Bitting System

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Using The Goodnight Bitting System
The self-correcting bitting system I use is often called an elbow pull and it is a long harness leather cord with snaps on each end. To use the bitting tool, you place the middle of the cord over the horse’s poll and then run each end through the rings of the bit, between the horse’s legs and up to the saddle. Adjust it so that when the horse is standing square and relaxed, there is no pressure on the bit. The pressure will come as the horse walks or trots; his elbow will cause a pull on that side of his mouth.

It is a self-correcting tool– meaning that when the horse does the right thing (brings his nose down and in), the pressure goes away. It teaches the horse to drop his head, bring his nose in and round his back when he feels pressure on the bit. Since the horse is coming off of the bit pressure, he is required to hold himself in the frame rather than have something to lean against like with side reins. This requires the horse to bring his hind-end up underneath him and lift his back in order to hold himself in the frame while keeping slack in the reins.

I like this training tool much better than other bit-training techniques because it gives an alternating pull on the bit, not pulling on both sides of the bit at the same time, so it keeps the horse very soft and relaxed in the neck and jaw. Also, you can mimic the action of the bitting system from the saddle, by using alternating sponge squeezes in time with the horse’s front legs. Finally, I like this system because it teaches the horse to give to the slightest rein pressure and to seek out the slack in the rein.

I think is very important is to teach the horse to seek out the slack in the rein. From day one, I teach the horse that when he gives to the bit, he will find slack in the rein. Whether the horse is giving laterally (to the side) or vertically (bringing his nose into his chest) you should relax the reins as soon as the horse makes an effort. Again, this will reward the horse for his efforts (all any horse wants is less pressure on his mouth) and will teach him self-carriage.

I am not a big believer is holding a horse in a frame. I believe if you are light and responsive to your horse’s efforts, you can teach him to carry himself in whatever frame you ask of him. This may sound like a simple concept, but I have found that most riders have difficulty with the release. When a rider picks up the reins and asks the horse to give, most riders will continue to apply pressure to the reins even after the horse gives. I think this is in an effort to maintain direct contact, but it is typically done without feel. Therefore the horse gives in some small way but if he does not find a release, he does not know that he has done the right thing. The horse is searching for a way out of the pressure on his mouth. By and large, horses will gladly hold whatever frame you want if they know that in doing so, you will release the pressure on his mouth.

Again, the beauty of this system is threefold. One, the instant the horse gives the right way he gets slack. Two, the elbow-pull creates a rhythmic alternating pull, rather than a static pull on both reins (like side reins), and it is far more effective to use one rein at a time rather than two (a horse stiffens his neck and leans into it when you pull on both reins at the same time). And third, once the horse has learned to respond correctly and carry himself in a collected frame with no contact on his mouth, you can mimic this action on the reins when you are on his back.

This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Bit Basics. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills in my Training Library, JulieGoodnight.com/Academy

–Julie Goodnight

Wrong Therapy Horse

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Dear Miss Julie Goodnight,
I am a Wounded Warrior at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, and have sustained spinal injuries in Iraq. I have had surgeries and now am left using a cane due to nerve damage in my legs. I have waited 15 years to have a horse of my own. I was recently given a quarter horse that is about 7yrs old. I was told he would be a great therapy horse. He was abused, and prefers women. He is a lover, but has a very suborn side and is very spooky. I can saddle him without issue and lead him with a saddle on, but once in the pen and I’m on him he won’t budge. He has thrown my sister off while I was leading him with her on him. I was hoping to teach him voice commands, but am now a little leery. I cannot afford a professional trainer at this time due to my disability. Am I biting off more than I can chew? I don’t want to give someone else his problems.
Thank you for your time,
SGT Barbara

Dear SGT Barbara,
First, let me join all my readers in thanking your for your courageous and selfless service to our country and acknowledge the personal sacrifices you have made for others, both in Iraq and here at home.
Secondly, let me go on record as saying that horses can be a powerful tool in healing—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well and I am so glad to hear that you are started down this path. But given your circumstances, I think it is critical that you start down this road with a safe and reliable horse. You cannot afford another injury at this time—who among us can? Furthermore, you deserve to have a horse that will help you heal and grow stronger, not take away your confidence and possibly cause you to get hurt.
This horse has some serious issues that probably need to be addressed by a professional trainer. My guess is that his problems are not insurmountable for someone more qualified, but it does not sound like an appropriate horse for you at this time. Who knows what led him to this state but the fact that he was given to you could be a red flag. It is true that there is no such thing as a free horse and yes, you should always look a gift horse in the mouth.
Believe it or not, the purchase price on any horse is the least amount of money you will spend—their upkeep and maintenance is where the real expense lays. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a horse that you are not equipped to deal with and moving forward—it is the best decision for both you and the horse. No horse is worth getting hurt over and besides, this horse will be better off in more capable hands.
If possible, I would try to return this horse to the person that gave it to you. If that will not work, I would suggest contacting a horse rescue group for assistance in finding this horse a more appropriate home. Just because you are not in a situation to deal with this horse, does not mean that there are others out there that can’t. As long as you are honest and up front about the horse, you are not passing the buck but simply doing the right and sensible thing for your own personal safety and for the good of the horse.
You deserve a horse that is safe and steady and that you can start enjoying and progressing with right away—you’ve spent a long time waiting for this and you need it—but you want to start out right. These days, with the unprecedented glut of unwanted horses, I am confident that there are plenty of horses out there that would better suit your needs. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that right now, there are people reading this article that have a suitable horse for you that they would be thrilled to see put to such good use. If so, perhaps they could contact me and I could put them in touch with you.
I’d like to see you with an older horse, say 16 or over, that has “been there, done that.” Even a horse in his 20s will have a lot of usefulness left in him and the value of that life experience is huge. You know exactly what you’re getting with a horse of that age. They are set in their ways and generally there are no big surprises.
Whatever horse comes your way, you should evaluate him as if you were paying $10,000 for him, even if he is free. Have a trainer or a very experienced friend ride the horse and give you their opinion before you make a decision. Have a vet examine the horse to make sure he is sound and healthy. As you’ve seen already, just because a horse is free or low cost, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal if it costs you a fortune in training and vet bills; not to mention the cost of one trip to the emergency room.
Perhaps you can put it out on the Internet and at websites like dreamhorse.com that you are looking for a horse to help you recover from the wounds you sustained in Iraq. I feel confident that there are lots of people with more suitable horses that would love to help you.
Again, thank you for your selfless service and I hope that you find the horse of your dreams to help you grow strong again.
All the best,

–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer