Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

Seen on Facebook:  “Anybody know of a good bit to use on a horse that runs through commands and fights the bit? I need to try a new bit because the horse I’m riding has a hard mouth.

Jumble of bits

When your horse runs through or fights the bit, it’s called evasion.  Common bit evasions include:

  • Chomping, opening or crossing his mouth
  • Running away
  • Leaning on the bit
  • Shaking, throwing or tossing his head
  • Going behind the bit (nose to his chest.)
  • Going above the bit (nose straight up)
  • Tongue hanging out

Unfortunately, moving up to a stronger bit or adding a gadget (eg. draw reins) is a common solution.  While it may work in the short term, it doesn’t address the real source of the problem.

If you want to eliminate the problem and build a better,  more trusting and willing partnership with your horse read on.

Following are 3 causes of bit evasions and how to correct them.

Cause #1 – Dental Problems & Poor Bit Fit

Horses run from pain.  Sharp teeth, ulcers inside his mouth or an injury to his tongue will be aggravated by the bit – even in gentle hands.

The Correction – Have your vet or equine dentist check for sharp or broken teeth, ulcers and even damage to his tongue.    Just like you, your horse should have his teeth checked by a professional at least annually and in some cases every 6 months.

Cause #2 – Poor Bit Fit

If the bit is too wide or sits too low in the mouth, it will move around too much.  If it’s too narrow or sits too high, it will pinch and damage the skin and bars in the mouth.  Bits also cause pain if they are too fat, too thin or don’t leave enough room for the tongue or push up into the palate.

The Correction – Check the size of the bit and how it fits the shape of your horse’s mouth.  It should not stick out on either side of the mouth or pinch the corners of his lips.  It should be about ¼” wider than the measurement from lip to lip (corner to corner).  Find the style of bit that works with the shape and size of your horse’s mouth having enough room for the tongue, not pressing on the palate and fitting easily between the bars.

When fitted correctly, the bit sits quietly across the bars without pulling up the lips or moving up and down.  Remember “a wrinkle not a smile“.  For most horses, this means at least one but no more than two wrinkles in the corners of the lips  However, for some horses there may be no wrinkle at all.  Adjust as necessary to ensure the bit fits comfortably without sliding up and down loosely.  

Cause #3 – Busy or Unsteady Hands

Hands that are busy, unsteady, tense, see-saw,  pull or constantly bump the horse’s mouth cause pain and discomfort.  They are also the sign of a tense and unbalanced rider.

The Correction – Develop an independent seat.  You should never use the reins for support, balance or the primary means for controlling your horse.  Your hands must work independently from your seat so that you can influence your horse without creating tension or resistance.  You will be balanced, able to follow and work with your horses movement – applying your aids at the right time, with the least amount of pressure and without tension.

For your horse to be able to perform at his best and be a confident, trusting and willing partner, he needs to be pain free, balanced and relaxed.   You can help him develop this way of going by being a quiet, balanced and relaxed rider.

Your Turn – What do you do when your horse evades the bit or gets strong?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.
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Your Horse is Your Gift

I received the following story in an email & thought it worth sharing.  If anyone knows the original author, please let me know so credit can be given.

Your Horse is Your Gift

To have a horse in your life is a gift. In the matter of a few short years, a horse can teach a young girl courage, if she chooses to grab mane and hang on for dear life. Even the smallest of ponies is mightier than the tallest of girls. To conquer the fear of falling off, having one’s toes crushed, or being publicly humiliated at a horse show is an admirable feat for any child. For that, we can be grateful.

Horses teach us responsibility. Unlike a bicycle or a computer, a horse needs regular care and most of it requires that you get dirty and smelly and up off the couch. Choosing to leave your cozy kitchen to break the crust of ice off the water buckets is to choose responsibility. When our horses dip their noses and drink heartily; we know we’ve made the right choice.

Learning to care for a horse is both an art and a science. Some are easy keepers, requiring little more then regular turn-out, a flake of hay, a bit of feed and a trough of 
clean water. Others will test you – you’ll struggle to keep them from being too fat or too thin.

You’ll have their feet shod regularly only to find shoes gone missing. Some are so accident-prone you’ll swear they’re intentionally finding new ways to injure themselves. 

