Added: Sandie Fitch - Date: 09.02.2022 13:02 - Views: 14953 - Clicks: 9881
At clinics I teach around the country, one complaint I hear over and over, from students at every level, is how hard they find putting a horse on the bit. What I tell them--and what I tell you--is that it doesn't have to be that way. Using a simple system I'll show you, you can put your horse on the bit and keep him there. And once you've experienced "on the bit," you'll never again be satisfied with less. Why go to the trouble of putting your horse on the bit? Because, quite simply, this quality makes him wonderful to ride.
He feels organized, comfortable, connected and easy to control. Everything he does has a flow and a harmony. He even feels more eager and willing. As an Amazon Associate, Practical Horseman may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our site. Product links are selected by Practical Horseman editors.
In nature, when a horse is frightened, he sticks his head up, his neck stiffens, his back goes hollow and he has a one-item agenda: "Save yourself! The picture of roundness you see when a rider puts a horse on the bit actually creates just such a mental state of willingness and relaxation. A horse who's not on the bit is mentally not with his rider.
He's more easily distracted, inclined to react instinctively to frightening sights or sounds by shying or running off, and he may even resist openly. His body also feels disorganized, like a jumble of disted pieces rather than a well-oiled machine. He's difficult to turn and steer—and to my mind he's very uncomfortable to sit on. Besides making physical and mental connections, "on the bit" gives "oomph" to your training program. Moving free, even the most unassuming horse can look graceful, balanced and expressive in his movement.
But plop a saddle on his back, climb on, change his balance and suddenly this graceful creature moves like a dump truck and steers like a barge. Trying to restore under saddle the beauty and ease of movement that the horse possesses at liberty is what training is all about. And training is at its most effective and easiest when the horse carries himself mostly with the topline muscles over his croup, back and neck.
When does he do that? When he's on the bit. His body assumes a round frame, his hind legs reach well up under him, and rather than muscling up willy-nilly, he develops those muscles along his topline properly —evenly and without undue stress. I've seen horses' muscling improve with as little as five days of being ridden on the bit. As he does, he enhances all the wonderful qualities you're trying to bring out, like suppleness, flexibility, and the beginnings of collection. Training a horse who's not on the bit is like stuffing money into an old mattress.
Even if you still have the cash a year from now, it won't be worth any more and it'll probably be worth less. But training a horse who is on the bit is like putting your money where it earns double-digit compound interest. At year's end, not only do you have what you started with; it's worth much more! In this article I'll help you achieve "on the bit" the same way I help students at clinics, using a simple, step-by-step, "connecting aid" aling system that produces almost immediate —in fact, I've never seen it not work in the very first session.
Then, because you may be working without the guidance of a trainer and because things that look and feel right aren't always OK , I'll give you a few easy "tests" to check the correctness of your aids and your horse's response to them.
If you've never experienced it, try to arrange a lesson or two, or at least a couple of spins around the ring, on a "schoolmaster": an experienced horse who's got it down pat. If you get on right after his regular rider has been working him on the bit for several minutes, the feeling will linger; try to memorize it, knowing that's what you're working toward.
An experienced helper or a friend with a good pair of eyes is another help, since a lot of "on the bit" is the horse's silhouette and frame. If you can't arrange even that, and if, after a session or two, you and your horse find yourselves truly stuck, seek the help of a qualified teacher to guide you or even to put your horse on the bit for you. Limit your sessions to 30 minutes or less if your horse is a youngster , including a lengthy warm-up. Since you'll need plenty of time to think about what you're doing, how you're doing it and how your horse is reacting, start at the walk unless he paces, gets really tense walking, or just won't stay forward and rhythmical, in which case you're better off at the rising trot.
Use your warm-up to establish forward motion , straightness , rhythm and contact ; for the moment, don't worry about the rest of your horse's frame. Without these four qualities, you won't be able to accomplish a thing; once you've got them, you'll have the foundation of putting him on the bit.
First make sure your horse is thinking and moving forward across the ground with relaxed, long, free strides, and is "in front of your leg. He's responding immediately and enthusiastically to the lightest of leg pressure. Try it: Lightly close your legs. If he moves off immediately and eagerly, you're in business. But if he stands there or ambles off, resist the temptation to squeeze harder; he'll just get duller, and you'll end up doing all the work.
Instead, put him "in front of your leg" by squeezing as lightly as you did the first time. If, once again, he doesn't respond, tap him with the whip behind your leg not on his butt, or he may kick out , or take your leg off and give several sharp thumps: "wham, wham, wham.
You want him to know that "No, this is not an aid. This is a correction. Now here's the key. As soon as you get a response—even a disorganized or startled one—to your whip or your thump, bring your horse back and squeeze lightly again. If he immediately goes energetically forward, praise him generously. Say "Good boy" and rub his neck with your fingers you don't need to overdo. If he responds in the OK-to-adequate range, but not with percent wholehearted effort, tap sharply or thump again. When he responds, bring him back and do the light squeeze again.
Your goal? To whisper your aids and have him shout his response. Straightness means your horse's spine corresponds to whatever line he's tracking on. Straightness on the long side, centerline and diagonal means his spine is straight; straightness on circles, corners and curved lines means his spine is bent. In either case, his hind feet basically follow the same track as his front feet. Rhythm is the next foundation quality. Each horse's rhythm is unique, but every horse's rhythm keeps him in comfortable balance by being regular: neither too fast nor too slow, with equal intervals between the steps.
To check the regularity of your horse's rhythm, count his steps. In the walk, you should hear four evenly spaced beats—"1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, In trot, two diagonal legs for example, the outside hind and inside fore strike the ground together, followed by a moment of suspension when all four legs are off the ground, then the striking of the other diagonal pair. Your counting should sound like a metronome: " If you hear "," your horse is "four-beating" and you need to ride him more forward, almost into a lengthening, to create rhythm in the gait.
Contact is the final quality you should think about in your warm-up, since "on the bit" demands that your horse go forward into your sympathetic hands. What creates good contact? The answer is "yes" if he's forward—not only over the ground, but in his thinking; if he's straight, with his hind feet following in the tracks of his front feet; if he's maintaining a good rhythm; and if you're offering and he's accepting an inviting, sympathetic contact that's firm, consistent, elastic, even, and straight from your elbow through your hand to the bit.
If, at any time while you're working on putting him on the bit, you lose any of these qualities, forget about the connecting half-halt while you reestablish the quality you've temporarily lost. Then and only then, reapply your connecting half-halt.
The connecting aids are nothing more than a specific, clear, "as-needed" al, not unlike the specific als you use to tell your horse to canter and keep cantering until you al him to trot , or to halt and stand until you want him to walk on, except that you're using them to put him on the bit.
If he stays there steadily, you stay quietly in harmony with him and enjoy the ride. If he tries to come off the bit, however, by sticking his head up in the air, for example, you'll apply the connecting aids again to put him back onto the bit. If he tries to come off the bit every few strides he may—this is unfamiliar territory, and you're asking him to use an entirely new set of muscles while he's exploring it , you're going to give a lot of connecting aids.
To apply the connecting aids, give a three-second combination of leg, outside rein, and, if needed , only as much inside rein as necessary to keep your horse's neck straight. At the walk, lightly close both legs as if asking for that hundred-percent, wholehearted forward response you've been practicing. This time, however, rather than allowing him to go more forward, contain his energetic response by closing your outside hand into a firm fist as if squeezing every drop of water out of a sponge and holding it for three seconds. No outside bend? Use no inside rein.
And rank your aids in this order of importance: first, legs to create the energy; second, outside rein to contain the energy; third, inside rein— only as much as necessary —to keep his neck straight. After three seconds, relax your outside hand remember, the relaxation—reward for finishing the connecting aids—is as important as the connecting aids themselves and return to the maintenance feel you had before, your hands firmly but gently holding those two baby birds without crushing them. When are you going to feel when your horse comes on the bit? He will suddenly seem to move as a unit, instead of a pile of parts.
His back will swing. His walk will be smoother and more flowing.Definitely need to be rode into the ground
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