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Chess46 08-20-2009 09:25 AM

Bit Trouble
I am having a hard time finding the right bit for my horse. I have tried a full cheek snaffle, a very small and light sweet iron snaffle, a rubber snaffle, and even a side pull with a bit attached to it. He holds them and rides in them perfectly. He doesn't seem to mind them at all until I put pressure in his mouth to ask him to stop or back up. Im NOT jerking in his mouth. I am very lightly pulling back. I also don't do a steady pull. I do a ask and release thing because I don't want to hurt him. He does stop and back when I ask him to but he slings his head all over the place. Should I try another type of bit other than the snaffle? I bought a training book because I am most certainly not a trainer. The book stated that I should be starting off with a snaffle and then graduate to a curb when he is listening to all cues.

Any suggestions?

Liberty Valance 08-20-2009 12:34 PM

Bits are merely communication devices. There are many different kinds to choose from depending on where your horse is coming from, what his abilities are, etc. Bits are just helpers - helping you communicate what you want in a way that your horse can understand and then do it. That's why we use a snaffle first, which is very basic communication, then move on to the curb, which is more highly advanced pressure system.

It doesn't sound like it's a bit problem. It sounds like a communication problem. If he's behaving wonderfully during everything else and only does the head toss when you ask for a back or a whoa, then there's something wrong with the way you're asking.

He might not actually understand "whoa" or back. "Back" is actually pretty difficult to teach a "green bean". When you think about it, everything they do is forward motion. I would say to try a different method on your "whoa". Try teaching him to stop with your seat instead of your hands. When a green horse is moving along at his forward pace and then suddenly a bar in his mouth jumps up and bites him without warning, it's quite startling (and up goes the head). The "seat stop" uses your seat as the initial cue. It's really cool when they learn it because no matter what gait you're using, you can just sit heavy on your pockets and they just automatically stop in a step or 2. And since you're not in their mouth, there's no reason for the head up. It's easy to teach, too. He can learn it in a day.

With backing, I don't pull, either. I set my hand firmly in one spot, lock my wrist, and squeeze the horse up into the bit. He shifts his weight forward as if about to take a step, the bit doesn't move with him, and so he backs away from it when he walks into it. And whenever you ask for the back, even if he only does one step, that's great! He has to learn what you want, first. (and when you think about it, if "whoa" and "back" are basically the same cue, he's definitely going to have some trouble understanding which is which)

Here's a thought for you....When we watch a good rider ask for these cues and you see their hand move, we think that he's pulled back on the reins. What's REALLY happened is that he's actually stopped his hand from moving forward with the horse. His hand stops in the air, the horse and his body ride slightly past it, *bam* the horse stops. It LOOKS like he's pulled, when in fact he hasn't pulled at all! There's a HUGE difference in the way the horse responds. A sudden pull-back asks the horse to defy the laws of physics and forward motion - you end up with 1200 pounds of horse all up in the bit...they should come with airbags! LOL Whereas with the "hand stopping in the air" idea, the farther the pressure on his mouth is happens very quickly, but it's still gradual application of pressure instead of sudden, and it does not require the rider's hands, the bit, or the horse to suddenly go in the opposite direction. The farther he goes past where the hand stopped, the more it squeezes his mouth. ;^)

Try it! It's cool!!

Chess46 08-20-2009 12:58 PM

Wow. That is 100% different from the way I was taught to ride. I started off with a 18 year old horse and was told to pull back for stop and kick for go. Every horse I have riden from then on has been the same way. Im now learning much differently about both of those. Could you tell me more about how to do those things? Sorry if im not understanding but I must say...this is very new. How I stop him now is, I sit back in the saddle and gently pull back on the reins. He stops..but throws a fit with his head. I make him back up by squeezing with my legs, sitting back and bumping the reins. He backs up but throws his head as well. I thought it was the bit. I am very glad that I found out that it could be my fault. Now, I need to learn how to fix it.

