On the Bit?

From the teaching that I have done it is very apparent to me that the knowledge appears to stop at the head.

What I mean by this is the rider believes that as long as he has the horses head in, ie the nose somewhere under the ears then the result has been achieved. It does not seem to matter that the nose has been pulled tight to the neck, or that the poll has dropped giving the high point of the neck some way back from the ears.

A rounded neck is not a round outline.Terminology is very important. To merely state that you have your horse in an outline is not sufficient, although the phrase is used all too often. The word outline describes the topline of the horse, ie the shape that the horse is making from the poll to the tail. If the horse was going around with its head and neck quite high it would still have an outline, just an incorrect one.

All that is to be expected in the early stages of the horses training is that the horse goes in a rounded outline. This simply means that the overall shape of the topline of the horse gives a rounded expression.

Here we see a horse showing a good rounded outline

Although the horse pictured here is in a double bridle this was for showing purposes, normally he is ridden in the same outline in a simple snaffle.

This stage in itself is open to various interpretations. The picture that I wish to see from the young or inexperienced horse is of a horse that is stretching the topline out and forward to the contact, at no point looking restricted through its body. The horses nose should be slightly in front of the vertical line, never behind the vertical in any circumstances. We wish at some stage to be able to apply eg. a half halt, if the young horse has already learned to shorten the neck, come behind the vertical or contract its body how will we ever ride the horse through. Sometimes it is better to think about pushing the ears out over the nose rather than bringing the nose in underneath the ears.

At this point we should have the horse with an elongated topline, showing a rounded frame with no sign of restrictions or contraction.

Is this on the bit? Definitely not.There is so much more to it.

For the horse to be on the bit it should have all of the following:

1. A round outline
2. Suppleness
3. Straightness
4. Activity
5. Acceptance of the riders aids

Starting with the first addition to the round outline, suppleness. This is needed to also achieve the round outline. But it is possible to have the horse round without being straight. By this I mean that the near hind should follow the path of the near fore, and the off hind should follow the path of the off fore.


How many times do you see a horse cantering down the long side of the arena with its quarters drifting to the inner track?

You can never have the horse truly on the bit if it is not moving straight through its own body. Once the horse is round, supple and straight you can then start to ask the horse to load the hindlegs ie carry more weight behind and thus be able to propel itself forward from behind as opposed to dragging itself along from the front. All of this can only be achieved if the horse is accepting the riders aids. Submission does not mean that the horse has had its spirit broken, far from it. The horse that has been correctly invited to work with the rider is one that will be far more fullfilled than one that is used to being nagged into action. Secondly there is a mark at the end of every dressage test for submission!!!!