Going Bitless

(Kathy Kusner jumps Aberali in what appears
to be an ordinary side-pull bitless bridle)

Having just finished a series on the five rein aids, I got a great comment from billie of camera-obscura – she asked: “When you complete this series I wonder if you might tackle the subject of rein aids from the perspective of using a bitless bridle - I am so curious whether these things can transfer to that, or even to riding in a halter with snap-on reins. How much does the bit actually have to do with it? If the Big Bay understands the rein aid, does he really need the bit?” It’s a great point! I hope to answer, in my roundabout way, all of those questions, along with some of my thoughts on going bitless.
I’d love to hear if anyone else has experience with bitless riding.

***

When I still had my boarding/training barn, we shared a facility with a typical H/J show barn. During that time our eclectic and unfamiliar methods regularly raised more than a few eyebrows and drew plenty of questions and comments.

So when I took my jumper into the indoor during a busy lesson time with his Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle, all eyes were on us. At first, no one even noticed a difference, because my horse went no differently than he usually did with a bit in his mouth. I was stopped by the door talking to the owner of the farm for five minutes before she said, “Oh, look! There’s no bit on your bridle!” She had been watching him go prior to our chat, and so she had a lot of questions about bitless riding, the first of which was: “So how did you get him on the bit without a bit?” That was a great question, and I involuntarily launched into one of my typical lectures.

After all, “on the bit” doesn’t come from the bit. It has little to do with the bit at all. That’s where a lot of people go wrong in getting horses on the bit. They get hung up on the “bit” part, when in reality it’s all about relaxation, attentiveness and positioning. Contrary even to the dressage manuals, it doesn’t have to come from impulsion, as a horse can be on the bit at the halt. On the bit refers to a relationship of the horse to the rider’s hand in which the horse willingly accepts, seeks and follows contact with the rider’s hand with his entire body. (I’ll probably tackle on the bit more fully in a later post.)

The actual means by which the rider and horse communicate with one another, through the hand, can involve anything from a full bridle to a rope around the nose, and everything in between. Ironically, going bitless can be a good way of testing whether the horse truly is on the bit, or if the rider is using the bit to force an artificial position.

Classical masters recognized the value of bitless training, and often started horses in a cavesson with reins attached either as a precursor to the snaffle/bradoon, in conjunction with it, or in place of it. Some even combined this with the curb to make a partially “bitless” double bridle.

The bitted bridle is a relatively recent invention in the history of horsemanship. Horses were domesticated some 6000 years ago or more, but the bit was only put into regular use a little over 4000 years ago. Early bridles were probably nothing more than a rope tied around the nose or head, and while High School dressage was unlikely, these riders were no doubt able to accomplish some pretty impressive things without bits. Take, for instance, one variety of Native American rope bridle, which is a compromise between the rope halter and a bit; it is composed of a loop of rope through the mouth and tightened around the lower jaw. This bridle often has only one rein, so the aids are limited on the side without the rein, but one can easily imagine how one would use a Direct “leading” Rein to turn one way and an Indirect “neck” Rein or Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither to turn the other, with a single, central Direct Rein of Opposition to stop. That’s at least four out of the five rein aids accomplished with only one rein! If you have ever ridden a horse in from the field with just a halter and lead rope, you have an idea how this works.

When two reins are used, it makes no difference whether there is a snaffle, cavesson, crossunder, halter, or rope on the other end: the rein aids will work in basically the same way. The rein aids work, not because of the horse’s mouth, but because of the positioning of the head and its effect on the horse’s bend and balance. The bit only assists in this positioning.

We’re having some trusses delivered to the farm for the construction of our new indoor arena (yay!) and watching the driver back his trailer through our front gates reminded me of rein aids (and yes, I know, it’s sad how much I have horses on the brain ;-) I think of the horse’s head as the tractor part of a tractor-trailer rig, the poll (and to some extent the neck) is like the hitch (which is why a soft, mobile poll is so important!) and the rest of the body is the trailer: The careful positioning of the tractor has a direct influence on where the trailer goes. Ever watch a driver back one of those things up? The angle and direction of movement of the relatively small tractor directly determines exactly where the body of the trailer moves.