dressagebelle 08-20-2009 02:21 PM

First and foremost, make sure that you have the backing up down perfectly in hand. Don't turn towards him to make him back up, just stop, and then back up still facing forward. If he doesn't get it on the ground first, he won't get it under saddle very well either. If he's still tossing his head when you ask him to back from the ground, there may be something wrong with his legs, or muscling, or someone in his past taught him to back up by pulling on the halter, and walking into him, and taught him that he's supposed to over react when asked to back. If he doesn't back up on the ground, when you start moving backwards, flick your fingers on the lead rope a bit, but don't pull on the halter, or smack him in the chest, or have steady pressure on the halter. Have treats, and praise him even if he only steps back one step. Once he's got that down, then do as liberty described. If you keep any steady pressure on the bit, the horse will just lean into it. I was taught that no matter what you are asking, turning, stopping, backing, extended trots, pirouets (sp), leg yields, always ask with your seat, then leg, and then a gentle guiding hand.

dressagebelle 08-20-2009 02:24 PM

I honestly don't ride in anything but a fench link loose ring snaffle, and have never had a problem with the bit. The problems I have had have always been just a mess up in body language.

Chess46 08-20-2009 02:42 PM

Thank you. So, I should work him on the ground with a halter and not his bridle? Ill start working him on the ground.


Spirithorse 08-20-2009 05:05 PM

He might not like the single jointed snaffles you have been using. They pinch the tongue and bars when the rider has contact and is very uncomfortable. Try a double jointed snaffle or try a Myler comfort snaffle, Level 1. And of course work on backing from the ground and being very soft with your hands when asking for the back up.

Liberty Valance 08-20-2009 10:07 PM

Horses will learn whatever cue you teach them. Their response may not be pretty, but they'll do it. If you want the response to be pretty, your ask has to be a little more sophisticated.

The "seat stop" - Get into a good working trot. It works best to teach this at a trot. Stand in your stirrups (this will help you with your balance, too!). When you want to ask for a stop, sit down and sit heavy (but don't flop or you'll hurt the horse). As my mother used to say "sit with purpose". When you sit, you lock your wrist (squeeze the reins in your hand, but don't pull) and just kind of leave it sitting in the air where it was when you were moving. I always start teaching this to a horse by standing because it amplifies the "sit heavy" cue so the horse doesn't just think I'm wiggling around up there. When I first learned this, I had trouble keeping my hand still. I used to give the reins a tiny tug, which made the horse's head pick up. It helped to have someone on the ground watch to see if I moved it.

When you sit, the horse should stop within a step or two. You want to make sure you verbally tell him what you want, too, while you're training. It helps a lot. He may not do it correctly right away. In the beginning, you can help him with the association by giving him a quick reprimand with the reins (after you sit if he keeps going). When he starts to get it, do it sitting down. When you ride, your weight should be in your thighs (not your butt). When you want him to stop, sit heavy on your pockets and lock your wrist. With enough practice, you'll learn to do that without it being obvious, too. Then you can work up to a canter.

The only drawback to this method is that you have to have a good seat. But practicing this can also help you focus on your seat, too, so you both get something out of it. Watch out when he really starts to get it - when he stops you'll feel a sudden bump when he does it. That's how you'll know he did it right.

Liberty Valance 08-20-2009 10:23 PM


Originally Posted by Chess46 (Post 383637)
Thank you. So, I should work him on the ground with a halter and not his bridle? Ill start working him on the ground.


"Back" is another form of yielding from the saddle, just like a side pass. That's why you work it from the ground first. You can work him in a halter. If you want to teach him to do it the way mentioned earlier, you woudln't want to ask him to back with his head, anyway. I dont ask for a side pass with his head (bit). The reins and the bit are merely aids that help him figure out which direction is the path of least resistance. Same with "back". And just like a side pass, you'll never get any good "back" out of him if he can't yield. As always, tell him what you want verbally. It helps him make the transition from you on the ground to you in the saddle. I push on the chest until he backs away.

When you're ready for the saddle, the way I mentioned earlier uses your hand to set the bit in one spot, like a wall. I pick up my hand (my horses' universal "pay attention, command coming" signal) and squeeze the reins in my hand. Then squeeze with the calves (asking for foot movement from him), he feels pressure to the front and doesn't want to be uncomfortable, so then he steps back away from it. He finds that there is no pressure when he steps back. He still feels pressure in his sides, and he knows he's supposed to keep going, and he hasn't met with any reprimand going backwards, so he keeps going. When I put my hand down, that's my guys' "release" signal - they're done with what I needed.

iridehorses 08-21-2009 11:09 AM

I didn't read that anyone has mentioned it yet but have you had his teeth checked? He could have some physical problems from sharp points to wolf teeth.

I would check that before anything else.

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