Many people don’t like the dressage term “on the bit”. They feel it has a negative connotation because it conjures up pictures of riding a horse from front to back and forcing him into a frame.
This is how I like to think about it so I don’t get bogged down in semantics. I think of “on the bit” as having both a physical and a mental connotation.
Physically, the dressage term “on the bit” refers to the round silhouette you get when you ride your horse from behind, over his back, through his neck, and into your hands. Once you created that energy and it goes “through” the horse’s body, the energy then can be recycled back to the hind legs.
Mentally, I like to think that horse that’s on the bit is “on the aids”. I can tell that that’s the case if I feel like anything is possible within the next step. If I’m not sure if “anything is possible”, I’ll ask for something like a transition from walk to trot, a canter depart, or a trot lengthening.
So, a Training level horse or a hunter, for example, can be “on the aids” but not necessarily on the bit. They just need to accept contact, be attentive, and willing to have a conversation with their riders.
Dressage horses at First level and above are both on the bit (physically) and on the aids (mentally).
Click here for more on riding dressage horse on the bit.