Welcome to The JBIT Ranch – 1674 Summit Point Road, Berryville, VA 22611 – 540-955-4099

The JBIT Ranch has been a family run horsemanship center for 15 years. Todd and Barbara Johnson feel blessed to be able to blend a love of horses and a passion for sharing into a rewarding lifestyle that puts relationships and foundation first. Nestled on 128 acres in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in a quaint portion of Clarke County called Berryville, The JBIT Ranch is surrounded by 1000’s of acres of unspoiled countryside with access to nearly a thousand acres of trails direct from the barn.

The JBIT Ranch provides a safe, friendly, family focused environment where all are welcome no matter their skill level or their goals as long as they simply seek to have a natural relationship with the horse. We provide a full range of horse services including English and Western Horseback Riding Lessons, Horse Training, Horse Boarding, Quality Horse Sales, and Breeding with our World Champion Tennessee Walking, Spotted Saddle and Racking Horse “Glynn’s Ragin’ Cajun.” We even offer summer Horseback Riding Camps for young and old alike with a focus on natural horsemanship, responsibility and relationship.

With over 15 years of experience as a professional horsemanship educator and facility owner, and as a Licensed Parelli Professional, Todd, his wife Barbara and the staff at The JBIT Ranch are ready to meet your every need in your pursuit of your equine dreams.

New and exciting for jbitranch.com is The Natural Horse Blog where Todd will post news and updates, answer natural horsemanship questions and direct you to content relevant to our journeys with The Natural Horse. Please feel free to check our upcoming event calendar and contact us to make a reservation, to ask general questions or just to find a good time to visit The JBIT Ranch. We sincerely look forward to meeting you!

Summer Horseback Riding Camp 2017!

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July 27 & 28, 2017  9am-3pm

2 Day Summer Horseback Riding Camp!

Two days of fun grooming, riding, games on horseback, picnic at the stream, horse painting, etc. etc!

Don’t miss the fun!

Email for an application!

Ages 6-16 No experience required.

Please bring a bag lunch, change of clothes(shorts). Required riding gear includes helmet, jeans, and boots with a heel.


Refunds are not available, however, you may apply your credit toward a future camp or private riding lessons anytime within the 2017 year.

Pressure To Be Kind

By | General, Horsenality/Personality, Natural Horse Care, Problem Horses, Q&A, Trail Riding | No Comments


Who enjoys being under pressure day in and day out?  Do you?  I don’t.  Most of us work very hard to keep pressures from piling up. The proactive among us have learned what important tasks in life need to be carried out regularly and consistently to keep from becoming pressure situations.  If we avoid them, procrastinate them or just plain ignore them, we know that very predictably they will create pressure down the road. You might wish you could turn all these pressure causers off, but you can’t, so instead you do that thing we all said we wanted to do when we were kids – you grow up.  You accept the fact that you have certain responsibilities and you meet them.  As you realize how rewarding it is to keep your responsibilities in line, you may even begin to enjoy your daily tasks and relish in the sense of accomplishment and growth.

Welcome to one more thing you have in common with your horse. Just like you he prefers to not be under pressure.  Just like you he realizes that, whether wild or domestic, certain pressure causers are a fact of life.  And, just like you, he’s willing to put effort into having some control over them.

And………that’s as far as I plan to anthropomorphize the horse.

The subject I want to touch upon today is finding the balance between pressure and kindness.   I often say that if you want to compliment a person who speaks another language, learn a compliment in their language.  If you want to be kind to your horse, be kind IN horse.

Well, then, that begs the question “What is kind to a horse?” To boil it all down to one word, you are being kindest to your horse when you are being CLEAR.

To lose sight for an instant that a horse is a prey animal and things eat him is to lose sight of all that is the horse.  Every horse is born as wild as a deer and the instincts of his ancestors are as strong in him as in his wild born cousin.  Given the opportunity to live in a herd situation, he will place safety above all else, and in his world a well functioning herd is the single most important factor in that safety.  If there are questions of hierarchy, they are handled immediately, definitively and CLEARLY.  Where he eats, where he sleeps, when he drinks, who gets to breed, even who watches east and who watches west are determined by this hierarchy.  They are CLEAR.  They are not negotiable, they are not put to a vote.  You won’t see campaign signs littering the field this time of year. The leader is the calmest, smartest, bravest and most consistent.  She is steady, dependable and the same horse day in and day out. Her requests are often given almost too subtly for us to see, but they are not optional, and if they are not followed promptly, they will rapidly escalate to something you WILL see and to any level necessary to get the required response.  Because it is absolutely understood that she will ALWAYS follow through, she usually doesn’t have to.  As a matter of fact it’s actually rare to see the established alpha in an altercation, but it is common to see altercations closer to the bottom of the herd. (and in that statement is a HUGE hint – if you are constantly in an altercation with your horse, you may not rate in his herd where you think you do.)

