Leaning on the bit is the common description for any horse that puts an undue amount of his own weight on the bit whilst being ridden.
A horse that leans on the bit will typically cause his rider quite a bit of muscle strain and discomfort because the horse is using the rider as a means of support and balance.
Leaning on the bit is a bad habit that takes time, conditioning, and a certain amount of rider experience to correct.
Read on to find out what you can do to stop your horse from leaning on the bit.
Why is your horse leaning on the bit?
Before you can begin to solve the problem, you’ll first need to determine why your horse is leaning on the bit.
Your horse might be leaning on the bit because;
- he’s too lazy to carry himself
- he’s young and has not yet worked out how to balance himself under saddle
- he’s not fit or strong enough to work in self-carriage
- the bit is too thick and encourages the horse to lean on it
How to stop your horse from leaning on the bit
In order to stop your horse from leaning on the bit, you’ll need to teach him to become more engaged and to carry himself without using your hands for balance.
He will need to lighten his forehand and learn to seek a lighter contact.
If you usually ride your horse in a very thick bit, try changing it for something thinner and more mobile. Sometimes, a loose-ring bit with a double joint or lozenge in the middle can be very useful in discouraging horses from leaning on the bridle.
When retraining a horse not to lean on your hands, a good starting point is to use transitions. Ride transitions from one pace to another and within the paces too.
Using circles whilst riding transitions can help to bring the horse’s inside hind leg more underneath him, which will, in turn, lift his forehand and relieve his reliance for balance on your contact.
Another exercise that can be effective in backing a horse off the contact is rein-back. However, be wary of using this exercise if your horse is not confident in performing it, as this can lead to resistance and may actually cause more problems than it solves if used too soon in a horse’s training. Never use rein-back as a punishment for leaning on your hand.
You can practice incorporating shoulder-in and leg-yield whilst riding circles to really drive the horse’s hind leg underneath and therefore lighten his shoulders.
Make sure that you ride forwards through both upward and downward transitions so that the horse does not ‘dwell’ on the hand and has to use his hindquarters more efficiently.
A horse that habitually leans on the bit can be very tiring to ride and will never progress up the levels in dressage until he has learned to carry himself.
Try using the advice given above to teach your horse to become lighter in your hand, but remember that faults such as this cannot be fixed overnight.
Patience, practice and time will eventually pay dividends when your horse is as light as a feather in your hands and you no longer have biceps like Popeye!