Classical Dressage

Training according to the Dressage masters; for the health of the horse

Often misunderstood: ‘on the bit’

Posted By Iris on May 27, 2010

Big misunderstanding in Dressage world is the term ‘on the bit’. What does this imply, ‘on the bit’? First of all the term has the word ‘bit’ in it so it starts with giving the assumption you need a bit. Then with that  it actually also gives the assumption that the ‘bit’ is active in this, in other words, that you use the bit to get the result of whatever the term means. This makes for SO many unhappy horses in ‘modern’ Dressage! Pulling the reins to achieve for the horse to be ‘on the bit’, tight necks and clenched jaws as a result. This in turn gives a horse that is far from collection, since a horse that is not totally relaxed cannot collect properly!

The origin of the term ‘on the bit’ is the French term ‘dans la main’. There is not one word in that term that means ‘bit’! ‘. Dans la main’ means ‘in the hand’! In the hand gives for a much softer image if you ask me! In the hand, for me means holding something, not fighting or anything, but like holding a baby bird that is laying in the hand. Holding this bird as you should hold the horses’ mouth! Tighten your grip and the bird dies.

A horse that is literally ‘on the bit’ can be ‘on the bit’ when totally tight. A horse that is (laying) ‘in the hand’, to me sounds more like it can only be relaxed in a soft hand. At least a lot more relaxed than ‘on the bit’. Also, ‘in the hand’ tells me that the activity lays in the hand. It is the hand that does the work, not the bit.

Ok, we are talking semantics here, but it is an important one. Since the ‘on the bit’ phrase leads to so much misunderstanding, and not innocent ones either!

Another thing is, some of you know this too; there are people who are perfectly capable of collecting their horse WHITHOUT bit or sometimes even without bridle in total! Some of these people have tried to enter Dressage competitions but were rejected because others told them that it is not possible to have your horse ‘on the bit’ without bit…!? Excuse me my ‘French’, how shortsighted can you be if you think that?

This is why I think ‘they’/ we should seriously consider rewriting some of the rules, especially the English translation (the Dutch translation is not a lot better btw).

I suggest using either ‘in the hand’ or better maybe (for the bridle less people) ‘on the aid’. ‘On the aid’ gives me an image of a horse that is totally focused on the rider and communicating with him or her. A horse that is in anticipation of the next aid. Sounds a lot better if you ask me… What do you think??


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