Before I describe the best ways to get your horse on the bit, I’m going to explain what the term means.
It’s the action when your horse stretches its neck and body to willingly receive the rein pressure you apply through the bit.
If this is your horse’s response to the bit, it will likely focus better on your instructions and carry itself with all the wonderful qualities you want from your horse.
The trick is getting your horse on the bit as naturally and comfortably as possible. An experienced horse with a capable rider won’t fight the process. With a new horse, it can take time to build the physical and mental connections between horse and rider. Let’s examine some methods to get on the bit in a way that achieves this.
Start With Some Lessons
Let’s debunk a myth: getting your horse on the bit isn’t simply about pulling on the reins. We’re not living in a cowboy movie here! It’s easy to assume this if you’re a beginner who has never experienced the process, but most riders know how much more work it takes.
Ride a horse with experience and understanding
If you’ve never encountered what being on the bit feels like, have a couple of lessons atop a horse with experience. Riding such a horse after its everyday rider works it first gives you the chance to understand what you’ll be working towards with your horse. Being on the bit is all about the feeling, and the horse’s frame and silhouette. The observing trainer will advise you on the latter.
Involve your own horse
You can also visit a qualified teacher for lessons to assist you. If you’re battling to get on the bit, the instructor could always put it on the bit for you to begin with.
Basic Preparation To Get Your Horse On The Bit
If you’re unable to schedule lessons that include your own horse, you’ll have to do it all by yourself. Well, with the help of your equine partner, of course. If this is the case, I have some exercises you can concentrate on in your warm-up as preparation to achieve your goal.
I’ve already mentioned forward motion and I’ll do so again further into this article. Why? Because it’s essential that your horse moves forward naturally and comfortably if you want it on the bit. You have to make sure your horse uses long, loose strides while responding to your leg pressure, the importance of which I’ll explain later.
If your horse moves forward keenly when you lightly squeeze your legs, you won’t likely have a problem later on. If it doesn’t, however, you may use your hand or your crop for encouragement. Try a few sharp taps with your hand on your horse’s side behind your leg first. If this doesn’t get the response you want then the striking motion two or three times with your riding crop will.
Once your horse reacts to your prompts, even if it’s a surprised reaction, bring it back and lightly squeeze your legs again immediately. This time you should have a more positive reaction. If so, praise your horse with soft words and a neck rub – your equine buddy must know it isn’t getting punished. Don’t be extreme with a full horsey body massage though – it’s better not to go overboard with your gratitude!
An exercise I use is to listen to my horse’s steps to establish its rhythm. Every horse has a different rhythm but when a horse’s steps are regular it is maintaining a comfortable one.
By listening closely to your horse’s steps when it’s walking, you’ll hear if there’s consistency in the time between them. If the timing between the steps is irregular, try slowing down or speeding up its walk until the intervals are equal. Just even out the steps – no need to get your ride tap dancing!
When trotting, you’ll hear your horse’s two diagonal legs hitting the ground in unison. A gap when all its legs raise follows, and then the other two legs will hit the surface. At a canter, you’ll identify three beats if your horse’s gait is comfortable. If you hear four beats while cantering, ride your horse forward to establish the three-beat rhythm.
Just like a dancer, the rhythm a horse carries is important for maintaining its balance.
If your horse’s spine corresponds in a straight line to the line he’s taking, it’s showing the correct straightness. If there’s straightness on the diagonal, long side, and centre line, your horse’s spine is straight. Straightness while moving in bent lines, circles, and corners and curved lines means the horse’s spine curves.
Simply speaking, a horse shows straightness if its hind feet follow the same path as its front ones.
Leading your horse in turning exercises helps to improve its straightness. Moving in small or larger circles, or shouldering in both help here. Putting your horse on its hindquarters and half-stride turning when walking are also effective.
Any tasks where the hind feet basically follow the front feet off a straight path will improve your equine partner’s straightness. We all know a horse on the straight and narrow deserves an apple, so make sure you reward it when it’s deserving.
