When is a horse considered ‘on the bit?’

The frame in front should reflect the engagement and thoroughness from behind.

Riders in today’s age have lost sight of what it means for a horse to be ‘on the bit’. The expression has become associated with submission and obedience of the horse, and the aesthetic look of the horse with his head down and ‘in a frame’. Although we don’t know where the actual expression came from, being ‘on the bit’ used to represent connection, thoroughness, lightness, relaxation and self-carriage in the horse. Today, riders are merely concerned with getting the horse to lower his head, but they don’t think about the true meaning of the horse being on the rider’s aids and engaged with the rider. Being on the bit is not about the horse’s nose being on the vertical. It is much more about the horse’s carriage, posture, movement and how the back is organised, rather than the nose. We often talk about leg to hand, and this stems from the fact that the horse needs to be ridden from back to front. Riders today try to pull the horse onto the bit by riding him from front to back. The frame in front should reflect the engagement and thoroughness from behind.

When getting a horse onto the bit, focus less on the position of his head and more on the shape he makes with his body. His head may not be at an exact 90° angle and it doesn’t matter if he’s slightly above the vertical.

You want him to engage his core, tighten his abdominal muscles, work over his back and round his neck. All the while, you want the horse to be balanced, relaxed and in harmony with the rider. The rider’s position is also very important when getting a horse on the bit. A rider who hollows in their back will almost definitely translate into the horse hollowing in his back. Riders who sit too far back upset the ideal balance that you strive for. When the rider sits correctly and rides the horse forward instead of pulling the horse back, the horse will naturally seek the contact and the rider must provide it.

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