I have grouped these 3 things together because I have found that most riders either think too much about them, not enough about them or use them for the wrong thing!
Which bit to use is another problem area for most riders. Some go with the same logic as the noseband, ‘it’s what he came in’, other people spend a small fortune trying to find a bit that suits their horse. For dressage, my preference is to go with a simple snaffle, with a single joint or a small link, and rings that are either loose, egg butt or hanging cheek. This type of bit will suit most horses, but there are a few horses with difficult conformation in their jaws, such as a particularly small mouth or large tongue and for these horses finding a bit which suits them can be tricky. More severe bits tend to put horses on the forehand rather than on the haunches, and this applies to severe hands too!
The time to use a double bridle is very individual, and a matter of how the horse responds to the bits; I have horses working in piaffe and flying changes in snaffles.
Whichever bit you choose to use, the most important part is the hands at the other end of the reins, as they apply the pressure.
Nose bands often fall into the ‘not enough thought’ category. I often ask riders why they are using a particular nose band, and most of the time the reply is that it was the one the horse came with. These horses are usually in a flash nose band which has been done up quite tightly.
For dressage, the noseband which I prefer to use is a cavesson, done up very loosely. This is because it allows the horse to move his mouth – the exact opposite of the purpose of a flash, drop or grackle noseband. Horses often resist in the mouth first and if you tie their jaw shut, you miss the opportunity to feel in your hands that first point of tension. Horses then become blocked in the jaw and consequently the neck and this flows through to the back and often you can hear them grinding their teeth.
Loosening the nose band and paying attention to the actions of your hands it is possible, over time, to loosen off the nose band with a view to using a simple cavesson. This is something I have done with many horses, and they all respond positively to having this freedom in their jaws. But it is down to the rider to provide a correct, light contact
Yes it is possible with time and patience.
The spurs are a refinement of the leg aids not, as you often see, a means to get the horse going. The type of spur you use is personal preference, and how your leg sits on your horse’s side. You should have a supple ankle, not forced down, so that you can raise the spur onto your horse’s side at the appropriate moment and then remove it again. To use the spur, apply a quick light touch, and then immediately remove it from your horse’s side. It is the lightest, softest touch you can give, so you do less. Touch on the side of the hind leg you want to draw under more. You should be able to feel exactly when the spur touches the hairs on the horse’s side and apply the spur with the utmost delicacy.
This quote from Nuno Oliveira is worth repeating, “the hands receive the work of the legs”. If the rider is using the legs well with tact and timing, the horse becomes light in the hands. If the leg is not well times the hands become strong and there is no lightness.
The horse must be able to respond to the lightest of aids and then the rider must cease the aid, and allow the horse to continue in the same frame, only giving an aid when a change is required. The timing and co-ordination of aids is important, if the legs say go, the hands and seat must not block that aid
With a hot horse, your legs must remain softly against horse’s side and touch lightly or the horse will be surprised by the leg. Don’t clamp your legs on or your horse can’t breathe
The leg positions for different riders may not look exactly alike, dependent on their leg length and the shape of the horse. The pictures below riders with correct leg positions, but each looks slightly different.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer