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When do You Teach a Rider to Put a Horse on the Bit?

Featured Image Credit (CC): Jean on Flickr

Submitted by member: Krista

I am an instructor new to a more-or-less beginner barn. Many of the students are concerned with “framing” the horse, which results in a lot of see-sawing on the face to create a false frame. I feel like I’m struggling to bridge the gap between teaching the rider to be balanced, and teaching the rider to be effective and balance the horse. I know how to ask the horse for a lot, but not necessarily how I learned or what was said to me to make certain concepts “click,” let alone what order I was taught those concepts in. I feel like I see so many things at once! How do you prioritize what problems need to be corrected? When is it appropriate to start introducing concepts (for example lateral work) to the rider?

Answer by Julie Winkel

The progression of teaching a student good basics is so important for the correct development of a solid foundation. Unfortunately, this country is obsessed with pulling a horse’s head down with zero knowledge of theory on what it means to properly engage the hindquarter, lighten the forehand, and get a horse to accept the rider’s aids. Novice riders need to learn only about contact. They aren’t ready to learn how to get a horse on the bit until they are almost at a college level of riding. So many horses are ruined by ignorant instructors or riders attempting to pull or see saw a horse’s head down. For more information, please check out the article I recently wrote for The Chronicle Of The Horse on my website about this subject.

Novice level riders should be taught basics, which become tools for their toolbox, as well as building blocks for a solid foundation. The USHJA’s Trainer Certification manual outlines many of these. The TCP also offers many clinics around the country that are invaluable in providing continuing education for professionals. I can not recommend more highly the excellent video library accessible through for all levels of riding and teaching.

You’re on the right track! Stick to basics and don’t put the cart before the horse 🙂

Video Recommendations:

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Controls of the Horse Part One – Rein Aids
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Bernie Traurig demystifies, clarifies and modernizes rein aids and their direct application in the show ring in this video, the first of a two part series. Youʼll learn the proper technique of each rein aid as well as the appropriate circumstances to apply them. By mastering rein aids and using them in conjunction with leg aids, youʼll have a powerful tool at your disposal, resulting in a superior performance.

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Developing Good Hands
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In this topic Bernie discusses the vital role good hands play in the communication between rider and horse. Tactful, sensitive hands that are used with feeling can be developed using the exercises Bernie presents here.
Running Time:  11 minutes and 10 seconds

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Fundamentals of Flatwork Basic

Fundamentals of Flatwork – Part 1 – Basic
Bernie Traurig
The first of the series, this video outlines a simple, progressive method of flatwork for all jumping disciplines. It focuses on the training of a young or inexperienced horse with the aim to achieve obedience to light rein and leg aids, and assumes the rider is familiar with the proper techniques of riding and jumping. But you do not have to be a highly experienced or seasoned rider because Bernie’s strategies are clear, straight-forward, classic and timeless. The Basic level highlights his favorite exercises that can be incorporated into anyone’s training program.
Running Time:  46 minutes and 25 seconds

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Julie Winkel

Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website:

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