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The "Check Engine Light"

What does it mean when your horse is "not on the bit"

The head and neck are your dashboard. The head and neck act as a warning light system that goes on when there is a problem in the engine... a check engine light. When the head comes up it is just a symptom of the problem and not THE problem.

THE problem is in the core and hind end. That must be addressed for the "light to go off"... the head and neck push forward and down towards the bit. This can be done by lifting the horse's core and withers with the legs and seat while re-engaging the high end into the hand. This is what true "on the bit" means.

How do we accomplish this?

Ensure that the foot and heel stay under the ab muscle and that the leg does not lift above he ab muscle.

When the heel is lifted as demonstrated in the first picture, the leg ends up pressing against the muscle that needs to be lifted.

The second picture shows the proper placement underneath the muscle that needs to be lifted. When the heel is lifted and the leg is brought too far back we push the core down instead of up. When the leg is stretched down and back, the rider can lift the core and back and allow the hind legs to step more under.


We must weight down what we need the horse to lower and open/ lighten when we need the horse to lift. We need the hind end the lower and the withers to lower. To do this, we must ensure that out weight is centered over the sweet spot in the back of the saddle for the hind joints to bend and compensate for the weight added back there. Then our thighs should open to allow the withers to lift in front of us.

This lifting of the withers and carrying behind is what allows the neck to relax in the under muscles.

How does this work?

When the muscles around the withers tense, they push the chest, sternum, and chest downward. This pushes the horse onto the fore hand. In turn, this forces the under neck muscles to engage to compensate. This is the opposite of self carriage. On the contrary, when the withers lift, the muscles in the neck begin to ungulate. They are no longer muscles in tension, but instead, muscles in use. The reason the heart can pump for a lifetime is because it contracts and releases. Once the heart becomes tense, it stops... heart attack. A muscle in tension cannot hold very long. A tense muscle is a weak muscle. By encouraging the muscles to ungulate instead of hold, we effectively show the horse how to carry us properly... how to carry themselves.

When the horse carries on the hind end, up through the withers, and forward in the neck then a horse is truly and properly on the bit. When all of these stars align the head and neck drop into the hand and the "check engine light" turns off.

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