Horse Training, Horse Care, and Riding Books and Videos from Cherry Hill at
from Cherry Hill

How To Think Like A Horse
From the Center of the Ring
Making, Not Breaking
Longeing and Long Lining
the English and Western Horse
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill
Horse For Sale by Cherry Hill
Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill
Longeing and Long Lining the Western Horse

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A Bit of Advice
    2006 Cherry Hill Copyright Information

A bit is your means of completing the communication equation with your horse via your hands. Along with your weight and leg aids, the bit can give you the means of balancing your horse left and right as well as from front to rear and of shaping the energy that comes from his hindquarters. Specifically, a bit is useful for teaching your horse to bend his neck and throatlatch so that he can be turned in both directions. It is also useful for teaching your horse to flex vertically in the lower jaw, at the poll, and at the neck muscles just in front of the withers. Vertical flexion is necessary for gait and speed control as well as for stopping.

When things "go wrong", the most common question asked is "What kind of bit should I be using?" Often the problem is not the bit but that basic training lessons have been skipped. That's why you should always use the mildest bit possible and perfect your other aids. It is not how "severe" a bit is, but how skillful the rider's hands are that determines the smoothness of the performance. The mildest bit can be an instrument of torture in the wrong hands while a very advanced ("severe") bit can be used with skill, finesse, and precision in the right hands, creating a picture of harmony and grace.

Dear Cherry Hill,

How do you know the correct bit to choose, if a horse is easy to lead with rope, but difficult with a bit?

Joe for Fiona

Dear Joe,

First of all, if a horse leads lightly and on a slack lead rope when haltered, he should lead the same way when wearing a bridle and bit. If you pull on the reins when leading with a bit, it could cause the horse to balk or pull back. That's because, depending on the design of the bit, it could become elevated in his mouth and hit the roof of his mouth or pressure his tongue. You should never pull the bridle reins when leading. The horse must be taught to lead off your body language and position.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillWhen it comes to bit selection, if you are not experienced, you should work with an instructor who can advise you which bit is appropriate for your horse. However, in most cases, I advise to start with the simplest and mildest bit, the snaffle. Many horses can be ridden their entire lives in a snaffle.

The most common snaffle (the jointed O-ring) has four parts: two rings and a mouthpiece comprised of two arms. Snaffles are mechanically simple bits that are appropriate for early basic lessons because they allow you to communicate with your horse in simple terms. A snaffle bit transmits pressure in a direct line from your hands through the reins to the rings to the mouthpiece to the horse's mouth. On a snaffle, there are no shanks (the vertical sidepieces of a curb bit to which the reins attach) that would create leverage action. A snaffle is customarily used with a browband headstall that has a throatlatch.


At rest, the correctly fitted and adjusted snaffle hangs so that it just touches the corners of the horse's lips. It lies in the interdental space (the area between the incisors and molars that has no teeth) and rests on the tongue and bars.

When you pull one rein out to the side, let's say the right, the bit will slide slightly through the mouth to the right and the primary pressure will be exerted by the ring on the left side of the horse's face. This will cause him to bend laterally and turn right.

When you pull back on one rein, pressure will be exerted on the right side of your horse's tongue, the right lower lip, the right corner of the mouth, the right side of the bars and on the left side of the horse's face. This will tend to cause the horse to bend laterally and begin to flex vertically so he shifts his weight rearward as he turns right.

When you pull backward on both reins, pressure will be applied to both corners of the mouth and across the entire tongue and the bit may contact the bars and the lower lips. This causes a horse to flex vertically, shift his weight rearward, slow down, or stop.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillThink of these principles as you lead your horse with the bridle reins. Treat each rein individually by separating them with a finger or two and communicate with the horse via the reins from the ground. Do not clasp the reins together in your fist and use them as if a lead rope. Cherry Hill

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    2006 Cherry Hill Copyright Information

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