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Pulling On The Bit [Part 1]
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [1997]


Training Question:

"I have a 8 yr old morgan mare and when ever i try to get her on the bit all she does is pull how do i stop this?"

From: Carole



Trainer's Response:

It is very important that you realize you are attempting to teach your horse something that you have not yet learned yourself. This is a fairly difficult task to do! You must be very patient and consistent in order to see the desired results! Also, you must read the following two articles before attempting the exercise that I've outlined below.

Forward Movement
Sensitizing and Desensitizing

If you have read and completely understand both of those articles, then continue on to the exercise listed below. If you don't follow all directions on this page exactly, patiently and consistently, you may not get consistent results.


First, I'll answer a few common questions:
WHY DO HORSES PULL ON THE BIT?
Horses will pull on the bit because they are taught that by doing so, you will eventually release that annoying pressure on their mouth.

HOW DO I CORRECT THIS BEHAVIOR?
When a horse pulls on the bit, she locks her jaw and her neck. Her jaw and neck become stiff. In order to correct this, you must first ask her to unlock her jaw and neck. She must become soft and giving in both her jaw and neck...this can be acheived by using the exercises below.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN SHE IS SOFT IN HER JAW AND NECK?
If she is not soft in the jaw and neck, she will turn her head with her nose out and her neck straight and she will feel somewhat stiff. If she is soft in the jaw and neck, she will bring her head down and to the side immediately, and her neck will be bent in the direction you are turning, with NO stiffness whatsoever. If her head comes up when you ask her to soften, she is not soft!

Now, let's get on to the exercises...

Repeat each step until both you and your horse have both perfected it, before moving on to the next step. Block out all outside distractions (other riders, trainers or watchers) and focus completely on what you are teaching your horse.


STEP 1:
Teach your horse to give and relax his jaw and neck to the sides. If you can't get your horse to give and relax these points to the sides, you'll never be able to get your horse on the bit without pulling and locking up.
HOW TO:
At the walk, pick up your right rein and put light pressure on your horse's mouth. Hold this contact consistently. The instant that she turns her nose, gives to the bit and softens her jaw and neck, drop the rein immediately and continue walking with no contact for about 3 to 4 strides. Repeat at the walk until your horse does this consistently every time ON BOTH SIDES. Then repeat at the trot and canter.
* If your horse pulls on the bit when you put pressure on it, maintain the same exact pressure on the rein until she "gives" to the bit and softens her jaw and neck. The most important part of this exercise is that you DON'T release the rein until she stops pulling, gives to the bit and softens her jaw and neck.


STEP 2:
Alternate sides exactly as in step 1. This step will make your horse's neck and jaw very soft, giving and flexible. Trying to get your horse on the bit without softness is a NO NO.
HOW TO:
At the walk, repeat step 1 with your right rein. When your horse gives to the bit, immediately release the pressure and wait about 2 seconds before switching to your left rein. Repeat this with your left rein. Keep alternating between the two reins until your horse is completely soft with both reins and brings her head down and to the side when you ask. Don't release that rein until her head comes slightly down and to the side...softly! Next, practice this at the trot and canter until you can do this 100% consistently in all gaits.

STEP 3:
Teach your horse to go on the bit without pulling on the bit. Be sure that your horse is 100% consistent with steps 1 and 2 before trying step 3, or it won't work! You will need impulsion, softness and fluid forward motion before you can do this!
HOW TO:
At the walk, hold your reins short in both hands but with NO pressure on your horse's mouth. Repeat step 2, but alternating immediately when your horse gives to the bit. Be very soft with your rein cues, and release pressure on your horse's mouth EVERY TIME she has moved her head about 1 inch in the direction you are giving pressure (however, she must be soft before you release the pressure!) Alternate both sides (back and forth - very softly) until her head comes down onto the bit.
* If, at any time, her head comes up, she stiffens and pulls on the bit...don't release the pressure! Instead, back up to step 1 or 2 and maintain the pressure until her head comes down and to the side softly.

Once your horse has perfected step 3, she will be on the bit, soft in her jaw and neck, and she won't pull anymore! If, at any time, your horse fights the bit, becomes anxious, nervous or confused...you are moving much to fast! Back up to the step before, and repeat until your horse is relaxed, soft and giving again.

For most horses, this lesson can be learned in one riding session. However, for horses that are serious "bit pullers" or that have very hard mouths, this exercise may take several weeks or even months to perfect. So, be patient and also use this exercise as a "refresher" each time you ride your horse, so that she doesn't re-learn that bad habbit of pulling on the bit!





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This article was published on: 1997. Last updated on: 1997.