The bit is simply a tool of positioning the head, and therefore the body. Because it involves a delicate part of the horse’s anatomy, it can be the most efficient and sensitive means of communication between horse and rider, not just because the bit can have a strong, immediate effect on the horse, but also because the horse’s mouth is incredibly mobile and responsive according to his state of mind, so feedback to the rider is immediate and specific. Of course, for this to work, the horse’s mind and mouth must be sound, the correct bit fitted, and educated, sensitive hands are required on the reins. Sometimes all of these elements are impossible to bring together, and so it is often practical to dispense with the bit and go bitless. The drawback for the rider – the reduced sensitivity to the horse’s responses – is the horse’s benefit in this case, as it can spare the horse discomfort from the bit.

Most bitless bridles – with the exception of the mechanical hackamore which is quite severe and works like a curb – can be used in exactly the same way as a snaffle. Although some bitless bridles involve pressure on parts of the head that a bit might not, from the perspective of the reins, the aids are the same. The only difference is that a stronger contact may be required, a fact which makes it an ideal bridle for nervous horses who like a strong hand, those riders whose hands may be unsteady, who like to take a strong contact for security, or who may grab the mouth when nervous. I pride myself on having a fairly light, sensitive hand, but I know it’s not perfect and, when I know I’m going into a situation where my horse might be reactive, I like to use the bitless so I don’t inadvertently grab him in the mouth. I have one horse who instinctually rears/jumps when he is spooked, so I ride him in the bitless when I hack him out somewhere new – oddly enough, I sometimes feel it gives me more control than the bit because I know it won’t exacerbate a problem. I also like it for novice riders, gradually introducing the bit to a young horse, just giving the horses a break, rehabbing horses whose mouths have been ruined, and, as I mentioned, testing to see if the horse is truly on the bit. Before I got my Dr. Cooks, I used to just attach the reins to a good leather halter or the side rings of a light longeing cavesson, and I make sure all of my horses will ride this way. I also really love my Micklem Multibridle for training as it is incredibly versatile and doubles as a light longe cavesson.

I am not one of those who believe riding with a bit is inherently evil, abusive or unhealthy for the horse – like anything else, it is a matter of how it is done. I’ve seen riders act much more forcefully and cruelly with a hackamore because they thought it was “nicer” than using a bit, just as I’ve seen people yank and saw on a soft snaffle because they thought that was kinder than using a light curb, etc.. There are advantages to both bitted and bitless riding, and I think there is a place for both in all types of riding. Most horses can benefit from at least occasional use of a bitless bridle and for some it might take the place of the bit completely. Ultimately, though, what matters most is the hand and how it is used, not what equipment happens to be at the other end of the reins.

__________


Other Posts in this Series:

Holding the Reins

The Turning Seat

Inside vs. Outside: The Weight Debate

*****

The Five Rein Aids: Introduction

The Direct Rein

The Indirect Rein

The Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither

The Direct Rein of Opposition

The Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Wither

For more, see Label: rein aids


Related Post:

The Crest Release... and how it Ruined American Jumping



43 comments:

  1. Wow! That photo has me breathless!

    Thanks so much for tackling this topic. The interesting thing is that I have been experiencing the tractor-trailer rig example lately, as the Big Bay and I have been riding with halter and clip-on reins. It's become obvious that he understands all the rein aids, and as you said, the only issue is that I have to be clearer with them (which I should be doing anyway) and using the rest of my aids correctly (which I should be doing anyway) and when I pull all that together - there is little difference.

    Although I have noticed his lateral movement is better without the bit, which probably has not one thing to do with the bit and everything to do with afore-mentioned CLEARER signals.

    I'm not really anti-bit either, although after watching ... oh, gosh, I'm blanking on his name - the Russian guy who works without the bridle and is very much anti-bit, anti artificial aids??

    Anyway, after watching some of his work on video, I became very curious about what is possible w/o using a bit/bridle. Recently I have been obsessing about how the bit looks in the horses' mouths - and suddenly it's looking wrong to me.

    (meanwhile, Keil Bay doesn't seem to have issues with the bit at all, but when he recently didn't want to take the bit during bridling, I offered to ride without, and now I've gotten curious again)

    The Dr. Cook's bridle has been on my list for over a year, but whenever I start to order it, I get hung up on wanting the more expensive leather one, when really I should go for the cheaper biothane one and try it out.

    But back to your post.

    The whole "on the bit" thing and not being about the "bit" at all. Yes! That's the thing - in working with all of my horses on the ground, I see what I want to achieve under saddle - in their relaxed and fluid movement, the pure poetry of how they carry themselves - and I know that some of why I don't get that under saddle all the time is because I'm still struggling with "contact" and how to effect that with the bit.

    My issue is that I alternate between consistent contact and throwing it away - partly because I don't want to be heavy-handed and I don't want to be "holding on" all the time. What has happened with the halter/clip-on reins lately is that I can let that whole worry go and just focus on the correct rein aid, keeping my body seat and legs clear, and I think some of what happens is a higher-level ride.

    There's just a *little* bit of ambiguity in communication but that's me and the Bay getting adjusted to bitless riding. I suspect a better rider would not have that issue with him.

    My only other question is whether you think the different pressure the Dr. Cook's uses will confuse the issue for Keil Bay, who has ridden with a bit for at least 15 years, and Cody, who is 5 and still learning.

    Well, and one more question, more general and speculative in nature:

    do you think the dressage associations will ever allow bitless riding in competition, or has everything become so much about "on the bit" that taking the bit out is just not going to happen?

    I'm thinking the bitless IS allowed in other sports like eventing, jumping, etc.

    And forgive my rambling - I'm not doing a good job of organizing my comment here, but was too excited not to jump right in. :)

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  2. Great post! I agree with you that no matter if you use a bit or go bitless, the rein aids are important and of course the hands at the end of the reins should be educated and light.

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  3. billie - isn't that an amazing photo? i set it aside for a post i want to do about releases over fences, as kathy kusner is a master of the following release. to think you could ride a horse down to a huge jump like that in just a noseband is pretty impressive!

    i don't know who the russian guy is. if you think of the name, let me know.

    the dilemma you describe with your contact is a classic one. i have the same problem of wanting to give the reins away, but for me the solution is all about visualizing the nature of the contact i want. for me it's not about a certain amount of pressure or holding on or holding the horse together, but a way to tune in to my horse's state of mind through feel (is his jaw relaxed, his tongue moving, is his poll soft, etc.) and a way to set a limit on his position. that last one needs explaining (and like i said, i'm planning a post on 'on the bit' one of these days too.)

    what i mean by setting a limit on the horse's position is not about forcing the horse into a position. have you ever longed in a chambon? if you ever watch a horse that is being correctly longed in one, you'll see that he has every opportunity to escape the contact with the bit simply by lowering his head and making the chambon slack. but he won't. he'll find a position where the pressure from the chambon is minimal but he still has a very light contact on the bit. the horse chooses this, and will, unless he is physically unable, find the same equilibrium no matter how the chambon is adjusted. i like to think of the hand that way - it shows the horse where you would like him to be, and then if he is relaxed, attentive and engaged, he chooses the level of contact, which is always light, allowing the rider to keep the feel light. if the level of contact constantly changes, the horse may not be ready to do what is being asked either because he's unfit, tense or unbalanced, etc..

    i retrained a so-called unrideable horse who had been overbitted and overfaced. all i did was put him in a soft snaffle and ride him on a loose rein until HE stretched to take a light contact with my hand. and i did that for weeks until he trusted my hand and WANTED that contact. only then could i start to shape and regulate his position with lightness. any attempt to TAKE a contact would cause him to blow up. it had to be his idea to find contact with my hand. that's part of what it means to be on the bit; it has to voluntary on the part of the horse, you can't make it happen on your own.

    we all use the word contact, but it has a rough connotation, like something that is made or taken by the rider. maybe the word 'feel' would be better. just feel the mouth, even if it's just with the fingertips on the reins. and the horse will feel you back.

    does any of that make sense?

    the bitless is a good way to transition because lightness is less important and mistakes are easily forgiven :-)

    and if you worry about being 'there' all the time, take lots of loose rein breaks at walk or easy trot between 'contact' sessions...

