Giving to the Bit - or - The Infamous Six Spots

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By Michelle Labriola

"My horse bucks, rears, runs away, spooks, won't load in the trailer…"

These are the typical messages I get on my answering machine every day. From the weekend trail rider to competition level horses. All ages and breeds. The fix: It all begins with "Giving to the Bit" … creating softness which leads into communication from your brain through your hands (rider's legs not necessary) to the horse, communicating with … the Infamous Six Spots – Jaws, shoulders, hips.

All the training problems we run into with our horse have one thing in common. One of the six spots is misbehaving. Like six independent, individual children on a field trip one, several or all of them get out of hand. When the hip twins start acting UP on our field trip we call it a buck. When the right shoulder starts pushing into his twin every time we approach the trailer we call it a trailer-loading problem. When the jaw kids reach for the sky guess what, we're not happy - we call it rearing!


If we're able to "ask" all our left spots to gently move their right twins over, we call that a side-pass. If we ask our spots to travel left and ask the left hip to slightly lead we call it a left lead canter departure or haunches in. See, the horse doesn't care one way or the other what we call it. The spots are one or more of the following: Out of control, Listening to your instructions (like well behaved kids), or perhaps Responding because you're using restraints to modify their behavior.

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Try to envision the word resist when you think restraint. Because sooner or later he will resist and other spots will pop up and really misbehave, and then you'll go to more severe restraints instead of lighter. You'll stop having fun on that field trip, and worse, you'll be in danger. Using a full cheek snaffle and focusing on communicating with one spot (one kid) at a time, you'll get all the spots' attention. Not only will you ride your horse better because he'll be responsive to you, you'll also be safely in control getting behavior that you never imagined possible from your horse. In these pictures I'm asking for this Arabian mare "Brina" to "Give to the bit" (Photo 1) and become soft and light ... so light that I can cue her to relax physically and emotionally (Photo 2). A truck had just passed when my friend Janice snapped the picture by the road (Photo 3), and that's what the smile was for. Who's in control of your horse's spots?

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I am currently holding a continuing education program at East Coast Stables - Demo Friday nights and riding clinic the first Saturday of each month. You can bring your horse or bring your notebook and folding chair. Learn hands on; build a better relationship with your horse right here on Long Island.

About the author:

Michelle Labriola is a resident of Long Island certified by world-renowned horseman John Lyons. Michelle rides English, Western and Dressage. She is available for private teaching as well as clinics and demonstrations anywhere in the country. For information about Michelle teaching at your facility:

M.L. Horse & Co. 631-218-2241

East Coast Stables 631-924-2696