On the bit? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 02-16-2009, 02:20 PM Thread Starter
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On the bit?

How do you get a horse "on the bit"? How do you tell if said horse is on the bit and collected when you're riding them? I know what it looks like generally from the ground but I have no idea how to get that from my own riding. I've heard that it just happens when you ride lots of bends and circles and stuff but that makes no sense since that basically all I do when I ride and I have never ridden a horse that suddenly became on the bit and collected after that. I have ridden a horse that basically kept himself collected all the time and he was the best ride, but I have no idea how someone taught him to do that. Sorry if this is a dumb question...
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post #2 of 23 Old 02-16-2009, 02:49 PM
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Here is what I said in a similar thread:

Consistancy is the key here.
First, if your horse is young, I wouldn't worry so much about the headset as impulsion and being forward. The headset can come later. If your youngster pulls a lot, you have to teach him (him, right?) the basics of self-carraige; don't let him pull on your hands, much less lean on them. He can carry his own heavy head, you shouldn't have to!
To get a youngster (or any horse, come to think of it!) to get a headset, they must learn self-carraige. You want your horse to be able to move freely and loosely through the body, with forward impulsion and the ability to supple to the inside and outside either direction, before asking for headset. Headset should not be a priority with a young horse. I would rather see a youngster with flowing movement and its head above the vertical than a short-necked, short-striding horse.
Okay, so onwards and upwards:
First off, for a youngster, you should be asking for a "long and low" headset, rather than your typical dressagey "chin tucked in" headset. By this, I mean I would like to see the horse round through the back and neck, with the neck low, and chin tucked slightly in - think hunter horse style, with the poll at the height of the wither. I do not like to see your typical dressage "swan" neck - that will come later with training.
Now comes the controversial part, where people argue whether to "check and give" with the outside or inside. I have tried both training methods, and for flatwork, or dressage training, this way works best. I took a clinic from Leslie Reid (a top dressage competitor from Canada) and she did things this way.
To do this: get your horse moving forward at a walk, and hold steady with your inside rein. make a "checking and giving" motion with your outside rein - this is not a big motion, but more like squeezing the water out of a sponge. The horse should not resist this action, rather move into it. A good headset comes from leg, so you do not want your horse to slow down at all while you are asking them to give to the rein. Keep asking them forward with your leg, asking them to move into the contact, to move with your hand and leg in order to come down into your hand. They should be bending to the inside, not the outside.
This is a very difficult topic to explain without being there in a lesson, being able to see you and the horse. That introduction to giving to the rein is very breif, and I apologise for it, but I want to have fingers left after this post, not just bloody stubs.
If he already pulls, you might want to introduce him to draw reins. I know some people are very against draw reins, but I have had nothing but success with them. THEY SHOULD NOT BE USED AS TIE-DOWNS. If used correctly, draw reins AID in showing your horse the proper way to carry its nose - they show it the ground. They are a training tool that, if used correctly, can improve your horse's issues with self-carraige. Draw reins do not allow the horse to lean on the hands, insead they encourage the horse to use their own head and neck to hold themselves up.
I would strongly recommend some lessons with a professional trainer. Like I said, it is very hard to explain this without having the time to see you and your horse responding to the instructions, and seeing reactions.
I hope this helped a bit at least! "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift is a great tool in building a good foundation in dressage, so if you can get your hands on that book, I strongly recommend you buy it.
Best of luck!

p.s. You do not want to get your horse to "have a proper headset in order to do dressage lessons" - dressage will CREATE a proper headset! ;) The former is like building the house before the foundation, the latter is building the correct foundation for a gorgeous, sound house that won't topple with the first changing wind.

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post #3 of 23 Old 02-16-2009, 02:55 PM Thread Starter
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JDI, you ninja posted me! =P She's not young at all... =/ Wow, thanks for taking the time to type all that. =) So it's just one of those things that'll come if you ride well for an extended period of time and help your horse build the right kinds of muscles? I've been reading the centered riding books and working on some of those principles, which are similar to what you were saying. According to my trainer and most of the people who have seem me ride and know what they're talking about say I have really good hands, I think I rely on them too much but that's what they say... How do you tell when the horse is doing all those things, tracking up, not having it's back be dropped etc, from it's back? I've felt it when my horse has started (for brief random times) having more implusion and rhythm because she's felt really responsive and light, does that mean at those times her back was up and she was tracking up too? Thanks for answering my questions. =)
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post #4 of 23 Old 02-16-2009, 03:16 PM
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Lets get rid of the term "on the bit" and replace that with "True Collection"

For a horse to achieve True Collection - that takes a long process of hard work. Consistant flat work, consistant conditioning and Educated Cues/Aids from the rider.

A horse has to build the essential muscles, use their essential body parts for everythign to start to work together to achieve True Collecion - and yes, this doesn't happen with fidgeting with the face or a couple of weeks. This can take up to years of proper flat work to achieve this.