    as for confusion, i don't think the horses are confused by the dr cooks. it's designed to push from the opposite side rather than pull from the near side. but, after all, horses are all trained to lead in a halter and respond to this kind of pressure on the face and head from an early age. it will feel different, but i've never had a horse get confused by it.

    the halter can be more ambiguous just because it fits looser, so there is a lag between the aid and the horse actually feeling it. the dr cooks is a little more precise.

    i do think competitive, FEI influenced dressage is very much about the bits and i don't foresee them allowing bitless bridles any time soon. but that's not to say that local groups couldn't get together and hold their own unaffiliated shows allowing use of both bits and bitless bridles, or contact unrated or schooling shows and see if they will allow it. i am fairly certain bits are still required in everything but jumpers in the H/J world (even if the reins are not attached) but i'd love to see some unrated H/J shows allow them too. maybe that's a way to get a foot in the door.

    sorry, i'm rambling now and my comment hasn't been especially organized either ;-) let me know if i'm not making sense!

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  4. GHM - thanks. i know what you mean. i once heard a rather brutal rider claim he HAD to ride his horse in a hackamore because he couldn't find a bit soft enough for his horse's mouth. but the problem was he didn't have a hand soft enough for his horse's mouth, and the bit had nothing to do with it! he was equally cruel with the hackamore. few people pay enough attention to the hand, and focus too much on the bit!

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  5. EXCELLENT and instructive post. I'm sending the link to my friend who used to get into terrible trouble for riding her horse on Hunt Club organized summer trail rides in an old soft rope halter. He is one of the best dressage horses I've seen--soft, supple, and on the bit.
    Finally, the said she couldn't come anymore unless she used a bit and bridle, citing safety concerns.

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  6. That all makes perfect sense - what happens often is I will take some contact, Keil Bay will then ask me to hold him up, that feels TOO heavy (and used to tip me forward, b/c I tried to accommodate him and got pulled out of position, giving him permission and probably physically leading him to be on the forehand, and we both went into unbalanced chaos) and I throw the contact away in an over-correction. I don't have the finesse to reel the contact in and out yet; maybe that will come soon.

    With Cody, who doesn't try to get me to hold him up, we get something better more easily - when I get balanced and ride him forward, he takes contact, and if I simply keep my legs on softly and keep my hands still, he goes into a very lovely forward, balanced gait. He is very good at showing when his rider goes off balance though - the moment you do, his nose goes up in the air.

    With him, the rein thing I have to fight is the impulse to lower my hands when his nose goes up! If I actually lift them a bit, we seem to reconnect and get back what we had.

    Keil Bay is getting much better about not hanging on me as I've gotten more secure in my seat and legs and am willing to sit back and deep and ride what I ask for.

    But I still wonder - when I throw away the contact, one trainer has said to me that the bit is then loose in the mouth and the flapping of the reins moves the bit and is uncomfortable.

    Part of it is the very logistical motion of shortening the reins - I can lengthen them easily w/o losing my focus, but I'm still not good at getting them through my fingers without it being very noticeable and awkward.

    For whatever reason, riding with the halter and no bit made that seem easier. Probably just psychological on my part.

    I've been working on keeping my ARMS in a good position, more so than my hands, and that seems to help with the contact issue.

    All our horses chew on the bit, in what feels like a relaxed and good way. Keil will occasionally grind his teeth, but it's always been in lessons when the trainer has had me pushing him really hard. I *think* it's a resistance, but of course I wonder if there is something hurting - but there seems to be no real pattern to it, and it has happened less than 10 times in 4 years, so... not a huge issue. It might be if we were working on higher level stuff more consistently.

    Thought of his name: Alexander Nevzorov.

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  7. enlightened - thanks! i'm glad you found the post informative. your poor friend! that is so ridiculous, and yet somehow not a surprise :-( so many people are stuck in the particular prejudices of their discipline or their own narrow experience. her horse sounds lovely :-)

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  8. billie - i'll have to look up Alexander Nevzorov. he sounds interesting.

    my mother's working hunter was one of those who would ask to be held up too. there are three 'corrections' that could be recommended. one is to do what you have been doing - let go and let him sort his own balance so he knows you aren't going to hold him up. this works for some horses, but not all. another is to let him pull the reins and follow the contact down until a point where it feels light again and then ride forward until the horse comes back up - again, so he doesn't think you're going to hold him up. or you can be more active and lift the base of the neck (which lightens the forehand) by lifting the hands (and head) momentarily and then taking one rein to the side to flex the neck and get him round again, and repeat that as needed until he gets the idea.

