Throughness, connection and/or on the bit, how to achieve it?
Yes you read it right, I'm going to make an attempt to write an article about throughness, connection and ‘on the bit’. I know it’s an obvious topic. But it is also a topic filled with a lot of different truths. I will explain mine, because to me it seems to be the simplest version. I like simplicity, so also with this topic I won’t make it any harder than it already is, that horse riding is, okay? Also for the sake of simplicity, I am assuming that throughness, connection and on the bit have the same meaning and I will use the term “on the bit” in this article.
Pulling the reins when the horse is not using his back
A horse with the nose pushed forward and upward, the back going down and the hind legs swinging out is not a comfortable horse to ride. It doesn’t allow you to nicely follow his back movements because his back is tight and stiff. He doesn’t feel soft in your hands, because the contact with the mouth is not smooth and his hind legs are not further engaged under his body, but they push backwards. In short, when the connection is not right and the horse is not on the bit, you won’t sit comfortable on your horse. It is not a good basis for any further training.
What ‘on the bit’ is not?
There are some misunderstandings about getting a horse on the bit.
For clarity: o it is not a position your horse is taking o it is not a flexion of the neck o it is not obtained from you rein aids o you cannot force it o it has nothing to do with pulling o it has nothing to do with playing, half halts, squeezing and releasing left and right o it has nothing to do with tight, stiff, or static
Not on the bit, wrong flexion of the neck, dent in front of the withers
Front leg extends forward, Hind leg pushes backwards
Hind legs are not engaged under the body, no use of back muscles
What is 'on the bit' then?
It is the release of the neck and jaw joint as a result of the hind legs engaged further under the horse‘s body.
It is the soft connection with his mouth as a result of the forward driving aids of the rider and thus the horse’s hind legs further engaged, his back used correctly and the release of his neck and jaw joint.
Getting your horse on the bit is like getting priority in driving. It has to be given to you. It is the answer of your horse to your good riding. The aids you give, the questions you ask. To be on the bit is the positive feedback you get from your horse.
Getting your horse on the bit is dynamic and not static. It moves, it is supple, smooth, and elastic. When your horse is on the bit, it has more to do with getting your hands forward than pulling. Your horse is swinging underneath you, let you sit comfortable, and is developing self-carriage.
To be on the bit is achieved when your horse is engaging his hind legs further under his body. It can only happen when your horse moves with a regular rhythm, when he is relaxed and when he is reacting sharply to your aids. Also, you need to sit in balance on your horse with an independent seat.
You can ask you horse to get on the bit when he is satisfying the following four conditions, not any earlier.
Your horse has a regular rhythm. He has a clear 4-beat walk, a clear 2-beat trot and a clear 3-beat canter. If one of these gaits is not regular, then you should seek for professional expertise (trainer, vet, farrier, etc.) in order to obtain a regular rhythm of all gaits.
Your horse is relaxed. He needs to be willing to train and to accept your aids. If your horse is stressed or rather fresh, you first need to perform other exercises in order to teach him to relax. Groundwork and lunging are good exercises for that. Your horse has to engage his hind legs further under his body when you ask him, directly. Also here, take the training of your horse seriously and ask for professional help if needed.
Your horse is “on the aids”. You can develop good connection and get your horse on the bit only if he correctly reacts to your driving leg aids for example. If your horse is not very reactive to your legs and you constantly have to drive with your legs to keep him cantering, then you won’t be able to get him on the bit. Is your horse coming back on a slight seat aid combined with a short rein aid (1 sec.) of both hands given in the rhythm of the gait? If not: work first at the reaction to the aids with a good trainer who understands how a horse is learning.
You sit correctly on your horse with an independent seat. You can nicely sit and follow the movement of your horse in all three gaits, also in sitting and posting trot, you master the light seat position in trot and canter without bouncing in the saddle, pulling the reins or leaning on the neck. You can apply aids with perfect timing, intensity, length, and at the right location.
Congrats, your horse is on the bit!
Do you satisfy the conditions 1, 2, 3, and 4? Congratulations, then you probably need to do nothing to get your horse on the bit. He is doing it completely by himself! Because you have got the basics correct, your horse is answering by going on the bit.
Nevertheless, it is possible that your horse is not continuously moving in balance, with suppleness and self-carriage (for example in turns or exercises that you are not completely mastering yet). At that moment you can give a very light aid to help your horse. But again, this is possible only if the 4 conditions mentioned above are satisfied.
on the bit
The answer is more important than the question
With two hands at the same time you can slowly increase the pressure on his mouth. I mean you can increase the pressure on his mouth for a few seconds and not a few minutes. As soon as your horse is softening his neck and jaw joint you release the pressure. Directly. So that your horse understands that he gives the right answer to your question. Thus, it has a lot to do with timing. When you ask this a few times, you will see that your horse is seeking your hand and that the connection with his mouth is softening.
The codeword is timing
Be aware: releasing the pressure means becoming light in your hands, and staying supple with your arms. If you bring your hands forward andlose the connection with the mouth, you are actually breaking the communication with your horse. A very light contact needs to be maintained. So light that there is no tension on the reins and you can still feel the horse moving and swinging underneath you.
By increasing the pressure on your horse mouth, you are asking him to get on the bit. By releasing the pressure, you are giving your horse the chance of answering your question.
That way you create a very dynamic “conversation” with your horse, where you are sending and receiving information.
Don’t only send information to your horse but stay also open for receiving information from him. Give your horse the chance to answer your question and stop asking with your hands and driving aids for a short bit. That way you can create a dynamic conversation with your horse.
Don’t work continuously at getting your horse on the bit.
Don’t work on it over and over again. If you ride your horse correctly, and you first teach your horse the basics and train him step by step, you will realize that being ‘on the bit’ is obviousness. You don’t need to work on it anymore (already in an early stage of a horse’s training). It occurs automatically, you are simply getting it.
You ride for example at elementary level, and you realize that connection and getting your horse on the bit is still an issue? Then there is something wrong with the basics of the training. Connection and ‘on the bit’ should be in place at that level and you shouldn’t have to work on it. You can’t then move on to the next medium level. You will keep scoring around the minimum required; sometimes you will be lucky and score above it but sometimes not. Then you should seek the advice of a professional trainer and train the basics until they are well established.
Do you want to know what you can improve?
In short, good connection and getting your horse on the bit is dynamic and not static. You are getting it as the answer of your horse to your correct way of riding. You have to satisfy four important conditions before getting your horse on the bit. You can never force it.
Do you have difficulties getting your horse on the bit and you would like to know how to work on it and improve? Then you are more than welcome to come and train at the riders’ feeling training center.
Please share your comments and experiences on this blog below! I’m looking forward to hear your feedback. Please share this article via social media!
This article may be used for magazines and websites...
.... And it's free! The only thing I’m asking is to add a link to my website and the following text. "By Hester Bransen of Riders’ feeling. More tips about improving riders’ feeling are revealed in the e-book 'The four elements of a correct riders’ position'. You can download this e-book for free on www.ridersfeeling.com."