Sunday, 14 February 2010

Understanding the Bit

I am beginning to think, in fact I now know, that this is a really rather important job, and it is one that often gets rather overlooked. The first thing is, if you don't understand the bit how the hell is your horse going to understand it? There are obviously lots of different opinions about what the bit is for and how to use it and so on. So you have to decide all that before you start. If you understand that the bit is something that you use with force, ie have pressure in your hands, then you have to train your horse to accept that force. If you want your horse to travel behind the bit then you have to set that up too. I personally don't think either of those two options are the best way to use a bit. Both of those ways are 100% counter productive, physically and mentally, to what I want to acheive with my horse.

So, bearing in mind the way that I want to ride my horse, here is my understanding of the bit. There are three simple things I need to set up with my horse: a) the bit is a boundary through which the horse must not go, b) the bit is how I tell my horse where I want him to put his head, and c) the bit is a source of comfort to my horse. Once those things are in place I am in business.

Firstly, setting the boundary up. Well that's fairly straightforward. Never let the horse push the bit around, or lean on the bit, or put weight on the bit in any way. The horse needs to carry himself, in balance, and that is not a balance dependent on you holding him in place.

Secondly, I want my horse's mouth to follow the bit wherever I move it to; left or right, up or down. I want this to happen without resistance from the horse or the use of any force from me.

Thirdly, I want my horse to be comfortable with me using the bit. I don't want my horse to be frightened of the bit, or to be running away from the bit by going behind it. It is important to me that the bit is always right there, comfortable in the horses mouth. This is where I need to work to have a good reliable and consistent nice feel in my hands, that the horse can learnt to trust and love.

If I get all this in place, without grey areas in my or the horses mind, then things can start to really settle down. I am pretty sure a huge amount of horses anxieties come from illogical stuff happening in their mouths.


Di said...

"c) the bit is a source of comfort to my horse."

I find this statement interesting.
I've wondered this when discussing it over with a friend who rides bitless. I can see her point, and a bit is a very dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, but it's crossed my mind that, used correctly, a horse can not only accept the bit,but also find it a comfort

jill said...

I just started doing some dressage. I agree with Di, the statement is interesting. I think I'm beginning to understand how a horse can seek the bit for comfort. The school horse I ride, seeks the steady contact of the bit. My young horse also likes a bit of light, steady contact when we're working. But this is not a leaning contact. It's a communication line. I'm still working this out for myself.

Kate said...

Thanks, Tom, very interesting post.

glenatron said...

Something I noticed about contact ( a topic with regard to which I know less than nothing so I am just avoiding the issue for now ) is that riding the way I do, with a big old loop in my reins, I can still feel every movement of my horse's tongue against the bit. That really makes me conscious of how much he must be able to feel of what I'm doing with my hands and how steady I need to be with those hands if I want to make use of everything that the horse could make available to me.

Kathy Baker said...

Excellent post Tom and I love the simplicity of it! Thank you!

Tom said...

Di - I agree with you there. The bit can go both ways. But in the last couple of years I have seen a couple of quite stressy horses turn around completely by the use of the bit. Of course it may be that it was the way the bit was being used previously that was causing the stress - I don't think that was helping, but I don't think it was the cause.

Jill - There is no doubt in my mind that the connection to the horses mouth is a bit more significant than just a way of 'power' control.

Kate - Thank you

Glenatron - Yes, I think sometimes we just forget what kind of animals we are dealing with here. Sometimes I reckon they'd get on better with humans if they were a little less sensitive.

Kathy - Thank you

Kathy Baker said...

>Sometimes I reckon they'd get on better with humans if they were a little less sensitive.<

That, or kill them!