Whether you are starting your horse under saddle for the first time, or re-training an older horse with bad habits, teaching your horse to soften to the bit is a foundation exercise that you will use to build up to all other aspects of your training.
You may have heard softening to the bit also referred to as giving to the bit, getting a horse’s face vertical, suppling a horse’s neck or getting a horse’s face soft. These are all basically the same thing.
One reason softening is so important is that when your horse’s spine is in a straight line, he is in his most powerful position and he is able to brace against you. When he tips his nose off center and bends his neck, the line of his spine is broken, making is much easier for you to collect and move your horse’s body where you want him to go. One simple exercise that I like to practice for softening is the “circle-s”.
Executing the “Circle-S”
- Look where you want to go
- Pick up on one rein
- Bring the horse’s nose off center
- Wait for the horse to flex at the poll and put slack in the opposite rein
- The horse’s feet need to follow his nose (don’t release when he is softened in the one direction but still traveling in a straight line)
- When all these steps come together, release the rein immediately and intentionally to reward the horse for correctly following your cues
Remember, step 1 is very important. By looking where you want to go you are giving a subtle seat cue. Your horse will learn to follow this and over time you will have to use your reins less and less to get your horse to turn. Also, remember to drive your horse in to the bit with your legs, not pull on him to try to get him to soften.
Until next time, may God bless the trails you ride.
Ken McNabb Horsemanship