Accepting The Bit

(Above the bit & on the bit or what?)

This horse is refusing the bit by yielding to it and putting his jaw closer to the chest. Despite the higher erection of the neck, the horse is not flexed at the poll and he can no longer be ridden with the aid of hands because the jaw cannot respond.

This is another form of refusing the bit, commonly called above the rein.

Good strong mouth accepting the bit well, so that the rider can literally support himself in standing up, while the bit is still well above the impulsion line. If the horse would refuse and throw his head up, the obvious would happen. One may think that this horse pulls, or one may wonder how the rider will stop the horse. I assure you he will have no problem doing it, but if you ask such question you more likely do not understand the function of the riders hands anyway, and I could not possibly explain it since it is all about feeling.

This picture shows a young "unbridled" horse with obvious contentment with the bit and the slight beginning of the flex at the poll. Horses are better off left alone than go like the gray horse at the top or the horse at the bottom.

Obvious acceptance of the bit, which can be seen in the moderate flexing at the poll that is about in-between the campagne level and the green level. This horse can be ridden well in hand. Most sport horses, jumpers and runners can be left in this position (level of collection), since they do not need to go under higher "wrapped" collection in most of their work, because the higher stepping action of the leg is not wanted and longer frame is preferred since the length of the stride is crucial to the traveling speed.

This picture shows the so-called "bridled" horse, or the head on the vertical, which is the maximum flex at the poll. This horse, as all others displayed here, is standing. Once when the horse moves, the hunches get set lower and the nose will extend slightly forward because the poll will come up a little bit by the mechanics of the horse due to the lowering of the hind legs joints. No horse should move in the vertical flex because of the limited function of the jaw which could cause him to go behind the bit. In addition one should be aware of the fact that this is not anatomically possible in many horses. Henceforth, the head on the vertical should not be some criteria for a decent riding or a well trained horse. This horse flexes well at the poll, he can be ridden easily with the hands aid.

This horse is past the so-called vertical, which in reality is called behind the bit. The horse is not flexed at the poll, obviously refusing the bit as the gray horse above. In this case the horse's bit is below the hip, which makes him even harder to control,  to which the obvious addition of head gear gadgets only testifies. Such horse cannot be ridden by the aid of hands. In most cases this cannot be corrected.

      There are two styles of riding; the “in hand” and the “off hand” (on a lose rein). Both have their own practical uses, however, both equally require the acceptance of the bit by the horse. Some one somewhere came up with the term on the bit, which often causes misunderstandings, and most of the folks that use this terminology will more likely not understand it anyway. In other languages there was used the term “bridled” or “unbridled” horse, which referred to the acceptance of the bit and the riders hands, but many people misunderstood that as well. To be on the bit should be referred to as accepting the bit by the horse, which simply means just that. If the horse does not accept the bit like any other riding aid then the bit cannot be used correctly and horse cannot be ridden to his full potentials. The acceptance of the bit consists of two parts.

    One is, that the horse accepts the pressure of the bit from the rider's hands in his mouth without objections and as he advances he learns to accept more pressure of the bit on his jaw without complaining or yielding to it by flexing in the neck, or by throwing his head up. An average decent riding horse should accept easily  50 pounds (25 kg) or more. This does not mean that we ride the horse with that pressure on the bit, but it means if and when we need to put such pressure on his mouth, the horse will accept it without complaining e.g. without flexing in the neck or throwing his head up. In other words, if the horse freaks out from something the rider can apply sufficient pressure on the bit (curb bit) to over ride the fear and keep the horse under control. If the horse is not trained to accept such pressure then the horse will freak out even more when we get a hold of his mouth under such circumstances, because he feels restrained or better said entrapped between the unfamiliar and somewhat painful pressure of the bit and the whatever freaked him out.  The horse will more likely throw his head in the air while taking off like a maniac out of control, or possibly rears up and flips backwards.

    The horse that flexes at the neck will do the same by putting his head close to his chest while running off when hysterical, he becomes hard to control, running off with riders etc. However, we are worse off on this type of horse, since this horse cannot see where he is going. Hence he can run into a wall or into a tree, not to mention he is harder to turn than the horse with his head up. This is because with the latter (head up) we can use the seat, while with former (neck flexed -head down) the seat aid is ineffective. One needs to experience these things, in order to understand them. A horse that flexes at the neck cannot be ridden in hand (on the bit), he is off balance and it is in some cases referred that he is pulling. The rider is the one that actually does the pulling, hence if one says the horse is a puller; he should rather say that the rider is one.

