The key to improving control is good communication with your horse. He's
he can't understand you, he can't do what you want. He doesn't have the
ability to understand your verbal language. So you need to use a tactile
language: the aids.
Aids require direct contact. Each can be applied with varying intensity and
in countless combinations.
Keep these important rules in mind as you review the material in this
Never use a hand aid without a corresponding leg aid.
Never use a leg aid without a back aid.
Coordinate your legs, hands, and back.
Always drive your horse forward and straight (unless you're bending).
When you turn, your horse must bend into, and to the degree of, the
It's time to meet your school horse for this lesson.
Many instructors consider Arabians too "hot," or on the fast and frisky side,
for use as school horses. Watergate is unusual, however. He's especially
well behaved and calm, and he knows the class routine better than most
instructors. He's a star among school horses.
Although on the smallish side, in the field he's definitely a herd leader.
(He's one of the horses that terrorizes Tiki). Another horse had better not
try to eat his pile of hay.
Under saddle, Watergate moves forward easily, but he demands that riders
give him very clear instructions.
You've learned the basic aids, but there's more to know before you can
effectively communicate with Watergate. So don't mount up just yet.
Consider the bit, the metal mouthpiece of the bridle. Most bridles used with
school horses have stainless-steel bits, but some bits consist of other
materials, such as copper and copper alloys. Copper makes a horse
salivate, keeping the mouth moist and more sensitive.
Many people think the bit sits on the horse's teeth, but it doesn't. It sits on
the bars, a toothless section of jawbone, between the horse's front and
back teeth, that is covered by gums and mucous membranes.
If someone says, "The horse took the bit and ran," it doesn't mean that the
horse grabbed the bit in his teeth and took off. It means the horse angled
his head so that he transferred the pressure of the bit off his bars and
against the sides of his back teeth. The point I want to make is that to use
the bit effectively, you work it on the horse's bars, not on his teeth.
In hot-blooded horses, such as Thoroughbreds, the membranes covering
the bars are thinner than they are in cold-blooded horses, such as Drafts.
To better visualize the horse's bars the membranes covering it, think of your
shin bone and its thin covering of skin. Shins generally are sensitive to
bangs, scrapes, and blows. So are a horse's bars.
The Jointed Snaffle Bit
There are more bits on the market than you can count. The most common
type used on school horses is called a jointed snaffle bit. It consists of two
pieces of metal jointed in the middle and acts something like a nutcracker
when you pull on both reins. Generally, the greater the diameter of the
snaffle, the gentler it is. The thinner the snaffle, the harsher. Think of it this
way: A pipe is less likely to cut you than a wire.
The snaffle connects to a cheek piece, common types being the full-cheek,
the D-ring, and the ring. A full-cheek snaffle is among the mildest of bits,
dispersing pressure evenly on the cheeks. A D-ring snaffle is somewhat
harsher; when you tug on the right rein, the ring on the left side of the bit
pulls against the horse's left cheek and into the cavity between the front and
back teeth. A ring snaffle is harsher yet; it pulls into that same cavity, but it
tends to be sharp sided. Ring size also affects severity: A larger ring will be
What does all this mean? Assuming you're using a rein aid that involves the
cheek piece of the bit, a full-cheek snaffle requires more pressure than a
ring snaffle to obtain the desired result.
Although I've used the words "severe" and "harsh," know that, in general, a
snaffle bit used correctly is the gentlest of bits. Accordingly, it's less likely
than other types of bits to hurt the horse if you make mistakes using it.
Don't Put the Bit on Backward
Putting a snaffle bit on backward has been done more than once. To
prevent this mishap, which can be very uncomfortable for the horse, be sure
to learn the proper way to assemble a bridle and put it on. Always check
the bridle after it's on your horse to make sure there are no twists in the
cheek pieces, which could be a clue that you're put in backward.
A leverage bit is far more severe than a snaffle bit. Commonly used types
of leverage bits are the Pelham and Kimberwick. These are used with a
curb strap or chain that fits under the horse's chin. When you pull on the
reins you create pressure between the mouthpiece and the curb. These
bits generally give more control than a snaffle bit.
I might use a leverage bit in a very hard-mouthed horse, not because he's
going to run away, but just to get him to listen. Generally, however, I don't
use this type of bit on one of my school horses.
If you're riding English and are given a horse with a leverage bit, ask why,
and ask how you should use it.
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