On the Bit … or Off it?

Posted by in Blog, energy, on the bit, outline, rein contact, softness on Mar 13, 2011

There can’t be a rider out there who hasn’t ‘screwed’ their horse’s head down at some stage. The problem with this ‘method’, other than the fact it’s unnecessary, is that it really doesn’t work. Ok, it makes your horse tuck his nose in but the second you try to swap your whip over, shorten your reins or even scratch your nose his head will, quite rightly, pop straight back up again.

On the bit should be self explanatory. It means what it says. Your horse should settle (not lean or hang) ON the bit. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why do so many riders spend most of their time trying desperately to get their horse OFF it? Snatching, pulling or swinging the bit from side to side is hardly relaxing for your horse. For him to settle on the bit you have to keep your hands still.

In the last few posts you’ll have read that your hands control everything in front of the saddle. Your legs control everything behind it. Riding from leg into hand creates and then contains energy. Do it right and you can’t fail to put your horse on the bit.


Contained energy has to go somewhere. Compare your horse to a coke bottle. Shake it with the lid on and the coke fizzes. If the lid is tight the bottle expands to allow for the extra fizz. Push your horse from behind into a steady contact and you’ll create the same effect. The energy bottles up between his hindquarters and his mouth. If your contact is consistent there’s nowhere for this energy to go. His barrel, like the bottle,  will expand to allow for it.

If he’s comfortable in his mouth your horse will round his spine. His back will come up under the saddle and his head will go down onto the bit.  If he’s uncomfortable he’ll tighten his back. Now he can’t round his back so he’ll hollow it. His back will drop from under the saddle and his head will come up.

It’s your job to ensure your horse is comfortable in his mouth. Moving your hand or your whole arm puts all your weight behind each movement. Move your fingers, as if you are squeezing water from a sponge, and you create a softer feeling which he can relax onto. This movement of your fingers keeps you in contact with his mouth but prevents you both from fixing on each other.

Of course, some horses are easier than others but stay calm and consistent and you’ll get there in the end. The next time you take a pull or try to ‘get your horse’s head in’ think twice. Do you want him on the bit or off it?

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