If you weren’t raised with horses, you can’t know that they have unique personalities. You’d expect this from dogs, but horses? Indeed, there are clever horses, grumpy horses, and even horses with a sense of humor. Those prone to humor will test you by
finding new ways to escape from the barn when you least expect it.

Horses can be timid or brave, lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing. You will hit it off with some horses and others will elude you altogether. There are as many “types” of horses as there are people – which makes the whole partnership thing all the more interesting.
If you’ve never ridden a horse, you probably assume it’s a simple thing you can learn in a weekend. You can, in fact, learn the basics on a Sunday, but to truly ride well takes a lifetime. Working with a living being is far more complex than turning a key in the ignition and putting the car or tractor in “drive.”  In addition to listening to your instructor, your horse will have a few things to say to you as well. On a good day, he’ll be happy to go along with the program and tolerate your mistakes; on a bad day, you’ll swear he’s trying to kill you. Perhaps he’s naughty or perhaps he’s fed up with how slowly you’re learning his language.  Regardless, the horse will have an opinion. He may choose to challenge you (which can ultimately make you a better rider) or he may carefully carry you over fences – if it suits him. It all depends on the partnership – and partnership is what it’s all about.

If you face your fears, swallow your pride, and are willing to work at it, you’ll learn lessons in courage, commitment, and compassion in addition to basic survival skills. You’ll discover just how hard you’re willing to work toward a goal, how little you know, and how much you have to learn.

And, while some people think the horse “does all the work”, you’ll be challenged physically as well as mentally.  Your horse may humble you completely. Or, you may find that sitting on his back is the closest you’ll get to heaven. You can choose to intimidate your horse, but do you really want to? The results may come more quickly, but will your work ever be as graceful as that gained through trust?  The best partners choose to listen, as well as to tell. When it works, we experience a sweet sense of accomplishment brought about by smarts, hard work, and mutual understanding 
between horse and rider. These are the days when you know with absolute certainty that your horse is enjoying his work.

If we make it to adulthood with horses still in our lives, most of us have to squeeze riding into our over saturated schedules; balancing our need for things equine with those of our households and employers. There is never enough time to ride, or to 
ride as well as we’d like. Hours in the barn are stolen pleasures.

If it is in your blood to love horses, you share your life with them. Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and whisper our hopes into their ears. A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled world, a sheltered place where life’s true priorities are clear: a warm place to sleep, someone who loves us, and the luxury of regular meals. Some of us need these reminders.

When you step back, it’s not just about horses – it’s about love, life, and learning. On any given day, a friend is celebrating the birth of a foal, a red ribbon, or recovery from an illness. That same day, there is also loss: a broken limb, a case of colic, a decision to sustain a life or end it gently. As horse people, we share the accelerated life cycle of horses: the hurried rush of life, love, loss, and death that caring for these animals brings us. When our partners pass, it is more than a moment of sorrow.

We mark our loss with words of gratitude for the ways our lives have been blessed. Our memories are of joy, awe, and wonder. Absolute union. We honor our horses for their 
brave hearts, courage, and willingness to give.

To those outside our circle, it must seem strange. To see us in our muddy boots, who would guess such poetry lives in our hearts? We celebrate our companions with praise 
worthy of heroes. Indeed, horses have the hearts of warriors and often carry us into and out of fields of battle. Listen to stories of that once-in-a-lifetime horse; of
journeys made and challenges met. The best of horses rise to the challenges we set before them, asking little in return.

Those who know them understand how fully a horse can hold a human heart. Together, we share the pain of sudden loss and the lingering taste of long-term illness. We shoulder the burden of deciding when or whether to end the life of a true companion.

In the end, we’re not certain if God entrusts us to our horses–or our horses to us. Does it matter?  We’re grateful God loaned us the horse in the first place.

Author Unknown

Anne Gage – The Confidence Coach
Helping horses & humans be better … together.

Shhh … It's a Secret!

“Why aren’t we allowed to talk about our fear?” the women in our recent Women, Horses and Fear workshop asked. As the women shared their stories of fear, several common themes emerged – the physical symptoms of not being able to breathe, having “jelly legs”, and freezing up. But the most startling commonality was the feeling of being alone in their fear. Each woman was surprised to find that they were “not the only one” going through this experience. One woman (I’ll call her Mary), who does not currently have her own horse, is often offered horses to ride from friends and acquaintances. If she declines to ride a particular horse because she is not comfortable riding that horse, people have whispered that she is “afraid of horses”. “I’m not afraid of all horses,” Mary asserts, “I just want to trust the horse I am riding”.

