Written by Leslie
A good definition of "on the bit" is that the horse is in a balanced frame and carrying himself with his weight shifted more on the hindleg. To achieve this you first have to understand the difference between a holding rein and a resisting rein. Holding is where you push your horse into the contact and then, so he doesn't fall on his face, you lock your hands and hope you have the strength to keep his head in place. A resisting rein is one that when you are driving the horse more into the contact with your legs you have a shorter rein and resist his efforts to stretch beyond that frame and then when he softens the contact and begins balancing and carrying - you soften the contact as a reward and let him continue on for as long as he can and then you 'watch' with your hands to offer support or correction when he loses this frame.
To begin to put your horse more "on the bit" you must first have a horse that can go straight. In dressage this is acheived by focusing on the straightness of the hindleg as opposed to the head and neck (for starters). Try riding your horse on the rail (hopefully you have an arena with walls so this is made easier). Go around and begin to shorten your contact while keeping the horse moving energetically forward and reaching toward your hand. As your contact shortens he will invariably try to avoid it or lay on it. Now, here's where our "inside leg - outside rein" lessons come into the picture. If you take the outside rein and ask him to work more strongly into it with your inside leg asking at the correct moment (when the inside hindleg is coming off the ground), he will eventually stop pulling and will suddenly soften. Now, so you can help achieve this softness without see-sawing or sacrificing his straightness too much, you will need to use a leading inside rein. Take your inside rein away from his neck and toward the inside of the arena (do not pull back) every few strides (if you get too rhythmic, he'll start swinging his head) to ask him to stay straighter in his neck - make sure you don't sacrifice the outside rein contact while you are doing this. The most important part of this exercise is that you soften (but don't throw away) your hand as soon as he even tries to relax into the contact.
I know this is all pretty confusing if you aren't really well versed in dressage lessons. My best suggestion is that you find a really good coach and get on one of the horses they've trained and learn from it before asking your horse to do this. It will make life a lot easier!
This article is reproduced without permission from a post on the Equisense Bulletin Board on March 9th, 1997. It was posted by Leslie in a reply to Mina, and I thought it was such a great explanation that I printed it out and kept it for over a year. I have no way of contacting Leslie, and so I hope that she does not mind this reproduction. The original post was called 'Lesson #1'
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