There were a couple of good comments out there. I felt like this conversation could keep going with a little more input.
Whisper_the_Wind said: OK. How do WE get them off the bit?
You need a small pen or, if you trust your horse, any size arena. Then you get on and, very simply, put the reins down. As in out of your hands. Hanging on the horse's neck. Without you touching them.
If your horse speeds up pick up a single, leading rein and execute a turn the opposite direction. As soon as your horse is going the other way let the reins go again.
Keep up this very simple step until your horse will stay in whatever gait you put him at whatever speed you ask for.
If he wants to wander around it doesn't matter for now. Just getting him to hold the same speed with no contact is enough.
When you have this much start expecting him to stay on the rail. If he wanders off of the rail then pick up one rein and direct rein him back. Then drop the rein again.
You can take this as far as you want, go into maneuvers, etc. You want your horse to look at the reins for guidance and support. Your legs control movement and forward drive. To my horses a solid hold on the reins means stop and back. A pull means "Get back NOW!"
I also teach my horse to back. I want him to pick up his back (which drives his head down) as we go in reverse. I release my pull when he picks up his back and drops his head.
Once my horse completely has these concepts we start on collection. I drive him forward into the wall of my hands. By now he trusts my hands, seeks release from pressure, understands my leg pressure to mean forward, but not necessarily faster, and is able to get the concept fairly quick.
This is pretty much how I start my babies too.
I don't frame up my horses for the first year I'm riding. I spend that year on forward and suppling, laying the groundwork for collection.
They begin to drop their nose to the vertical on their own when I ask them to drive into a turn, increase or reduce speed, transition gaits, back and stop. To my mind they are figuring out collection at their own pace.
Now we get into why I don't make them bend their nose left, right, bring them to my knee, zippety-do--da-day.
I don't think it teaches them to travel the way I need them to travel. I still teach them to give their nose as soon as I ask for it, but I want them to travel. I want my young horse to follow my hands with his feet.
I want him to try to line his spine up from dock to poll.
I want my colts to wrap around my legs and move their ribs when I create a bend, not stiffen his body, flop his head to the side and tip his poll.
Now before you guys start hollering about safety I would much rather double a colt, have him follow through my hand then have him wang his head to my knee and stop dumped over on his front end.
A horse with his head yanked to my knee knows perfectly well he can still take his shoulder and go. If he's not moving I don't have his feet. If I don't have his feet I don't have him.
Besides, you Dressage folks don't do all that bending to the knee stuff do you?
Help me here if I'm not making sense.