    just ideas. there is nothing harder than trying to hold a horse up - i've pulled my back out trying that. the worst part is, the harder you have to brace to hold the horse up (or to pull) the stronger you have to grip with your leg and plant your seat, which drive the horse more forward, so it's kind of a vicious cycle.

    it would be interesting to see if he leans into a bitless in the same way, or if maybe the heaviness has something to do with the bit?

    i've never heard of loose reins jiggling the bit, but i suppose it's possible. i guess it depends on whether the horse is carrying the bit, with his mouth closed around it, or if he's got his mouth more open, maybe trying to spit it out.

    i think riding with the halter is great for a lot, especially practicing things like adjusting the reins smoothly. it's hard to get better when you feel like you have to ride on eggshells all the time, and riding bitless gives a little more leeway to try new things, practice and get it wrong without the guilt :-)

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  9. What a good post, especially the last paragraph. Well said. I really enjoyed the comments too!

    I actually have a horse who DETESTED the Dr. Cook's. He's a western pleasure type trail horse - gets extremely annoyed with even the lightest of contact, but neck rein/leg yields perfectly. I suspect the bitless bridle didn't release fast enough or adequately enough when I would release the rein. Anyway, I didn't try the Dr. Cook's again - it was an experiment, not a solution to a problem.

    I have an odd question. How would you train a horse who had only previously been ridden in a curb to go in a snaffle? Every time I try a snaffle on one of my TWHs, they freak out on me. I'm really enjoying learning dressage, so I'd like to get my younger mare going in a snaffle. I'm thinking of adding a second set of reins to her current (unbroken low port) pelham but I don't know if I can handle twice as many reins!

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  10. hi funder, thanks for stopping by and for the great comment.

    i have one horse who detests the dr. cook's too - with him i think it's the pressure across his lower jaw bones, but he's fine with a bit so i don't push the issue...

    switching from a curb to a snaffle isn't odd at all! i have a horse who was broke western with a curb and it took a while to get him used to the snaffle.

    i was going to recommend an unbroken pelham so you could introduce the top 'snaffle' rein gradually, but you've already got one! if you don't want to deal with the extra reins you could get pelham converter straps - they connect the top and bottom rings and the rein is attached to the strap so that you use a little of both when you use the one rein.

    when he's used to that you could move the rein to the top ring, then go to maybe a kimberwike, then a mullen mouth snaffle, etc.

    i'd stick with solid mouthpieces for now, as sometimes it's the nutcracker effect of a jointed bit, or the joint going into the roof of the mouth that freaks horses out. another option is to go with something like a waterford which has enough joints to avoid this effect and is a soft bit that horses seem to like...

    a completely different approach would be to just longe him with the snaffle, by itself at first with the longe line attached to a halter or cavesson, and then maybe with a very loose, even floppy pair of side reins (or regular bridle reins tied in the mane or something) and see if that helps him get used to it.

    anyway, those are just a few ideas. hope some of this helps :-) if you try anything, let me know how it works out.

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  11. funder - ps, i just realized i was referring to your mare as 'him' - i just do that generically when i talk about horses. whoops! sorry :-)

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  12. Thanks for the ideas - initially I had to just let go, in order to remind myself not to hold him up and get pulled forward.

    Later, we graduated to a more graceful approach, where if he starts leaning on my hands, I just let the reins slip slowly with him, as you said, and take him back when we get balance.

    I am interested to try the third idea - although of late he hasn't been doing this so much. It was almost always at the canter, and we had a little vicious circle going - he would lean on me, I would go forward, he would get very much on the forehand, the canter would start to fall apart, and we'd slop down into the trot.

    Now that I'm sitting up and feeling secure with the gait, he has for the most part been carrying himself.

    He was in the arena today trotting, cantering, and galloping, looking like he was maybe 5 years old. I wish we had trails off our property b/c I think he would be so much better off doing his "work" while hacking out. He loves that, and we'd get more practice with him really moving out and engaging.

