On The Bit

What does that even mean? I find myself asking this every time my horse and I are rejected from a competition that does not allow bitless. “Your horse cannot be scored if they are not on the bit” I am told. Well, I have some news for those judges… none of the horses in the arena are ‘on the bit’. Mainly because they aren’t stood on it, which would perhaps be a better display for most if they were.

But I try and remain open minded, I’m constantly seeking to learn and expand my knowledge base and this involves challenging my own views and belief systems. I’m not afraid to say I’ve changed my view or what I previously believed was wrong (I might not like it but that’s another story!). I have sat with a skull and numerous bits and tried to make them fit like an odd piece from a jigsaw puzzle that accidentally got mixed in a decade ago. It won’t fit, it never fitted but everyone around me says I have to make it fit because they want the complete jigsaw whether it’s the right piece or not. That pretty much sums up my experience of going bitless in a ‘mainstream’ environment. My point is that I don’t mind being wrong, but I cannot for the life of me make this piece of the jigsaw fit and I’ve questioned if every other piece was right in my bid to make sure I’m confident that this phrase is nonsense and has no meaning in a modern world.

The closest example that makes any sense to me was written by Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD in 2005 who termed it ‘Acceptance of the bit’ If a bit is to be used, then ‘acceptance of the bit’ is a prerequisite to achieving collection.  However, the goal is not acceptance of the bit but collection and this can be achieved without a bit. A horse does not have to be ‘on’ a bit to be collected. In fact, quite the opposite, a bit often prevents collection.” (1)

I’ve personally had in depth conversations with trainers, vets, physios and even cowboys and I get a different meaning everywhere I turn. The only thin cord that links all of the views, is that the horse should NOT be on the bit, but in fact be OFF THE BIT. Yes, you read that correctly; off the bit. Horses that lean on the bit and avoid the bit are incorrectly engaging, or not, with a bit. But how does a horse comfortably engage with a piece of metal that can interfere with their breathing, swallowing, cause pain and discomfort and in more extreme cases lead to cuts, lacerations and bone spurs?

The mind boggles frankly, but still I’m open to the possibility that I, the cowboys, the physios and even the PhD veterinarian have not come across the morsel of information that will change all of our minds that our horses must be on the bit and that the piece of the jigsaw was in fact the perfect fit.

Let me know if you find it…


(1) https://www.bitlessbridle.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ON_THE_BIT_FEI_complete_UM.pdf

Credit to Martina Diehl for permission to use the photo

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phillippa christie

phillippa christie

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