Getting Your Horse On The Bit
Now let me give you some further steps you can take to prepare for getting on the bit. By following these, your goal will become simpler.
Ultimately, you’ll experience the same reassuring feel on your horse that you had when riding a horse accustomed to the bit. Every horse possesses this – you just have to reach it on your own. And you will!
Build your horse’s fitness
Before you even consider trying to get on the bit, you’ll need your horse to be fit enough. It’s easier to do if your horse’s hind legs are strong and up to the task. Try and do some hill work to help to strengthen the horse’s hindquarter muscles – trot or canter uphill as much as you can, and walk downhill too. In this way, your horse’s hindquarters will handle the leg pressure needed to get on the bit.
Warm up properly before sessions
Any sessions should begin with a lengthy warm-up and continue for about half an hour. If your horse is young and temperamental, limit the session to around 20 minutes. You can go for slightly longer than 30 minutes on a quiet, unassuming horse.
Begin the warm-up with a walk with a somewhat loose rein, making sure your horse is moving forward in a rhythmical fashion. Remember the dancer? If you feel your horse’s body is tense while walking, consider moving your horse forward at the trot instead.
As your horse begins to warm up, allow it to release some energy by trotting and cantering around. This loosens its muscles to a degree where it’ll be in pristine shape for the exercises that’ll follow. Maintain this for around 10 minutes. Have just enough contact with your horse’s mouth to steer it in circles and change direction to build a steady rhythm. You’re doing the salsa now! And keep your horse’s head up!
Use soft hands and inward leg pressure
With your horse warmed up and feeling loose, start to shorten the reins to encourage more contact. Remember, pulling the reins firmly isn’t going to lessen resistance to getting on the bit. Your horse will likely resist by tensing and pushing its head forward.
Rather, squeeze the reins like you would a stress ball. Just don’t exercise that stress ball like you would when you’re calming down after a squabble with your partner! While doing so, push your legs inwards encouraging your horse’s forward movement and its contact with the bit. Shorten the reins some more but maintain a forward and back motion by squeezing on them.
If you use the right leg pressure, you won’t feel the need to force your horse into contact by pulling on the reins. Using your legs well maintains your horse’s forward momentum to thrust it onto the bit.
Don’t pull back on the reins
Instead of pulling back on the reins, maintain your inward leg movement to promote your horse’s acceptance of contact with the bit. A horse that is on the bit feels light on the reins and you’ll have optimal control.
Your horse won’t feel like it’s dragging you downwards but rather like its rhythm is in tandem with your own. You’re still dancing and gently leading your equine partner. You’re actually pushing your horse into contact with the bit, not pulling it.
Get your horse in front of your leg
You’ll get your horse in front of your leg when it responds to your leg pressure by pushing through its body from its hindquarters. A horse’s gaits and rhythm stem from its hind-end movement. Engaging its hind-end well makes it so much easier and more comfortable to get on the bit. It will be much easier and smoother to do one with the other than to do one without the other.
With your horse in front of your leg, you’ll need a lot less rein pressure as your equine buddy will to get them on the bit. Its hind legs reach better and its neck arches naturally to accept the bit with less resistance. Perfect poise and structure!
Why is it important to have my horse on the bit?
It’s important for several reasons. It helps your horse to become stronger and more supple, meaning it can carry a rider’s weight better. It also enhances balance, hindquarter engagement, and collection. Hence, your horse can move more effectively. It’ll be able to undertake riding disciplines more easily and responsively.
Can any horse be trained to go on the bit?
You can train most horses to go on the bit with the proper guidance. Some horses might find it challenging if their temperaments or physical limitations hamper them. Sometimes previous training can also create issues that may hinder their progression. Working alongside a professional trainer helps find the best technique and approach to use for such horses.
Can I get my ride on the bit without professional help?
It is possible to do without professional help. You and your horse can both benefit by working with a knowledgeable instructor or trainer, though. A pro can guide you and correct any identified errors while also offering insightful feedback.