    I think you'll be at least intrigued with A.N. He is very extreme in his beliefs about riding and keeping horses, but if you read his bio it's pretty clear why. There are a lot of videos and photographs of him working/riding and most of them are quite stunning. The arena alone is worth a Google search - it looks like a church. Very beautiful.

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  13. Great post...and great discussion here in the comments. I was thinkig all of the way through it's about "feel." Glad to see you got to that.

    When we start young horses, if we have on who is worried about the bit, we let him wear it for awhile. Sometimes lunging and the bit are even too much. Those horses we put in the stall, with all buckets, rings etc out so there is nothing to get caught on, and just let the horse hang out.

    Some get it right away, others can take days but sooner or later they get comfortable and then we move up to the next step with loungeing.

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  14. Wow! Thanks for this post. I always read your blog, but don't always comment, but this is one post right up my alley. (Thanks to Billie, too!).

    Sorry for this long post (and probably tons of spelling typos).

    I'm a fairly new horseowner, having only bought my first horse just 11 months ago. I've always been in love with horses, and I think because my last name is Westfall, I was enamored with Stacy Westfall and her riding techniques and abilities.
    I don't believe bits are bad, either, but I also believe, for me, there are better ways, or rather, techniques that are just as successful in controlling and working together with a horse.

    So even before I found a horse to buy, I was researching bits and bitless alternatives.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my horse as used to going in a hack-a-more and was very sensitive. I took lessons on her for a couple months before even buying her and was overjoyed that I could ride bareback and bitless (with only a halter and rope) on her in the arena and round pen.

    She and I were a good match, so I bought her and immediately order my Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. Because my mare is a Tovero paint, I knew I wanted the beautiful black leather Western bridle and when it arrived I was thrilled with the quality.
    It didn't even look like some sort of weird gadget. In fact most people never even realize my horse is wearing a bitless, unless I mention it or they really look closely.

    My neighbor and riding buddy is always surprised at how relaxed my mare is while in her Bitless because she even licks chews and foams at the mouth during our trail rides.

    Everyone's biggest concern about my Bitless was, "Could I stop my horse in an emergency". Well a few months ago, I realized that wasn't a concern at all.

    My neighbor and I were out on teh trail and riding beside a pasture with two goofy gelding horses running amok trying to get our horses excited.

    And behind us there were some people with loose dogs. Unbeknownst to us, though, several of the dogs ran into the pasture, getting the loose horses even more excited.

    A commotion happened behind us, which caused both of our horses to spook. My mare gathered up her back end and took off like a rocket. We only got about 20 feet before my reactions kicked in and I pulled a one-rein stop. And my mare came to a quick stop and we turned around to face the mayhem.

    When my mare realized it was just those silly hoodlums causing trouble, she snorted and seemed to say, "Let's go". So we turned our back to those nutty boys and went along our way....with me grinning ear-to-ear knowing that my Bitless Bridle came through. That I really was safe using the Bitless, contrary to many people who had told me that I'd have no control using it.

    Now with all that said, and using the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle now for over 9 months, I do have a couple issues that I'd love to hear some input on from you and others that have used the Bitless.

    I do all of my riding on trails in the mountains. I do ground work in the arena and round pen with my horse and also play around riding bareback on days I don't have time for a long trail ride, so I'd like to neck rein my horse, to free up a hand while out on the trail. I'm not sure how to do this using the bitless. My neighbor thinks it might be too difficult with the bitless, too. If you have any ideas or tips, I'd really appreciate it.

    Another issue I have is that my mare is trained WP. I find that her favorite position to keep her head is LOW to the ground. This didn't work well when my neighbor let me use her barrel reins, as you know they aren't split. So I was feeling like I was going to tip over trying to hold up my horse's head. Not comfortable at all.
    But even with the beautiful reins that came with my Bitless, I feel odd with her neck and head so low. Is this just me, or it normal for a WP trained horse?

    And the last issues I have, that affects the Bitless Bridle is my mare tends toward being barn sour when we first head out on the trails from my house.
    I try to use leg, but very gentle, because of her prior experience being a head horse roping with cowboys overeager with the spurs. She's very sensitive with her sides and a gentle squeeze is all I ever need to do.