So…..a lot of build up so I can share one line with you.

“It is not who uses the least pressure who is the kindest, but who uses pressure the least.”

The next time you are encountering resistance to something you know that you know that your horse knows how to do, and you think you’ve asked as hard as you can ask, and you’re hesitant to go any further for fear you are not being kind, remember this next line.

“You set the rein, the leg or the spur and your horse sets the pressure.”  

You make the request as kindly as possible, but your horse decides how firm becomes necessary.  With a permanent attitude of fairness and justice you will begin to feel to him like that alpha around whom his world revolves (and if you’re saying, but my horse IS the alpha in our herd, remember, even an alpha wants an alpha.)

There’s a word for asking the same thing at the same volume over and over and over again. Nagging!

Be as firm as necessary when necessary, and sooner than you’d imagine, you’ll be able to be as light as possible.  But, be muddy, unclear and nagging in the interest of being kind today, and one day down the road you’re either going to have to give up or even worse, you’ll have to be a WHOLE LOT firmer than ever would have been necessary today.

So today, be kind to your horse.  Be CLEAR.


Bridle Wise

By | General | 2 Comments

Hey Everybody – As we wrap up a winter of play mostly indoors with our horses, many have moved to the bridle or are thinking of it.  Here are just a few notes on the how and why of the transition.

Which Bit?  Snaffle vs. Curb

snaffle-bridle curb-bridle

I would strongly recommend letting a knowledgeable trainer who is compatible with your horsemanship goals and ideals help you decide on a bit for your horse, but here are some basic guidelines.

Is it your horse’s first bit?

Has your horse ridden in bits, but it will be the first bit you have used in your own horsemanship journey?

Are you still working on control, whether it be general speed and direction control or control of the specific zones of the horse?

If any of the above are “Yes” you are probably ready for a snaffle bit.  A snaffle bit is a bit in which the headstall and the reins attach to the same piece or ring of the bit as the mouthpiece does, irregardless of the type of mouthpiece.  Common starter bits are Loose Ring, D Ring and Eggbbutt snaffles.  They generally have a 2 piece mouthpiece, but not always, which brings us to our next bit.

Three Part Snaffles.  Fist off – LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THEM!  Why, because when control is pretty much “under control” your horse tends to love them, too.  These are the ideal intermediate step between control and contact, which brings up the next point – what is all this “Control, Contact, Engagement, Collection” stuff?

In super simple terms, in the halter, hackamore and snaffle bit we are teaching gross motor skills, foundation, and CONTROL.  Control can be boiled down to the understanding that “I can cause you to bend, and in doing so, I can take your balance away, and in doing so, I can take your power, thus if need me, I can take control.”  Tapped in in a natural fashion and progression this is NOT a fight or a power play, it’s just an understanding that you both come to.  It’s understood that you can take control, but you don’t have to as your horse willingly and happily gives it.

Now, with that understood, CONTACT is the beginning of vertical flexion and begins the understanding that your horse can trust you enough to yield to two reins.  This is where Three Part Snaffles come in as they are comfortable to carry with two rein contact, but they should not be considered “collection or engagement” bits.

Curb bits are any bit in which the reins attach to a shank that is affixed below the ring or piece of the bit to which the mouthpiece is attached irregardless of the type of mouthpiece.  This can be a very confusing style of bit and you should really seek some advice here, but again, here are a few basics.  Any shanked bit with a two piece broken mouthpiece is a torture device and is at best suited to be a toilet paper holder in the porta-john.  Get rid of it!  This includes the Tom Thumb that we were all told was so kind. It isn’t.

Mouthpieces are either solid and have no one side action or have some sort of barrel port or ball in the center to allow one side action without collapsing the mouthpiece in the horse’s mouth.  Beyond that is just varying levels of “port” or, within reasonable parameters, tongue relief.   Usually, but not always, Left Brain (confident) horses like a little to a lot of tongue relief and Right Brain (less confident, more reactive) type horses like a little to no tongue relief – they like to feel held and know where you are at all times.

These are bits of engagement and refinement.  Essentially after the control and gross motor skills have been taught in the snaffle bits, the curb bits begin helping the horse become more powerful and refined by specifically NOT excessively bending him and by helping to increase his balance and power to his hindquarters.   It is essential that before progressing to this bridle that your horse exhibit excellent forehand and hindquarter control to your legs and seat.  In the Parelli program this is often demonstrated through safe, efffective bridleless riding.  Just as one rein riding in a halter, hackamore or snaffle gains control through bending, taking away balance and thus power by varying degrees of disengagement, two rein riding in a bit of engagement comes long after control is well established and enhances the horse’s power through aiding balance and power by helping the horse become and remain engaged.  If you are still steering with the reins, understand that every time you pull an independent rein to steer you will be taking away the power and engagement, and ultimately, teaching your horse that he can not trust your contact.  This will lead almost immediately to brace and nothing pretty comes from brace.

