June 07, 2017
On the bit
Have you ever experienced the following: you’re training your horse and are trying to get him on the bit. It is supposed to be a soft, constant connection but it feels as if your horse turned into a block of concrete, leaning on the bit and your hands. How can you go about solving this problem? Grand-Prix rider Madeleine explains.
“Horses who lean on the bit and become ‘heavy’ are doing this because the rider allows it with their hands. It is our job to gently get the horse on the bit and have the horse carry itself.”
So how can you prevent a horse from leaning on the bit?
“You can improve the connection by riding lots of transitions and tempo changes, to encourage the horse to carry itself. Bear in mind that you release the reins slightly and stay relaxed. The horse will then have to actively move its legs and carry its own head, reducing the chance of leaning into your hands. “
Madeleine’s favorite exercise is the following. “The most important aspect to remember is that the horse has to move for your leg. This means your horse will have to move forward as soon as you give your leg aid. Also, when you stop driving forward with your leg, you don’t want the tempo to change and slow down. As soon as you accomplish this, try a half halt. This is when you ‘catch’ your horse and the tempo for a few seconds, before releasing again. You are asking the horse to wait a moment, before resuming the pace. This is another exercise that allows the horse to carry itself. Don’t forget to stay consistent in your riding and exercises.”
An example of what you don’t want to happen. “Often you see a horse that starts rushing it instead of walking or trotting actively. By running away he can lean on the bit again. The horse needs to go forward when you give a leg aid, not when you relax your hands. Be careful not to use hands and legs simultaneously.”
According to Madeleine achieving the right connection to the bit is also heavily related to the riders posture. The moment the rider is unbalanced and seeks balance from the horse, they tend to pull on the reins. When you can sit independently and move your body freely it is easier to accomplish your goals in riding.
If the goal is to ride in competitions the horse needs to show a proper connection to the bit, especially when you want to go up through the levels. A heavy leaning horse will cause a jury to penalize you in every element of the test. So try these exercises and see if they work for you.
Source: Bit Magazine