When most equestrians hear the phrase “on the bit” they think of the horse’s headset. But at our farm, it means that the rider has demonstrated soft hands and good control of the horse. The rider can now ride with a bit in the horse’s mouth! For most of our riders, this is like graduation day for them. And, in a way, it is.

Our riders, regardless of the class – therapeutic, pony pal, or beginner – start riding without a bit in the horse’s mouth. The focus is on how to steer the horse and focus on control. This is not control like the horse is going to try to run and the rider needs to keep the horse at a walk, but in precision. Can the rider weave the cones or turn corners without knocking over the cone. We might put up a pattern, like the one in this picture and expect the rider to steer the horse through it without stepping over the poles. It sounds easy, but it really requires focusing on the task for the rider.

Next the riders learn how to trot. Balance is important here. If they pull on the reins as they post or bobble back and forth, they don’t have the balance they need. Once they can trot the horse keeping their hands soft and still, they have made it to the next level. Riding with the bit!

Morgan_Buttercup_ontheBitEvery rider is different. Some riders have good balance when they start learning how to ride; others don’t. Some can focus; others are easily distracted. There are a lot of skills involved in getting to this level. Most riders are able to steer their horse confidently within six months. It’s getting the balance to trot with soft and still hands that can take a lot longer. But eventually, every rider who has the determination does end up “on the bit.”

If you have a child that is interested in horseback riding, but you don’t know where to start, download our free ebook A Parent’s Guide to Horseback Riding