Will Bitting up help my horse stop easier?


My horse is running at fences, hard to stop and collect after a jump, would bitting up help this problem?  Langley, BC.

There seem to be a lot of people not just in the jumping world that have this problem.  Many dressage riders too have problems with transitions, especially the downward transitions, and getting collection without having to hold the horse all the time.

The answer to this question has little to do with the bit you are using, except if it's too severe, it will make the horse run more, not less.  The problem here is a lack of balance, and the horses ability to shift its weight to make a good transition.  The rider also has to learn to ask for that, and own the 4 corners of the horse.  You should be able to ask the horse to shift its weight to any leg, or to the rear or the front, depending on what you need to be doing. 

If you watch a horse take off running in a field, the first thing they do is raise their head and tuck their butt underneath them.  This is how the horse’s body is meant to move or collect.  Many people think that horses can do good transitions with their heads low, it's actually impossible physically, or at least very difficult for the animal to do this, it's against the way nature intended the horses body to work.  The horse also raises their head to stop suddenly also and this is the secret to good transitions and brakes.  The base of the neck raises, lifting the spine out of the cradle of muscle deep in the chest around the sternum, and this resetting is what enables the horse to stop or start smoothly. It engages the whole skeleton and spine.

The rider has to understand this mechanism before you can learn how to use it effectively for transitions and collection.  The horse has to be taught how to elevate itself,  you cannot lift them, they have to develop their own autonomy, or be in control of their own body, and you just give directions.  An unbalanced horse that is not in control of their movements is dangerous to ride, as it’s like a freight train with no brakes.  Teach your horse self carriage by lunging over poles at the walk, trot and canter, Reiner Klimke wrote abook calledCavaletti which is very good at showing you how to do this. Pole work is a good beginning, but I also teach my horses to raise their head, neck and withers by small circles backwards with the reins, about the size of a toonie.  The circling backward of the bit in the horse’s mouth encourages them not to lean on your hands and to inch by inch raise the head and neck, and withers.  Raising the base of the neck is when the real magic happens, as you can feel the horse suddenly come up in the front. This lightens the front end, engages the hind legs and voila! Your transitions are now so much better, and you have no problem stopping.  It also involved the rider being able to sit up and raise their sternum too, as if you are out of balance, you cannot expect your horse to be a better horse than you are a rider, so this is a team effort, the horse cannot do it alone.  Anyone interested in learning this can contact me about a lesson, or keep an eye out for upcoming clinics this winter at Windsor stables where I will address this issue.  Until then, happy riding!