Training Tips: Giving to the Bit

Dr. Platt continues her series for the Kentucky Horse Council with more tips for the beginning rider.
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Dr. Platt continues her series for the Kentucky Horse Council with more tips for the beginning rider.

Over the past few articles I have discussed several things that you can do with a green horse that will increase the fun (and therefore decrease the stress) of the first ride. We have discussed how important it is to teach them good ground manners and how to stand tied. Another skill set that can be very important when breaking a green horse is teaching them how to give to the pressure of a bit or side-pull. Whatever your method of choice (bit, halter, side-pull, surcingle with side reins, or other apparatus) it is beneficial to familiarize your horse with it prior to getting on. I will say this again (as I do in every article), I am not here to tell you which method is right or wrong. I am not partial to just one method myself. For the purpose of example, let?s discuss using a snaffle bit to start a colt. I want to make it clear that I am not endorsing this method over any other. I think most horse people are familiar with using a bit and therefore it makes for a good example.

Courtesy Kentucky Horse Council

To learn more about horse bits, download a FREE guide?Horse Bits: The differences between an eggbutt bit, snaffle bit, and curb bit explained.

The bottom line take-home message is this; before you get in the saddle for the first time, it is much easier (and SAFER) to have introduced the bit (for example) to the animal while you are still on the ground. At this point in your training process, the animal should be well halter broke, have reasonable ground manners and possibly even be lunging on a line or in a round pen. You will have spent a considerable amount of time with your mount and have likely formed a bond. You should also have an idea of how your green steed will react to additional pressure and how much time you will need to spend on a new concept to make him comfortable with it.

There are several reasons to introduce this concept to the animal while you are still on the ground. My number one reason is SAFETY. I went to college with a guy who was from Wyoming and had broken many, many horses in his tenure. He was more of what most would call a cowboy-style trainer. His family owned a very large ranch and their own string of horses and because time was short, not much of it was spent on the basics. They halter broke their colts and shortly after climbed on and rode them. Needless to say he was a much better bronc rider than most. One afternoon, Jake was in the process of starting a colt at our barn. He had just gotten in the saddle and the colt was OK with the idea at that point. Jake started to ease the colt around the round pen and gently ask him to give his head to the pressure he was applying to the bit. About the third time Jake pulled on the colt?s mouth, he panicked, wrenched himself away from the pressure and ended up falling over backwards onto Jake. Six months and 2 plates later, Jake?s pelvis was healing and he was able to walk without assistance. SAFETY is my number ONE goal.

When you first introduce this concept (no matter if it be a bit, side-pull, surcingle and side reins, etc), the horse is likely going to resist the pressure you are applying to his mouth or nose. This resistance can range from slight to very severe. In severe cases the potential for injury is obviously higher. If you are on the ground when this resistance first occurs, you are more capable of controlling the situation without over-stimulating the animal. You don't want to overwhelm the horse by asking him to process and accept too many foreign concepts at one time. If he is already used to the pressure from the bit (because you have worked with him on the ground), then that is one less ?new? thing he has to cope with once you get on his back. There are several ways to introduce this concept while on the ground. Many find techniques like ground driving, lunging while allowing them to carry a bit in their mouth (not attaching the line to the bit), or simply applying pressure to the bit while standing next to the horse affective. Anything that helps them understand to give into the pressure rather than fighting it will be beneficial. Once they understand that concept you are one step closer to a smooth, SAFE first ride.