Whether bitting your horse for the first time or transitioning to a new bit, put the headstall and bit onto your horse in a comfortable, confined space such as his stall, and let him wear it daily – slowly working the time up to several hours – before you add reins or pressure. You can put his rope halter under his headstall and take him to the round pen, wearing his bit but using his halter to lunge and practice gaiting exercises. He will learn to “carry” his bit before any pressure is applied.
Rule of thumb is to fit your bit with one or two wrinkles at the corner of your horse’s mouth. It is common to put the bit a little lower in a green colt’s mouth so that he learns to pick it up himself and carry it (usually with his tongue arched against it). Later it should be lifted a little to the standard position.
Watch for wolf teeth in the young horse. They are the vestigial teeth thought to be the evolved useless “tusks” from early horses – called wolf teeth because they look much like a small fang. Most common in colts, they are also frequently found in fillies. Most young horses lose their wolf teeth by 4 years of age. They can be an irritant to a horse wearing a bit, so if you see signs of discomfort and your horse has not lost them, you might consider having them pulled. .
After your horse has worn his bit with no pressure, start adding his ground training exercises. Start from the beginning as if he were just learning to wear his halter. The routine is the same for transitioning to a new bit as for experiencing one for the first time. Either way, the feel is different than he has experienced previously, and he must learn how to understand the new pressures.
Lateral Flex: Put reins on the bit and stand at your horse’s girth. Lop the reins over his neck. Pull the rein on the near side toward the saddle cinch area, forcing his head to his girth. (This should not be as difficult as it was the first time you tried it with a halter see Flex Training). He may object at first, feeling the bit pull on his mouth for the first time. Expect a head toss or two, but hold on until he actually comes toward your pull with his own motion and then drop the pressure on the rein like a hot potato (release). After doing this two or three times, he should become a master at bit-induced lateral softening. Don’t forget to do it on both sides.
Poll Flex: Stand in at your horse’s shoulder facing his side. With both reins in one hand (as if ready to mount) hold the reins at his neck, pull them back until his head is on the vertical and (at the same time) grab a fist full of mane to help hold that position. Hold the reins AND the mane until he relents, gives up pulling against the bit and comes in to you (brings his head into his chest). Release instantly. Expect him to try to force the reins to relax by tossing his head. Or he may try to walk through the bit by moving forward. Follow him but don’t let go until he lowers his head. This exercise will show him that bringing his head down in response to pull-back bit pressure will release the pressure. After a couple of times experiencing release at the moment of submission, you will find that you can just give a gentle pull-back and he will lower his face by himself – releasing the pressure by himself. He will have found the “sweet spot” head position.
After learning to flex both laterally and vertically in hand, he is ready to practice the same exercises with you on his back. (assuming he is rideable at this stage of training)
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