A horse to have a topline, engaged back end, tracking up, light on their forehand, soft in the poll first and foremost.

Ride back to front, not front to back. The headset comes last in this equation. Not first.

Seat To Legs To Hands To Soften

You cannot ride the front, you have to ride the back.

You have to start with the basics and work your way up. Any unconditioned horse, green horse, young horse, new to the scene horse - cannot be on the bridle right away. They have to learn how to work their hind end, has to learn how to track up, lift their back and get off of their forehand.

Your seat rides the back end.

Your legs ride the ribs and back

Your hands are there to recycle the energy you just created. They are not there to hold the face or force it into a false headset. Your hands ride the shoulders - not the face.

Even a well rounded, well schooled, master needs this - whenever a rider asks for a false headset by fidgeting with their faces - they are riding incorrectly.

Don't be one of those riders

There are lots of exercises you can do to help with this , Long And Low is a great aid - but so is hacking, so is proper flat work - circles, bending, serpentines.

All your horses muscles are connected, and in order to build up one section of your horses body, you have to focus on all parts.

The back has to be utalized, by creating a domino effect of engaging the back end, allowing it to drop and having her to track up. Tracking up, then therefore means the back can lift and work.

Your seat comes first to get the back end working accordingly. Then your legs come second to ride the ribs and lift the back. The topline then can be focused on beacuse the muscles through the pol to the hind end are being activated.

Your seat plays a big part - your seat not only has to be functional *al 3 points.....two seat bones and crotch* but focusing on freeing the back to beable to lift - by allowing all your weight to distribute through your upper body down into your heels.

The back end has to be working, the horse has to be tracking up, then the back can lift.

Your hands are very important as well - you cannot be holding her face in compacting her in the front. Your hands cannot be blocking the flow you've created by being stiff, forceful or holding.

You have to have functional hands. Soft, giving, supportive and lifting.

You ride inside leg, to outside rein. Your horse has to beable to carry herself *only when you've targeted her back end, legs and back* through your outside rein. Your outside rein now is recycling that energy you've created to flow back through.

There has to be forward movement, there has to be impulsion, there has to be rhythm.

Your horses has back to beable to stretch out and be opened.

Allot of flexion work, allot of circles, allot of transitions - walk to trot, trot to walk. Halt into trot. Backing up, push into trot. Hilll Work.

The LAST think you want to focus on, is where the headset is. Ride Functionally, Thorough, and be patient and consistant.


There is allot at play where functional riding comes into factor. Everyone talks about how to get the horse to do what you want - but you cannot do that, if you don't even know how to use your body.

You are the most important factor in this picture. You are your horses trainer every time you get into the saddle. Your horse reflects YOU. Your horse is only as good as you are.

You have to know how to ask the correct questions, to get the answers needed - according to each horse.

There is 1 generic rule of thumb. I hear it all the time from great riders:

Seat To Legs To Hands To Soften.

Easy right? Riiiiiiiggghhhht......easier said than done. But when you figure it out - you will have that large light bulb turn on, over your head - and you will end up saying to yourself "OOOOOOOOOOH!!!"

Your body:

1) Your seat is very important as is every other part of your body. You seat must be functional, but over active - but functional. You must be balanced - on all 3 points. Seat bones and crotch.

Your seat controls the back end. Whatever tempo your seat is going, your horse will come to you.

It must be soft when needed. It must be engaging when needed. It must speak to your horse at a whisper.

When you post......your rise must be minimal, just a smidge out of the saddle - not big and loud like we see. Believe it or not - it should not land back in the saddle when you go down. Your breeches should just brush the seat of your saddle and all your bodies weight should be in your heels.

If you are effecting your horses back, the back will not lift.

Our horses backs are VERY sensative.

Slow your seat, your horse slows. Activate your seat, your horse activates.

Harden your seat, your horse hardens.

No matter what your seat does - it should never effect your upper or lower body.

2) Your Core is connected to your lower back, your lower back is connected to your seat. Without your core, you have nothing. Your core is the center of it all. You have no lower back, you have no core. You have no seat - you have no lower back.

While sitting in your chair, rock onto your croctch - what happens to your lower back and where is your core? Can you feel it?

Now rock back onto your 2 seat bones and straiten your lower back - where is your core? Can you feel it?

The moment your hollow out your lower back, your balance has now gushed out the front of you, and you've lost your core. The moment you roach your lower back, your balance has gushed out the back of you and now you have too over active of a core.

You must have balance.

3) Your legs. Must be just as functional. Your legs ride the ribs - your legs ride the back. Your legs keep the impulsion you've created through your seat. Once you've created the needed rhythm through your seat, your legs now aid in that department.

Not by being nagging or loud. But just by being there - saying - yes, this is what I want.

