This is something I used to struggle so much with.
Arnie knows how to accept the contact, I just didn’t know how to get it from him, so he used to run around the training arena with me on top fighting him with his head in the air looking more like a frightened llama than a well trained competition pony.
My trainer tells me that a horse that’s not on the bit is not mentally with his rider, he gets distracted by everything else around him and can even spook at things. There was a joke that horse riders didn’t need to play Pokemon Go as their horses could find invisible monsters everywhere they went.
Being on the bit and creating that lovely roundness in your horse without forcing his chin to his chest really helps me connect us both together so we become one. When he’s on the bit he feels relaxed and content and happy to take instruction from me.
On the bit is more about feeling than anything else (which really makes it quite hard to understand and get right).
The way I was taught to get the contact was to first use the warm up to get a nice forward and positive motion with good rhythm and straightness. Lots of direction change and circles, then more circles, and then even some more circles getting smaller and smaller and getting the flexion and suppleness out of him. His head naturally then starts to come down and he starts to listen because he’s not sure which way we are going to go. I always know when Arnie is listening because he flicks one ear back in concentration. In every competition we go to it will be difficult to see a picture of him with both ears forward because he’s concentrating so hard on what I’m telling him, not with my mouth but with my body. In competitions you are not allowed to talk or give any sort of voice commands or clicks.
When Arnie is in front of my leg I try and get a straight line from the bit through to my hand and then I play with my ring fingers on the reins trying to feel the bit with my hands and when I feel it, he usually seeks the contact and brings his head down into a soft outline. I then try and keep my hands as consistent as possible. If I start to fidget he falls out of it, so I try and keep them as still as possible which my trainer says reassures him as the contact is consistent. I then use my elbows for the forward and back motion while keeping my hands still and softly closed around the reins. I imagine I’m holding a baby bird that I don’t want to crush. I keep my hands level and keep them at the same distance.
Getting Arnie on the bit has taken me a year to properly master. There was always so much to think about and I thought it would never come right.
Now I can jump on Arnie and after a brief warm up where I let him stretch his head down I can pretty much get the contact straight away. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the odd llama experience, particularly in some of my upward transitions which need some more work 🙂