    She'll crowhop anyone that tries to kick her with a heel, though she's never agressive or serious about getting anyone off her back, she just wants everyone to know she doesn't appreciate heavy contact.

    When we first head out she'll do the 'drunken sailor' routine weaving in the direction of home. I can give her a little push with the leg on that side and she'll move over, and sometimes I'll have to use the Bitless to bring her head back in the direction I want to go.

    There have been a couple times where I feel like were in a stalemate with me pulling her head with the bitless and her pulling in the direction of the barn. Even some light leg pressure will only work temporarily, and then she's leaning back in the wrong direction again.

    By the time I get home my neck and shoulders are aching.
    I want her to be lighter and I want to be even lighter.
    I've been told by my riding instructor and my neighbor friend that my hands are very light on the reins. I can usually just give a tiny squeeze and my mare goes in the direction I ask, even in the Bitless, but when she's acting barn sour, it seems more serious measures are in order. What do you think?

    My neighbor tried my horse in a Half-Breed Side pull (basically a side pull with a jointed snaffle attached) and my mare did really well, but she can still get heavy in the head.
    I bought a half breed for myself, on the recommendation of my neighbor, but haven't used it yet.

    And now that you've typed this post, I'm very interested and eager to find out if you have opinions, ideas or tips for me on both softening my mare in the Bitless Bridle, working her past her barn sourness (She always tests me, but I never give in. And even when we come back to the barn, I make her head back out again to keep her guessing. I also come back and sometimes work her in the round pen, so she knows that barn does not mean no work. And this does seem to work.)

    I also sometimes take my mare out on the trails and find a meadow and I allow her to graze while I just sit on her back and enjoy the nature. This has been really great for making her see that trail riding can be fun for her, too.)

    But there have been times when one of the Bitless Bridle reins gets pulled all the way out to one side because she pulls toward the barn when we first head out. And it's really difficult to straighten the reins without getting out of the saddle.
    She also leans into it so hard that the bridle leaves an indentation on her nose. I would think she'd avoid the pressure on her sensitive nose, and most of the time she does, unless she thinks it's time to head back to the barn.

    What's crazy is that she never wins. I always make her do what I want, even when she insists, yet she tries this annoying behavior almost everytime we go out on the trails.

    Ok, so I've written a novella! Sorry, but I'm excited to come back and read your reply and any other comments.

    Happy Holidays!
    ~Lisa
    New Mexico

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  15. billie - it sounds like you have a good plan :-) let me know what you find helps - i am always interested to see what works for different horses.

    A.N.'s website took too long to load with my slow dsl, but i'll try again. i watched some videos on youtube and i am intrigued, though i'd like to see more of the HOW than just the end result. he does seen to be rather extreme in his views, though...

    i understand his p.o.v. about cruelty, but i also think it is the responsibility of stewards and judges to weed out abusive and ignorant riding. i've seen plenty of big eq kids who have their spurs permanently stuck into bloody gaping holes in their horses sides, who still win everything and are never censured by a steward, just because they ride with big name trainers. i've seen jumpers with bloody mouths and sides, people yanking on combo gag/hackamores, etc., but no one does anything about it! if anything they are rewarded! it's a matter of enforcement as well as education...

    but that's a rant for another time ;-) i would like to know more about his methods; it's definitely worth a look. thanks for the info.

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  16. Rising Rainbow - hi! thanks for stopping by and for the great comment. it is about 'feel,' isn't it? i like that word better. it sounds sensitive and interactive, while 'contact' has sort of a cold, impersonal sound to it... i'd much rather feel the mouth than just have contact with it!

    i really love the idea of just letting the horse hang out with the bit :-) i will have to remember that one.

    i have a horse who is a little nervous about the girth, and i do the same sort of thing with him - i get a soft polo or one of those stretchy surcingles and let him wear it in his stall or while he's grazing so he can get used to it and not associate it always with work. it does seem to help him relax about it a bit :-)

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  17. LOR - hi! thanks for reading - i'm so glad you decided to comment! and congratulations on your first horse - she sounds lovely, and i am a huge fan of paints :-)

    i'm glad you are getting along well with your mare in the bitless - i was surprised the first time i used it in a bad situation, as i was riding my 17.2hh, 1650lb warmblood and i was amazed that we didn't die - in fact i had even better control than with the bit because i could reel him in without him panicking and throwing his head up to escape the bit!

