Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bits and Bridles

There are so many different types of bridles and bits it can be confusing  to the novice horse owner/rider. So many bridles come complete with nosebands of many different types I think most people think you have to use them.

Nosebands such as the cavesson without a standing martingale are actually redundant. Do any of us take the noseband off? Why leave it there, doesn't the horse have enough on his head?

Also the other types of nosebands such as the flash, grackle and drop which are to stop the horse having any movement of the jaw...why? Movement of the jaw is not desired but if the horse is moving it's jaw or putting it's tongue over the bit and opening it's mouth then the horse is trying to tell us something. Maybe he is sore, in pain or just unhappy with the bridle, tying him down more is masking the problem and not solving it, in fact it often causes more problems that just get worse and worse.
Maybe instead we could spend more time gently training our horses to do as we ask without reverting to restricting his head movements? I remember when bearing reins were 'fashionable' with carriage horses and how cruel that was, it took ages for that to be seen on as a bad thing but eventually people saw how cruel it was and now in the UK they are banned. There are also martingales which stop movement of the height of the head, curb chains which work on the movement from the bit, noseband and top of the headpiece in a leverage action. In the wrong hands all these things are cruel to horses.
We all need to look at our riding skills, our trainers and teachers. Even the most highly acclaimed teachers with years of 'experience' can be cruel. The way thousands of people have learned is instilled in their teaching of others, bad habits become the normal thing and nobody questions methods or have ideas for alternatives.
If you don't feel it's correct then question it. It may make you unpopular, people may laugh at you but it may also help the person you're questioning to question themselves. Most people know what's wrong but are too afraid to open their mouths about things and put up with abuse to the horses and themselves.

So, what do you do if you feel you don't need that noseband? Try in an arena, corral or controlled area without it. You may find your horse is fine without it. If you feel your horse does need it then try retraining your horse. Yes, it may take time. Yes, it may be frustrating. But in the end you'll have a happier horse and you yourself will be happier with your riding. No more fighting over the bit, no more shouting or whipping. There are lots of 'alternative' methods of training and riding nowadays one of which is Natural Horsemanship through kind training and natural methods (refer to our links page). Teaching you to be a better horseman (horsewoman) and riding your horse as a natural rider.

How many of you dream of riding your horse bareback with just a halter like the Native Americans do? How many of you are just dreaming? It's not unheard of, most of the 'alternative' styles of training develop your riding skills on the ground first, then to halter and saddle, then halter and bareback and only then, when you've developed your independent seat and have learnt to control your horse without a bridle do you finally have the privillege of riding with a bridle and bit. Most people abuse the bit in the horses mouth too much. It's not a breaking device and anyone who's had a bolting horse knows it doesn't work as brakes. It's a refined tool for sensitive signals for the horse and rider to communicate with. Better still is to learn to ride bitless and as I have found personally that once bitless I never returned to riding any of my own horses with a bit and they are all perfectly happy and rideable ;)

The bits themselves seem to get bigger, thicker, rougher and more like torture devices every year. How many times have I heard at a show 'that horse doesn't turn properly, that horse won't stop, that pony just won't jump cleanly...get it a bigger bit, put it in a flash noseband, stop it moving it's head about'. Lots of opinions but the horse tells us the truth, you can see how most are silently unhappy with their tack.

It would be wonderful for trainers to teach their pupils not only riding but horse care in a humane, natural way. For people not to be wary of questioning their teacher or employer. For judges at shows to be totally impartial and to judge on the performance. To speak out on anything they see at shows that is cruel or unjust and not be blinded by a perfect turnout such as a well-groomed horse and expensive jackets and boots. To judge the person who is riding on their skills and ability. For large organisations to support all those that wish to ride, train and compete with happy horses in alternative ways such as bitless.
 In my humble opinion it would be better for all of us to question whether we actually NEED a bit at all, most happy hackers don't need them and people doing competitions should be encouraged to be bitless by competitions only allowing for bitless bridles and good horsemanship in the lower levels so that when you get to the higher levels we don't use the bit for the wrong things.

I believe that in 2012 bitless bridles have been accepted in show jumping and cross country, we are allowed to use them in endurance and Trec, we would LOVE to see them allowed in dressage now too.
Wouldn't it be lovely to see competitions with horse not being 'pulled' into an 'outline', for the horse to want to give a correct outline because the human and trainers have taken the time for the horse to find it's own balance and self-carriage with it's rider and to enjoy his time with us doing dressage, show jumping, x country and all the other sporting pursuits we do with our horses.