Wednesday, June 6, 2018

In a frame, round, on the bit

After a handful of trainers told me, more or less, that Moxie wasn't really "on the bit", it required a lot of thinking about what "on the bit" really is, and let me to ask such questions as: how do we take a horse from just-broke to dressage horse? How do we teach them to go "on the bit"? What does that phrase even mean?

I think that many people have different definitions of on the bit, and I also know that your understanding of on the bit can change pretty dramatically as your feel and education increase. I'd like to share some of my granulations of the concept to share what I've learned in the last year.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

In a frame is when the horse's nose starts to drop, closing the angle behind the poll. Sometimes this is a 'steady frame' (ie the height of the poll isn't changing, nor is the angle behind the poll) and sometimes it isn't.

Round is when a horse is taking steps under their body with their hind legs, and lifting their back.

On the bit is when you close your leg and the horse goes to the bridle, or when you reach forward with the bit and they follow it where you put it. In my mind, on the bit is both in a frame, and round, and a little bit more.

I see a lot of management of 'frames' in horses, especially in green horses who haven't quite figured out how to balance their steps without flinging their head about, but sometimes even in school horses with riders who sort of forget to keep a lid on the connection.

I think that frame-management starts to disappear as the horse becomes rounder, using their body in a healthier manner and controlling their balance, but you can still sometimes see riders with quite round horses go to push their hands toward the bit and ask for a stretch, and it all goes out the window with the horse shoving their nose up and against the hand.

A horse that is truly on the bit has activated all of the seeking reflexes and is bringing the back up into the rider's seat, is reaching from the neck into the bridle, even within collection.

Cool, right? Sounds awesome. I want my horse seeking the bit, softly swinging over his back, eager to reach downwards and forwards when I close my leg and gently push my knuckles forward. I'll discuss what helped me and Moxie with this concept the most in the next post, but I am curious - what are your thoughts on the distinctions I've laid out above? Do you use the terms differently, and if so, how do you define them?


  1. I quite like your descriptions. They make sense to me.

  2. I use them interchangeably, but haven't achieved any of them so what do I know :p
    Cupid is however more than happy to stretch down. (I don't think he's really reaching for the bit, because it doesn't matter if I have any contact or not) He's got two modes: stargazing/giraffe neck or anteater. In the long run I think that's better than the horse that tends to curl, but it does not result in very good scores at training level!

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  4. That is the best description I've ever read of those 'stages'. I have a mare that has required a lot of remedial retraining (and I'm not an experienced rider, so this has been under instruction), and now we have a just started 3.5 yo that already moves naturally rounder than my mare. So while I can pinpoint where I'm up to with my mare (generally round, brief periods of on the bit) I am keen to see how your discussion continues with reference to developing a baby horse. Thanks

  5. Loved these distinctions and when are you coming to visit so I can force you to give me a lesson? lol

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