Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky
Bits provide one of the major points of control when riding horses. Knowledge of horse behavior and training principles used to modify behavior must be considered when selecting and using bits. Bitting is a continual process which, through repetitive and step-wise training, teaches horses to accept bits and to properly respond to bit pressure.
The goal of the bitting process is to train the horse to respond to as light a bit pressure as possible to perform a given task. Therefore, rein pressure should be as light as possible when used as a cue or to reinforce a cue.
Applying large amounts of rein pressure when cueing a horse for an initial response, will increase the frequency of undesirable responses from the horse and limit his ability to learn additional tasks. Therefore, inexperienced horses should be trained in bits that apply mild, direct pressure instead of bits that intensify pressure or apply large amounts of leverage.
Applying single episodes of long-term pressure encourages resistance and avoidance of cues. Application of bit pressure should be short-termed and followed immediately by a release period. If more rein pressure is needed for reinforcement, additional “pull-and-release” pressure should be applied instead of lengthening the duration of the initial cue.
Horses in the beginning stages of training should be accustomed to the bit and taught to respond to rein pressure before being ridden. This can be accomplished with several sessions of bridling the horse with a ring snaffle bit and allowing him to wear the bit for several hours at a time without reins attached.
The second objective is to teach the horse to respond to rein pressure. One way to do this is to tie the reins from a snaffle bridle to a bitting harness so small amounts of pressure are applied to the horse’s mouth until the horse responds acceptably by giving in to the rein pressure.
For more information on horse bits and bitting, check out the HorseQuest Learning Lesson: Understanding Bits for Horses and the Young Horse Management Series instructional videos.