you cannot half halt without adding more weight against the bit. This will result in resistance and stiffness in the horse. The lighter the use of the bit, the more powerful it becomes.

  The ultimate refinement of all aids includes the beauty of the gentle use of the bit.

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