    The acceptance of the pressure on the mouth is essential in the sport horses, especially by the racehorse, since he often tires at the end of the race, wants to put his head down and the rider must put out all his effort and strength to keep recollecting and releasing the energy during the hand riding. (Well they do not do it any more, because they do not know how).

    The other part of accepting the bit is giving in the jaw by flexing at the poll (one degree or two, that’s all that is needed by the green horse). If the horse flexes at the neck we can no longer work with the horse’s jaw, because the horse is refusing the bit by yielding to it by flexing in the neck. Hence people resort to various head gears in the advanced stages, because the horses jaw is not workable and because it does not give. See the various nose bands and other contraptions on the heads of horses these days, which only testifies to the riders incompetence. The more garbage on the horse’s head the worse the rider. This is a wide spread problem these days.

    All green riders do not have “any hands” at all, hence the horses are throwing their heads around whenever the green rider gets a hold of the bit and tries to ride on the so-called contact. The mediocre rider finally manages to steady his hands, which results in the same action in the hands as in the side reins and the horse flexes in the neck, then the rider assumes various tits pulling like actions of his hands to communicate something to the horse. That is of course misfortune, as the horse gets immediately out of balance and falls on his forehand. Once when this is introduced, it becomes almost impossible to correct this, since the horse prefers this, because one cannot get a hold of his mouth, control him and being on the forehand enables the horse to cheat, in other words he does not have to work hard when he doesn’t use his “fanny” to his full potential. As everyone knows, horses are "lazy" (naturally preserving energy for fleeing should it come to that) and they will look for any opportunity to make the work easier (less strenuous) for them selves. I would like to add, that folks ride horses primarily off balance, because they do not understand the whole concept. For this reason the same people preach that the longeing will help the horse to balance himself, because of the flex in the neck that they’ve managed. It is false to ride horses in the circle to achieve collection, because the horse needs to use his “fanny” more in the turn and since he doesn’t want to do it, he will put his head down to make the work easier on him self. Young horses should be ridden mostly in a straight line or in very wide turns, therefore in the past they were ridden five days a week in the country (fields and open spaces) and only one day in the riding arena. Since most folks cannot ride, they do not feel safe with the youngsters out in the open and feel more comfortable in the enclosed round pen or arena (Johnny Lions and Parelli style of breaking young horses). 
     (The riding of young horses in the open, should be done in the company of more horses, or at least in the company of one experienced horse, lest you will have a long walk home or the horse get injured; more on that later).

    The bit is about communication when we ride off the bit (loose rein, neck reining etc.). When we ride so-called on the bit, or better said in hand, the rider's hands are involved in the horse's movement and managing his entire motion, mainly the energy, extent and direction of the impulsion. In other words we are riding the horse and we have his power in our hands, or one should really say his heart in our hands.
    Therefore, the bit and head equipment we are using will inevitably show one or both, our hands and the horse’s heart.

     When riding off the bit, we are just sitting on the horse while the animal is doing all the work and we are directing it where and how fast to go via the reins that it learned to understand. In the latter we are not part of the horse, he is doing the work by himself and we are just sitting on him.
   The riding off the bit, also known as on a lose rein, is very practical in working horses, hence it has been implemented in the so-called western riding, where the cowboy often needs to have one free hand and a good cow horse knows what to do, just like a good shepherded dog.
    In the military the one hand riding was also needed, hence the use of the curb in the dressage.
  Some other riding techniques emphasizing primarily the use of the seat, but this was more suitable on smaller horses, like the Mongol and Arabian horses. The heavier and bigger horses need the bit as the main riding aid, especially some of the warmbloods, who are somewhat slower in the thinking department, not to mention their weight.
    Riding off the bit is recommended to all amateur riders on experienced horses, since it is easier on both, the horse and the rider. Of course a professional rider must train this type of a horse adequately, because this horse must go through the same process of accepting the bit, softening in the jaw by giving in at the poll. If he is not trained properly such horses will often respond to the pressure on the bit, by throwing his head around or responding improperly. The incorrect training of such horse can be seen in so-called neck reining, when the horse is asked to go in one direction, while his head turns (tilts) into the opposite direction; very common site in many western styles of showing, mostly ignored by the

