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How to Teach your Young Horse to Accept the Bit

Updated on May 19, 2009

De-conditioning and positive reinforcement are the best methods to resort to when trying to get a horse to accept a bit. Horses, are naturally suspicious creatures, let's not forget that horses are prey and often tend to startle at the smallest things. Having a metal piece in their mouth may not be the most pleasant experience, but with patience, time and a bit of ''horse psychology'' you can get your horse to come to you to get that bit on in the same manner a dog comes to you to get to wear his leash.

The best way to start is by getting a horse accustomed to the bit early. No, you do not need to get your foal to wear it a young age, but it helps to get your foal used to be handled everywhere. You want to have that foal used to having its hooves raised, having its hair brushed, having its coat groomed and having its mouth touched. All these actions, if repeated routinely, will get your foal to be very collaborative once older. 

Allow all these routines to happen frequently and make them pleasant. Always pass a treat after having those hooves lifted, praise with a nice pat after cleaning the nostrils, pass some honey on your fingers when handling the mouth. Gently massage the area where the bit will rest.Your foal should look forward to your gentle handling and praise. 

Then months later, when you will have to perform these tasks, you will have a horse that  has been preconditioned to all this and will be  collaborative because he has learned to associate all these tasks with something positive. This includes placing that metal bar known as the ''bit''. 

The bit is technically placed in the horse's mouth right into that space lacking teeth between the incisors and the molars. If you got your foal used to being handled in this area by putting a light pressure on it  with your fingers, your foal will be less prone to startle once the bit is placed. In any case, it is normal for your horse to react to the bit the first times worn.

A trick of trade, to allow horses to accept the bit better, is to smother it  in honey. Horses love the taste of honey and many will readily accept the bit because they associate it with something they appreciate. Don't be surprised if after a few times, your horse comes towards you as soon as he notices the bridle and bit!


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    • Rebecca J. Scott profile image

      Rebecca J. Scott 8 years ago

      Maybe you might consider NOT getting the horse to accept the bit? It is not necessary to bit horses to control them when riding them and there is a growing movement here in Australia and I'm sure in the US and elsewhere also (?) to ride horses bitless....either in a bitless bridle/sidepull or simply in a halter.

      There is some science behind it and there are a heap of nerves in the horse's mouth where the bit rests on the lips at the corner of the mouth.

      Many people THINK that they need a bit in a horse's mouth to 'control' it. But it is the person who thinks that. Not the horse. A horse can be taught to go and respond in a halter, as it is taught to go and respond in a bit. However, a halter may be kinder?

      There is at least one club THE BENDIGO BITLESS RIDING CLUB which promotes not only bitless, but also barefoot riding. Riders with bitted or shod horses are not turned away, but the core of those who make up the club are on a mission to show others that bitless can be done. They are about to organise a bitless dressage competition with EFA (affiliated to the FEI) judges. And in South Africa there is already a trial underway, for 12 months, to allow horses to compete bitless in dressage over there. Endurance riders in Australia have for years competed their horses in halter.

      Just a thought...

      Rebecca Scott