My philosophy is that fear is not talked about because of the macho tradition of horse training and riding. Traditional training techniques require that the human is in control all the time and as much force as is necessary is used to ensure that control. When I was learning to ride, I was often reminded to not show any signs of fear around a horse as the horse would sense my fear and then be able to dominate me. I was also taught to never let the horse “win”. This means, of course, that there is a winner and loser every time a person is with the horse. It becomes a very competitive relationship rather than a cooperative one. So, I used to hide any fear behind anger. It was okay to be angry with my horse. It wasn’t okay to be afraid. Not the best way to establish a healthy relationship.

So, in the horse world we don’t feel comfortable talking about our fear. Instead we find ways to avoid riding – the weather’s too windy or too nice – we procrastinate, we just don’t have the time. And the more we avoid it, the more fear gains a strangle hold on us. Every woman in our workshop had a dream about the way their lives with horses would be. They had a passion about horses and, at one time, horses brought joy into their lives. As the fear grew, their passion and joy were taken away and were replaced by guilt, embarrassment and shame.

To live with any sense of safety and security, we allow ourselves to believe that we are in control. Then something happens to shatter that illusion. The dormant seeds of fear that rest within our psyche take root. With our thoughts, feelings and actions, we feed those seedlings and the vine that is fear takes a stronger hold. Unless a vine is cut back, it eventually covers and demolishes whatever it is growing over.

The big question in the workshop was, “How do I get over this fear? ” We get over our fear in the same way we get control of the over grown vine – by cutting it back. There are several steps to ‘pruning’ your fear:

1) Analyze & understand the origins of your fear

2) Look at the emotion objectively so you can intellectualize it

3) Develop a plan to counteract it

4) Implement that plan

6) Enlist a support system

Safety and security do not exist. The potential to be hurt physically and/or emotionally is always present. But, most of us do not focus every minute of conscious thinking on all of the possible dangers that exist or we would not be able to function. Fear serves to keep us safe from harm not take the joy out of our lives. If you are fearful around horses, you are not alone. You can get your fear under control is you are willing to make the choice and do the work.

Anne Gage –
The Confidence Coach
Helping horses & humans be better … together.


It’s that busiest time of the year for us on the farm.  Haying and horse shows.  A week and a half ago, we held our second of four horse shows.  Last week, I was gone for 5 days assisting at the second of three Chris Irwin Train the Trainer clinics being held in Ontario.  Hubby started haying without me.  The weather was right and he had a new bale basket to try out.  We had a couple of days reprieve from the haying process as rain was forecast mid-week.  But, the next several days are going to be sunny & warm.  So, on with haying we go.  As farmers, we have learned to recognize the best time to bring in the hay.  Do what needs to be done when it needs to be done or you risk taking in a bad crop or losing the crop altogether.  We need at least 3 clear, warm, sunny days to cut, dry and bale the hay.  Not enough drying time & you bale wet hay resulting in mouldy, dusty hay that is not good for horses.  As well, there is the risk of burning down your barn.  Too much drying time and you get crispy, dry, unpalletable hay with little nutrition. 

It’s the same with training horses really.  Know what needs to be done, and do it at the right time.  If I’m asking my horse to bend to the right, when is it physically easiest for him to do that?  When is the right time and where is the right place to apply the pressue to achieve the result I want?  Is it fair to get mad at the horse for “pushing” into my leg aid if I am pushing at the same time his barrel is naturally swinging towards and into my leg pressure?  Are you aware of the mechanics of your horse’s body when in motion?  The horse’s barrel swings out of the way as the hind leg reaches under him.  So, when he is stepping onto his inside hind leg, his barrel is swinging out.  That’s when he is physically able to respond appropriately to the pushing inside leg aid asking for more bend.  Try this exercise to increase your feel of the horse.  In a safe environment, close your eyes for a few steps and feel your horse’s body movement beneath you.  Can you feel the swing of the barrel; which hind leg is stepping under; the swing of the neck & head?  When you can feel the swing of the barrel, try applying your leg and feel what happens. 

For riding a cooperative horse and for making good hay, timing is everything.

 Ride with Confidence!