    The term “riding the horse into the bit” is very incorrect and leads to abusive riding. People simply “drive” the horse forward and then they hold him back, which of course often results in refusing the bit and flexing in the neck and in many cases leads to frustration of the horse, especially in dressage when the horse finally has enough of it and dumps the rider. This you will actually see in the so-called advanced levels, which of course proves the whole misinterpretation of riding in hand by majority of today’s riders. (More on riding in hand coming soon)

    Any horse properly educated can do both, go off the bit or go in hand. Both styles are useful and practical, especially by the formal cavalry horse. The in-hand riding is essential in today’s sport horses, like the racing horses, eventers, dressage or jumpers, since one is in control of the horses power. However, as it is, you will hardly see any of the horses going in the riders’ hands, because they are simply no genuine riders left in this world. Hence, most riders have all sorts off head garbage equipment and funky bits to make up for their incompetence.
    At one time it was known that only one out of ten racehorses needs the whip to perform his best, because most of them can be only hand ridden. As it is today, just about all jockeys and most exercise people on the track do not know how to ride the horse. It is not any different in the world of show horses. So, if the professionals do not know it, how could possibly the amateurs or beginners learn it. We have lost this precious thing, the genuine riding of the horse, because of our corruption, desire for success with the least effort possible. Talent, intelligence and knowledge cannot be purchased, and since everything is about money, including the horse world, it is all about satisfying the demand; hence the folks with money will be more successful in the racing and showing industry.

    Both factors of accepting the bit, the pressure of the bit and the softening of the jaw (flexing at the poll) depends greatly on the rider's hands. Person with an inadequate seat cannot have good hands, on the other hand a good seat alone will not guarantee good hands on the rider. No one can teach you what to do with your hands, only the horse can, providing you have the feel and talent for it; experience is of the essence. Some horses, like the Arabian mares, can be ridden without a bit, only with the help of a halter, suitable noseband or hackamore. In most cases they are better off since the seat and legs can be used as primarily riding aids on such horses.


    If your horse does not accept the bit within two weeks, you will never get it done. Get someone who can do it. By a fair rider and on average horse it takes about three days. There are some horses that will not accept the bit. They are far too few and they are not suitable for riding. If you have one of those get rid of him, but before you do make sure that he does not have some physical problems that could be corrected e.g. wolf teeth, sharp molars etc.

   Do not try to flex the horse's neck, especially not in the center. The higher erecting of the neck and flex at the poll is done freely by the horse in higher collection in slower speeds. Proper riders achieve the higher collection mainly by the use of hands; hence your hands primarily influence the horse’s “fanny” and not his head.

    The better the dressage horse the less obvious are the rider’s aids, especially his hands. The top rider on an advanced horse should look like he is doing nothing, because the use of his riding aids is more refined, hence not visible. Check the top riders, look at their hands, legs and bodies and in most cases they look like they are pulling on cow's tits, they wiggle on the horse like a worm, while the legs are all over the place often with spurs buried into the horse like the bull rider.

   Terminology used by the horsemen riders:

    A horse resting his jaw in the rider's hands describes a horse that accepted the bit and is in the rider's hands, hence in-hand. A horse on the bit is a horse that is either too anxious or too nervous to go and is being held back by the rider.

    Personal Comments

    We worship actors as the stars, whose success is in their talent for deception. What should one expect from the show world, since everything is about appearances, hence about deception? What you see is what you’ll get, but what is it that you see? "Reason consist of seeing things as they are"

    The world has never known the genuine horsemen riders, because they did not write any books, nor were they giving any lessons. They did the work for the rich, who then collected the fame and reward, while the riders got their pay and desired no more. As a horseman rider I often thanked God for the work I was doing, and often could not believe that I was getting paid for it. There is nothing like getting up with the sun in the morning dew, with the horse’s heart in my hands, nothing to hear but the wind between the ears of the horse and then… some one actually gave me money for it?

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek (2004)