How to Get a Horse on the Bit | Teaching Them Contact

Want to know how to get a horse on the bit?

Maybe you’ve seen a beautiful picture of a horse and rider working in unison and would love to do this with your own horse.

This is not an easy skill to learn and requires patience and often the help of an instructor. 

how to get a horse on the bit? this brown horse is wearing bit

With our guide below and a little time & patience, you too will be able to create this unison with your horse.

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Why Use A Horse Bit

The purpose of using a bit is for communication and control.

For an advanced rider is allows for sending subtle fine-tuned cues to the horse.

For a beginner, it provides extra safety and security.

However, it is important that a beginner learns how to communicate with the horse, and not use the bit as a crutch. To do this process well can take years.

close-up shot of horse's mouth with bit

Going back to our first point, control is not the primary point of the bit. Though in some circumstances, with an explosive horse, this aspect comes into play.

When learning to use a bit, your goal is to communicate with the horse.

A horse in training, in turn, learns what these communications mean and what he has to do when you ask.

Horses learn well using pressure and release. This translates into a horse moving away from pressure. This is why a bit is useful.

A bit puts pressure on different points of the mouth. When you use the right rein the horse will move right, away from the pressure created.

A curb bit adds to the mouth pressure by applying pressure to the face, such as the chin and nose. A leverage bit adds pressure to the poll. 

It is possible to ride bitless, and many do this successfully.

However, the bit provides a route for extreme refinement of the things you are asking the horse to do.

Bit Misunderstandings

There are some misunderstandings with regard to bits. Some people believe that bits are cruel and always hurt the mouth.

So, do bits hurt horses? And the answer is when the right bit for a particular horse is used, and in the right hands, it does not hurt the horse.

close-up shot of white horse's mouth with bit

Some horses happily wear a bit, and others never find it comfortable.

Inexperienced hands or riders with harsh hands can cause the horse pain, even with the softest bit.

When starting out with finding a bit for a new horse, always start with the kindest option.

Also check: How to Fit a Flash Noseband

Basic Terms To Know

Before progressing to this riding skill, here are some terms you will need to understand.

On the bit: Putting the horse on the bit is about creating a connection so you and the horse can work and communicate in harmony.

When the horse is on the bit, the quality of your ride improves. You will feel a horse that is in tune with you, listening to your aids, in control, and balanced.

close-up shot of brown horse's mouth with bit

When a horse is one the bit correctly, he is in a more relaxed state. It is working with less stiffness through its body, and its back is not hollow.

A hollow back when riding will not develop the muscles correctly. This relaxed state makes for a more productive training session and a more willing horse.

In this state, the horse is mentally with its rider and not distracted by everything going on around it.

Make sure to check our list of the best horse bits.

Connection

2011 USDF Glossary of Judging Terms says that “state in which there is no blockage, break or slack in the circuit that joins horse and rider into a single, harmonious, elastic unit.”

So what does this mean?

This is basically talking about the horse taking a connection with the bit and in sync with your communication.

The horse does not present resistance or stiffness in its body when it has a correct connection.

As a horse progressing in its training, it should move more uphill, and the connection with your hands should lighten.

You don’t take and force a horse to create a connection or go on the bit. The horse has to offer it, and we will try to explain this process here for you.

Feel

Feel is one of the hardest things for a trainer to teach a rider and for a rider to understand.

Developing a good feel takes years, and much of it comes from guidance and a lot of practice and concentration from the rider.

In front of the leg

When a horse is on the bit correctly, it is in front of your leg. Even when the horse is not on the bit, it should move in front of your leg.

This means that when you add a leg, the horse responds immediately without resistance.

It then stays there without you having to constantly put a lot of leg pressure on.

Straightness

This means the horse’s front and back feet follow the same track.

So when you are on the long side of the arena the horse’s spine from the top of its head to its tail is in a straight line.

However, when you are on a corner or circle, the horse’s body is bent, with its head bending to the inside.

The feet still follow the same track on a bend or circle.

Elasticity

Elasticity is simply how free the horse is moving. It also applies to the rider’s arms. Being elastic prevents stiffness as you move.

Roundness

When a horse is on the bit, he has roundness. This is the posture you see in the horse if you were looking at it from the ground.

When a horse is round, its neck is arched, it moves with lightness, its hind end is engaged, and it is not on the forehand.

Connecting aids

These are not as complicated as it sounds. They are just additional aids you use when asking the horse to go on the bit.

It is a clear signal to your horse to perform this action, and no different than when you request the horse to trot or canter.

You repeat this aid each time the horse comes off the bit.

Don’t forget to check the Type of Horse Bridles!

Follow These Steps For How to Get a Horse On The Bit

1. The first thing to do to master how to get your horse on the bit is to learn what it feels like when your horse is doing it.

To do this, organize a riding lesson or a few on a schoolmaster.

It is even better if you can get on this horse right after an experienced rider, as the horse will be in work mode.

When on this horse think about what you are feeling. The trainer can help you with the right cues to get the horse on the bit.

Since it is a schoolmaster, it should respond quickly when asked correctly, so you can experience what the feels like when it is on the bit.

After a few lessons on a schoolmaster, you hopefully will be able to try getting your own horse on the bit.

2. Keep your sessions short, especially if you have a young horse. If you are both learning, it will take time, and pushing too hard can actually set you back.

3. Let your horse warm up properly before attempting to get it on the bit. This will help it stretch, loosen its muscles and relax.

4. Get the horse moving in front of your leg, as explained earlier. If your horse is not in front of your leg, it is extremely hard to get him on the bit correctly.

Make sure to praise your horse when he moves in front of your leg, so he knows he is giving you the right response.

