Do you have a horse who pulls on the bit or is super heavy in your hands?
Or maybe they don’t always feel “in control” and you aren’t able to stop them as readily as you’d like.
Conventional equestrian wisdom would tell you to get a “stronger” bit that your horse will have to “pay attention to” or “stay off of.”
But is that really the best thing to do?
The reasons that a horse might pull or ignore bit cues are generally boiled down to four reasons.
- They’re uncomfortable with the bit.
Horses are “into pressure” animals, and pressure begets pressure. A bit that isn’t comfortable for them can definitely cause them to pull on it and get dull to more subtle communication. Every mouth is different and every horse has a preference, which is why there are so many bit options! In general though, Miniature Horses have thick tongues and low palates, so solid mouthpieces and tongue relief tend to be things to try. That means that *changing* the bit might be helpful, but a *stronger* bit that’s even more uncomfortable for them could very easily make the problem worse.
2. They’re uncomfortable with the contact.
It’s surprisingly easy to get into a pulling match with your driving horse, and accidentally teach them that pulling on each other is the way that you communicate. Between trying to “hold” them into a frame, driver nerves and lack of trust, and just that same “into pressure” tendency that all equines share can add up to a horse who is super heavy and non-responsive to bit communication. A stronger bit could just exacerbate that problem too – instead, remember that light communication goes both ways and think about softening and clarifying your rein cues, and refining your communication on the long lines.
3. It’s a symptom of poor balance.
Many horses go through a stage in their training, when they’re just starting to advance from baby green basics to more consistent contact, where they become quite heavy in your hands. It’s just a symptom of them learning to carry themselves and the cart, as they use your hands to help them balance themselves. As above, avoid getting into a pulling contest and simply support them as you work on bending and building hind end strength and they will lighten up again with no difference in the bit at all.
4. They just don’t understand.
Anytime you’re not getting the response you wanted, the first thing to check is that your horse truly understands what you’re asking. Miniature Horses can be super accommodating – it’s easy to be fooled into thinking they understand, when really they’re just going along and have no idea what all that pulling on their mouth means anyway. And as always, adding more pressure to cue the horse doesn’t understand doesn’t teach them anything – you might get a response, but not understanding, and it might not be the response you wanted. Before you go to a “stronger” bit (and remember that stronger actually means more painful) go back to basics and double check if your horse really understands things like “whoa.”
A bit doesn’t control a horse, their brain does. Training and clarifying communication is going to much more effective than a stronger bit.