How to get your horse on the bit – useful tips for all riders

  • When thinking about how to get your horse on the bit, it is important that your horse is working correctly from behind into a soft contact. Before you start schooling, your horse needs to be in good form both mentally and physically. Make sure your horse is up to date with their regular health checks, such as teeth and physio, as well as ensuring your tack is comfortable and well fitting.

    A correct outline

    A correct outline means that the poll is at the highest point and your horse’s face is vertical, or just in front of the vertical. His neck should arch along the top line, however the jaw and muscle underneath his neck should be relaxed and soft. The back and loins should be supple, the shoulders should be able to move freely and the front and back leg joints should flex and move equally. There should be no tension.

    On the bit

    If you have a correct outline and good form, asking your horse to go on the bit should simply involve asking him for more engagement from behind, encouraging the forehand to lift and lighten. The energy needed to produce a correct outline begins in the hindquarters and flows forwards into your hands.

    Accepting the bit

    You should encourage your horse to seek the rein contact by taking a positive, consistent feel. Do not be heavy on the rein or unnecessarily strong. Work your horse forwards in a good rhythm, ensuing your paces are balanced and you’re riding him straight before picking up the contact.

    How to get your horse on the bit: what can go wrong?


    Age, level of schooling and conformation may all affect how easily your horse finds it to work in an outline, engage his hocks and stretch through his topline. Account for this and don’t ask too much too soon. Seek lessons from an experienced instructor.

    An incorrect outline

    A ‘false’ outline is when your horse tucks his nose into the position it should be, but isn’t using himself correctly. If this happens you should go back to basics and school him to correct this problem. It’s a good idea to rule out pain, fear, and a lack of understanding first.


    If your horse overbends you’ll find that he takes too much contact. Be sure that you are not heavy in your hand – try to work your horse into a lighter contact.

    Behind the bit

    If your horse is behind the bit, he will not accept the contact and will tuck his nose into his chest. You will find that the poll isn’t in the highest point and his face is behind the vertical. Be sure that you are asking your horse to work forwards with impulsion.

    Above the bit

    If your horse is above the bit he will hold is head high, meaning that he will hollow through his back. This will cause the hindquarters to trail. Work on his schooling and encourage him to relax forwards into the contact.

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