Your legs support, your legs bend the ribs, your left lift the back.

There cannot be any gripping. There cannot be any pinching - and all your bodies weight should be allowed to flow through your body and down into your heels. Everything is absorbed into your heels.

The moment you grip, the moment you pinch - you've now blocked that flow.

4) Your upper body is important. You lean forward - your weight is now on your horses forehand. You lean back, you are now behind the verticle. You must have balance. You must be over the center of your horses gravity - always! The moment you are out, your horse is now too.

Your shoulders are connected to your elbows, your elbows are connected to your hands. All must be functional - without one, you've created the domino effect of unfunctional hands and upper body.

You drop your shoulders meaning - you allow the to drop, slouch, roaching your upper back - where does your center balance go? What happens to your lower back? Where did the angle of your elbows go? Where did your hands go?

All are united together to play the part of functional riding.

4) Hands - hands are so important.

MANY RIDERS RIDE WITH TOO LOUD OF HANDS. Why? We want to hold that face in. We seem to think our hands ride the face - when in reality, our hands ride the shoulders.

Our hands are there to keep your horses shoulders under them, and to keep a functional outside rein.

Your seat rides the rhythm. Your seat rides the tempo. Your seat determins the tempo and flow. Not your hands.

Your hands are there to be soft. Be supportive. Be lifting.

They cannot be functional when they hold, when they force, when they pop the horse in the mouth. They cannot do their job accordingly when they are stiff. That is not what they are meant to do.

Your horse has to beable to move forward, to open up and into him/herself. They cannot do that if you have too much contact, they cannot do that if you are controlling their face or holding their face in.

Leave their faces alone!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOUR HANDS ARE NOT TO RIDE THE FACE - BUT THE SHOULDERS!

Your outside rein is meant to support and allows all that energy you've created through your seat and your legs - to recycle back through. This way, your horse is lifted, your horse is supported, your horse doesn't drop and go flat and on their forehand.

All of your body parts, play a big important part of getting the ultimate goal of riding collected, getting your horse soft at the poll, getting your horse engaged, well rounded and onto the bit.

Without one, you don't have the other.

Now do keep in mind, everything isn't always together. Sometimes you have to compromise one to get a question you ask, clear to the horse. Or you have to compromise to accomodate the horses needs.

But your balance in the saddle, is essential. You are out, your horse is out.

In order for your horse to truely be collected - comes through consistant, persistant, functional work - to build all the essential muscles in order to do so.

In order to do so - there must be a united connection of CORRECT aids - via the rider
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post #5 of 23 Old 02-17-2009, 06:18 AM
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Wow very thorough advice here! Best of luck to you!

Every ride, good or bad, teaches you something new.
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post #6 of 23 Old 02-17-2009, 11:10 AM
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Thanks for fixing my other posts! I appreciate it!
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post #7 of 23 Old 02-17-2009, 11:25 AM
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You are very welcome

I'm not arguing with you, I'm just explaining why I'm right.

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

It's not always what you say but what they hear.
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post #8 of 23 Old 02-22-2009, 01:22 PM
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I got my horse to true collection by just working with him. I don't work with a lot of circles and lines and all that. The arena is too small for that. But I got him to relax his poll and soften on the bit just by changing my headset asking style. He then starting to track up and be collected.

"And somewhere in the northwoods darkness a creature walks upright. And the best advice you may ever get is: Don't go out at night..."
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post #9 of 23 Old 02-22-2009, 02:11 PM
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I did not take the time to read everything that was posted here because it was a lot of info. But I will share what I know and have learned from the classical dressage trainers and riders.

On the bit is a tricky term that a lot of people miss understand. Many will explain it as head seat when it really involves the entire horse. A horse that is properly on the bit is moving forward from behind. This can be felt when the horse raises his back and is stepping underneath himself (the movement becomes more floaty). Forward into the bit is the first thing that you should focus on (legs first then hands). When the horse is properly on the bit he is searching for the bit and you will feel him in your hands but, not pulling. Changing direction and bending will help but will not miraculously make him go on the bit. Forward.. Forward.. Forward.. that is the key (but, not rushing).

Do you have roundness issues as well? Does your horse stick his/her nose out when you are riding?

Collection should not be attempted until he/she moves forward on the bit properly. I have often seen horses that are trained to collect before they understand about forward movement. A lot of horses will get stuck in collection and when the rider asks for a larger trot the horse just thinks faster or canter. This can be hard to fix.

Last edited by Dressage101; 02-22-2009 at 02:16 PM.
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post #10 of 23 Old 02-22-2009, 02:14 PM
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Originally Posted by tempest View Post
I got my horse to true collection by just working with him. I don't work with a lot of circles and lines and all that. The arena is too small for that. But I got him to relax his poll and soften on the bit just by changing my headset asking style. He then starting to track up and be collected.

True collection is a bit more than that though.
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