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
Keep these important rules in mind as you review the material in this chapter:
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 turn.
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
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
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 less severe.
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
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