If your horse is not going in front of your leg, try to correct this before moving to the next steps. To do this, carry a schooling whip. This is not to hit or beat your horse with! It is merely a correction tool. When your horse does not respond to your leg, tap him immediately behind your leg.

Let the horse go forward regardless of how it does it. Very quickly after he moves forward, slow him again. This time ask with your leg to move in front of

it. If he does it correctly, make sure to reward him with a nice pat. If he does not respond to your leg, repeat the tap with the whip.

Do this until you get the correct response from your leg.

5. During your warm up concentrate on straightness and rhythm. The horse should be moving forward at an even pace, with long, relaxed steps.

6. As the horse warms up, ask him to take a contact at the end.

You can do this by using your leg to encourage him to stretch towards the bit while moving forward.

The horse cannot produce a good contact if he is not in front of your leg, relaxed, moving in a rhythm, and straight.

Concentrate on your rising trot rhythm. You want the horse moving forward from your leg, but you don’t want him to speed up.

You can control this by keeping the right rhythm in your posting trot. This is not easy to master and goes back to feel.

7. Do a check over everything before moving onto the next step.

  • Is your horse forward and happily moving in front of your leg?
  • Is it straight?
  • Is it staying a consistent rhythm that is not dull?
  • Is the horse taking a contact?

8. If you are happy with everything, you now attempt to put your horse on the bit. This where were you use connecting aids.

To do this squeeze with your legs in the walk, the same as when you are asking for a forward walk. But this time, you want to contain the forward response.

You do this by holding your outside rein, by closing your hand firmly. You keep this leg and aid for three second intervals.

You also want the horse to stay straight and not bend to the outside when you apply the outside rein pressure.

If your horse does bend to the outside, gently pulse the fingers of your right hand to straighten back up.

Only use the inside rein if necessary. After the three second interval, release the leg and outside rein pressure, keeping both hands in an even, gentle contact.

If the horse starts to come off the bit, apply the connection aids again.

Take note that this is initially hard for a horse new to the task. It requires him to use his muscles differently, and he may struggle.

Start with short sessions until your horse starts to understand the aids and how to move his body.

It also allows him time to develop the correct muscles for working on the bit.

6 Mistakes To Avoid

1. When you start asking your horse to go on the bit is will probably confuse him. He might slow down or even stop, as he thinks this is what the rein pressure means.

To help your horse get over this, you can ask him to lengthen his gait with your legs before you apply the outside rein.

2. This will help the horse know he can stay forward when you use the outside rein.

After doing this a few times and you think your horse understands, try asking for him to go on the bit without lengthening the stride.

3. Never saw, move your hands back and forth, on the reins. This is a common mistake many inexperienced riders make.

It is not correct, the horse’s body is not engaged, all you have done is pull his head down. It is not pleasant for the horse.

Putting the horse on the bit comes from your legs. You want to contain the body’s energy in an active, relaxed, flexible ball.

4. Don’t move your hand back when you apply the outside rein pressure. Just tighten it. Bringing your hand back will shorten the horse’s neck.

5. If your horse puts his head down but then you don’t feel any contact in the reins, he has come behind the bit and is not on it.

This usually happens when you did not have the horse in front of your leg when you gave the connection aids. Got back to steps one through seven.

6. Sometimes when you apply the connection aid, the horse might move its body (this is different from bending to the outside) to the left or right.

What is usually happing here is that you used unequal leg pressure on each side of the horse. So if the horse moves left, you didn’t use enough left leg.

FAQs

What is the definition of on the bit?

British Horse Society’s manual states that “A horse is said to be on the bit when his hocks are correctly placed, he is flexed at the poll, relaxed in his lower jaw and ceases to offer resistance to his rider’s hand.”

Can a horse go on the bit if he is not moving forward?

No, it is impossible for the horse to correctly go on the bit if it is not moving forward. When on the bit, this forward energy is contained. Without forward, you get a false frame and do not have control of the horse’s body under you.

Will using draw reins help me?

No, draw reins have their purpose if used sparingly, but they will not help you teach a horse to go on the bit correctly. When on the bit correctly the horse is moving forward from behind. The draws reins force the horse into a frame by restricting the front end.

Conclusion

Learning how to get a horse on the bit is challenging, especially if both you and your horse are new to it.

Patience is important, resorting to force or frustration will only set you back. To master this skill, you need to have some awareness of feel.

You also need to have a good foundation of straightness, forward, and relaxation in place.

So take your time and get help from a trainer, even better if you can get some lessons on a schoolmaster.

Once you achieve putting a horse on the bit correctly, it will greatly improve your riding experience and grow the connection you have with your horse.

References:

  • Beale, Jeremy. n.d. “There Is No Secret to Putting Your Horse ‘on the Bit.’” Dressage Today. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://dressagetoday.com/theory/no-secret-putting-horse-on-the-bit-jeremy-beale.
  • Cocozza, Visconte Simon. 2020. “Revealed: The Secret to Getting Your Horse on the Bit, Naturally.” Horsetalk.co.nz. March 3, 2020. https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2020/03/04/secrets-getting-horse-on-the-bit-naturally/.
  • Roth, Jennifer R. n.d. “How Connection Varies from Horse to Horse in Dressage Training.” Dressage Today. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://dressagetoday.com/theory/how-connection-varies-horse-horse-dressage-training#:~:text=Connection%2C%20as%20defined%20by%20the.
  • Savoie, Jane. 2009. “The Three-Second Solution: Putting Your Horse on the Bit.” Expert How-to for English Riders. February 13, 2009. https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/training/horse-on-bit.
horse's mouth wearing a bit

Do you have other tips on how to get a horse on the bit? Please share with us!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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