In order for a horse to gain good marks in dressage tests at any level, he must learn to accept the bit and bridle.
A horse that does not accept the bit will be against the rider’s hand and will be inclined to hollow through his back, trailing his hocks and lacking balance through transitions.
Just because a horse is working ‘in an outline’ does not mean that he is accepting the bit.
So, how do you train your horse to accept the bit in a willing and genuine way?
What is acceptance of the bit and bridle?
When the horse is moving through the paces, creating impulsion that travels from the back end of the horse to the front end, with no resistance, the rider is able to control the tempo and placement of the horse with the aids from their body, finalized by the bridle.
This is called ‘accepting the bit’, ‘accepting the bridle’, or ‘accepting the contact’.
Too often a horse that is not accepting the bit creates the opposite image. Which is that he is being controlled from the front end to the back end and with ‘aids’ from the rider that are mainly the hands and bit.
The horse should travel freely forwards, whilst accepting the rider’s rein aids and the mouth should be closed. This is correct riding on a willing, cooperative horse.
Teaching the horse to accept the bit and bridle
The best time to start riding the horse on the aids and into the bridle is early on in the young horse’s development, usually as soon as they are familiar with being ridden.
However, many horses find themselves ridden without a structure early in their development and a more formal education may start much later on in their life.
By this time the horse is bigger, more muscular (often in the wrong places), and mentally more opinionated. Educating these horses to accept the bridle takes longer and requires much more patience.
Simple, useful ways to help the older horse to accept the bit:
- Simple transitions (walk-halt, halt-walk) to teach the horse to react to the leg, seat and rein aids promptly.
- Right-angle turns to teach the horse to bend and correctly align his body by encouraging the hind legs to step under towards the center of gravity.
- A combination of transitions and turns so the horse learns to bend, supple himself and balance at the same time.
- Ensure that the rider is sitting down deeply into the saddle, whilst working out how to use their own biomechanical levers with and against the horse to teach him to accept the aids.
- Exercises on squares, circles, and serpentines to teach suppleness and balance
Only when the horse is working in this way can he be said to be truly accepting the bridle.
When the horse is genuinely accepting the bit bridle, it will be obvious to the dressage judge and will be rewarded with good marks.
Although this correct way of going does take time and methodical training to achieve, it is essential if your horse is to progress through the levels.
Use the exercises and top tips given above to teach your horse to accept the bridle.
- How Much Contact Should You Have?
- How to Stop Your Horse Coming Against the Bit
- How to Ride a Good Trot-Canter Transition
- How to Encourage Your Horse to Stretch