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Stories & Inspiration

The “On The Bit” Struggle

by | Feb 22, 2020

Three weeks ago I told you about the lungeing and in-hand clinic I attended in Germany. It was all about getting the horses straight and into self-carriage through lungeing and in-hand work. TODAY I have a really cool riding exercise for you on this topic!

So: How do you get your horse into self-carriage, how do you get him “on the bit”?

Have you ever desperately fiddled with your horse’s mouth to get him “on the bit”, and your trainer has told you how important it is for the horse to be “on the bit” because only then will he use his back properly and stay sound?

And your trainer was right!

Just, how to get there and what does it really mean? And what does that have to do with crookedness?

Let me tell you a story from the very beginning of my life as a professional clinician, more than 25 years ago:

In one clinic, I had a group of pretty much beginner riders on lesson horses.

I had made a plan for this lesson, and I wasn’t sure at all if this would work out: I wanted to teach these riders about the horse’s crookedness and how to fix it.

An ambitious goal, as usually this topic is only tackled further along the way. But I trusted that something good would come out of this. So I showed them the following exercise:

Picture your horse as a train, your legs and reins as the train tracks.

When you now ride e.g. a circle, get a sense of where his forehand/shoulders want to go.

For example, if the shoulder starts drifting to the outside of the circle, you have to fortify your “train tracks” on the outside to keep him from “derailing”, meaning, you use your outside leg and possibly rein to keep him on the track. “Ride your horse’s outside around the turn!”

If he falls in, use your inside leg and make sure you yourself are not leaning in but keeping him on his train tracks.

My riders started feeling it, and got better and better at catching the horses earlier and earlier, improving their balance on the circle this way.

Now something very unexpected happened:

All of these lesson horses with their beginner riders started moving in an “on the bit position”. I don’t think I had ever seen these horses move that well!

This was one of the big Aha-Moments in my teaching career!

It meant first of all that the concept of straightness wasn’t that hard to get, even for beginners, and it meant that once the straightness was established, the horses found their balance, started to trust the riders to keep them in that balance, and relaxed into a beautiful self-carriage.

We hadn’t even talked about “on the bit”, and the riders hadn’t desperately fiddled with heir horses’ mouths to get them into a specific head-neck position. None of that was needed. The horses just found their balance…

Now, of course, everyone of my riders have to ride their “train” on the “train tracks”. Lol.


You can implement this image in your riding today!

Let me know how it goes. I would love to hear about your experience with the “train tracks”.

Contact Carla if you are interested and would like to participate in or host “The Balanced Horse Clinic”.