The Purpose of the Bit: Balance Side To Side

The balance of the horse side to side is the first step to complete Body Balance in motion.

As the horse walks, the back should swing left or right. This means there is a consistent contraction and extension phase side to side in the horse’s back. Make sure the swing at a walk is the same on the right as the left. As the right hind moves forward the back will swing to the left, then the next stride it should swing the opposite. The neck should also have a slight swing left to right. When these are working as nature intended, your horse will be able to travel straight without constant hand or leg pressure. Straightness is important because it is removing all bend. We focus so much on bend, which has numerous degrees; big, small, overbend in neck, etc. Straightness is only one thing: STRAIGHT.

If you feel there is an inconsistency in the swing of the back, you need to check for irregular adjustments of your saddle, cinch (make sure it is centered and not too long or too short), pad, length of stirrups and imbalance in the rider’s body. If none of these seem to be an issue, consult with your veterinarian, farrier and/or professional bodyworker to make sure there are no unsoundness or reduced mobility issues.

The neck will usually compensate if the body or limbs are not moving in balance. Compensation in the body tends to move over time, as the lack of mobility in one area is taken on by another area until it is unable to maintain itself. It then sends it to another region until the weakest link is found and the horse becomes unsound.

You need to understand the anatomy of the horse and how all things are connected and rely on all other anatomical parts. Learning your anatomy will help you to appreciate what your horse is doing to try to accommodate the rider’s requests. Below is a photo of good introduction into anatomy for all ages. I highly recommend this book by Maggie Raynor.

If all the attempts to get the back to move fail, and there are no unsoundness issues, there is a chance that from an early stage of training, the horse has learned to carry the weight of the saddle and rider with its paired back muscles (longissimus muscles).

I believe that a young horse between 2 to 4 years old needs to be prepared to carry weight before the full weight of the saddle and rider is introduced. The horse’s upper spine is the last part of the body to become fully mature in bone, developing in its 5th to 6th year. Thus the importance of groundwork prior to riding.

There are lots of educational things you can do with a young horse on a line or by driving them prior to riding, that benefit them when you start riding but also in future speed events. If an improper posture is established early in training, it will show up when you start to add speed.

As a bit maker, I answer questions regularly about why a certain bit is not working as it should, and quite often there are imbalance issues that are trying to be corrected with the bit. This complicates the anatomy of the horse, because now there is a physical presence that the horse can lean or push on to try to help himself balance.

Until next time when we will explore into Body Balance from top to bottom.

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