Finally, bridle adjustment.   Basically it’s loose for snaffle, no wrinkles and just shy of banging around in your horse’s mouth.  He will suck it into the bit seat area and carry it comfortably with very little assistance from the headstall.  Curbs can be snug just to the point of beginning one wrinkle in the corner of your horse’s mouth.  Anything tighter is too tight and will ruin lightness.  If you’ve been told two wrinkles or even more, think of this.  I’d like my horse to respond before my reins have caused the bit to put two wrinkles in the corner of his mouth.  If I can never release past that point because of my headstall adjustment I can never develop that degree of lightness, and I can never really release my horse’s mouth.  Any amount of pressure we maintain becomes zero.  A poorly fitted bridle is nearly as bad as poor hands.

At no point should any contraption of any kind be necessary to keep your horse’s mouth closed.  If he is gaping his mouth either you’ve rushed to the bridle, have the wrong bit (too severe) or it is too tight.  He’s trying to tell you something.  Listen.


This is a very brief overview of what can become a very involved topic, but hopefully it will help you assess where you and your horse are and where you may be ready to go.


As always, Keep It Natural.



Herd Mentality, Leadership and “Followership”

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Herd Mentality, Leadership and “Followership”

January 21st, 2013

Please enjoy this 3 minute video of a 700 horse herd being driven down mainstreet of a small town.

It’s said that “If you think you’re a leader, turn around and see if anybody’s following.”

Beyond the fact that this is just a beautiful spectacle and I want to figure out how to make sound track of their hooves my ringtone, there is so much to be learned here.

We talk a lot about Herd Mentality, Leadership and the responsibilities of the horse that go;

Act like a Partner
Mantain Gait
Maintain Direction
Look where you’re going.

But who really knows what that means or what that should look like.  Well, here it is.  700 horses relaxed, calm, confident, and very content to maintain gait, maintain direction and look where they’re going until they’re told differently.  It occurs to me regularly that we are focused on learning what leadership looks like, but most of us have never really seen what “Followership” looks like (and yup, that’s a new Toddism)

Do you have trouble with your Circle Game?  Does your horse break gait or hang on the line or collapse the circle, change direction, quit behind you, cause you to work harder than him, or does he hang from the rafters?  Can you trot or canter freestyle four full laps of the arena with your arms folded and no more than one correction per lap?

If you answered yes to any of the first question and/or no to the second, odds are you don’t have a technique problem (though good better and better best never goes away) but you may have a respect issue and more specifically a work ethic challenge.

We like to say “When it becomes important to you it will become important to them.”

If you’ve been stuck in a level – especially 2 – for more than a couple months, I would suggest taking a real serious look at your circle game both online and mounted, and if you are playing in Level 3, then by all means at Liberty in a round corral.  Watch the video again and ask yourself if you’re getting the eyes and ears that these 700 horses are giving.  If not there is still a leadership problem and a big part of your horse’s mental energy is being put into figuring out how to do other than what he’s being asked.  When his mental energy comes back from the big bad world out there and settles squarely on you as his leader, you will all of the sudden see those eyes.  They’re relaxed but completely focused on maintaining gait, maintaining direction and looking where they’re going.

When as a leader you begin to realize how natural a state of followership this is for your horse, how deeply necessary it is to his nature, and how he craves the leader that can let him get here, you will be on to path to your dreams – and so will your horse.


Keep it Natural,




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Horsenalities Strategies Workshop – Great Winter Fun

By | Events, General, Horsenality/Personality | No Comments

Despite highs only around 30, horses, participants and auditors turned out for fun and learning with 2* Junior Parelli Professional Todd Johnson at the Horsenalities Strategies Workshop at The JBIT Ranch.

We learned ways to read the feedback our horses are constantly giving us and explored lots of new strategies for where to be, when to be, why to be, what to do when we get there and when to stop doing what we’re doing.

Freestyle Trail Workshop

By | Events, Freestyle, Horsenality/Personality, Horses, Problem Horses, Trail Riding | One Comment

On Nov 12, 2011 6 riders converged on The JBIT Ranch for a Freestyle on the Trail Workshop taught by 2 star junior Parelli Professional Todd Johnson.

The workshop, which was 3 hours in length, began on the ground and focused on how to use not only man made, but the natural obstacles a trail provides to create a warm up that more realistically simulates for your horse the type and nature of situations he or she will face on a trail ride.