    as far as neck reining in the bitless, i don't think it should be a problem - after all, a neck rein works mostly on the neck, not the mouth... if you are riding with one hand, i would have the left rein come in one side of your hand and the right in the other so the reins cross one another over your palm - that way there is more space between them and you can differentiate your aids a little better.

    with the reins like this you can move your hand either way across the neck (probably the only time it's ok to cross the mane!) and one rein will be giving a Direct 'leading' Rein while the other gives and Indirect 'neck' Rein. both reins are compatible and each rein reinforces the other. you can also activate one rein more than the other just by rotating your wrist and changing the angle of your hand. does that make sense? (sometimes i don't give the best explantions :-\

    WP trained horses are trained to carry their heads unnaturally low, and the fact that your instincts tell you something is wrong is kinda proof that it's too much (imo)... if you are not planning on competing and prefer to ride on the trail, there is nothing wrong with letting her head come up a bit to a more natural position. i wouldn't necessarily recommend pulling it up, but maybe over time she'll get the idea that it's ok to come up - those horses spend a lot of time in draw reins and tie downs and are sometimes afraid to move or their muscles are simply conditioned that way, so it takes a while to undo...

    the barn sour issue is a tough one because it's partially psychological and partially just a training issue. it's good that you don't let her get away with anything, but it's no fun if you have to get into a fight every time either. does she do it for the entire time you're out, or just at the beginning?

    i have heard people recommend all sorts of tricks to cure barn sourness; i don't know if any of them work with all horses, but here's mine: i've found with one of mine who gets nervous about leaving home that, when he tries to turn around or pull me (sometimes he rears,) i just halt and we work on some lightening exercises: rein flexions, 1/2 turn on the forehand, maybe do a few lateral steps on both sides, backward then forward, etc. to change the subject, get him focused and on the aids again. then we move on.

    if he get's silly again, we stop again and work in place. i never let him turn around, but i don't force him forward until i've got his full attention and he's soft in my hand. (you'll know if you have her attention because her ear will come back on the side you are giving the aid like she's listening to you.)

    after a while he realizes it's more work for him to resist and that he doesn't get to go home anyway, so he just gives up. eventually, all i have to do is jiggle a rein or nudge with my heel to get his focus back and keep him going.

    maybe a program like that would help, and then if you need to go to a bit the half-breed thingy sounds like a good next step. but hopefully you'll be able to sort it out with the bitless.

    good luck and keep me posted. i'd love to hear more about your riding adventures :-)

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  18. This is a very interesting subject area. It's curious that, if the horse was domesticated six thousand years ago (I must admit that I thought it was more recently) then the bit and saddle tree appeared first, then the stirrup, and somewhat later the horseshoe! However, the account of horse domestication that I read predicated on bit wear on the teeth being the sign that a horse had been ridden - perhaps not a very reliable sign?

    I do like to work with as few gadgets as possible, hence a minimal Western bridle, split reins, and simple bit. (It is a good point that split reins allow a lower head carriage - something that both of my horses appreciate.) On reflection, my main issue with actually buying a bitless bridle is the emotionally manipulative adverising propaganda that Dr Cook puts out. How can someone qualified as "doctor" seek to manipulate in such a way? (Well, I suppose that Josef Goebbels had the title "Dr" too!) Our Equine Podiatrist around here, a very well educated man who is achieving excellent results, has just written a rebuttal of Dr Cook's latest article in the UK - on barefoot hoof care - which, I gather, is just as manipulative as his writings on bits and bridles. Dr Cook included the now-discounted myth that the frog pumps blood "like a small heart" - is he really that knowledgeable? Or just seeking to take our money? I'm not going to hand over my money to such a person.

    A nice aside to the "barefoot" article is that Dr Cook quotes extensively from Strasser! Now that is hardly what one would expect from someone who claims to promote "humane" horse care!

    Fortunately there are other bitless bridles that are promoted in more sober and sensible ways - the "Micklem" being one of them. At some point soon I shall try out a
    Micklem bridle.

    I can identify with the barn-sour horse situation, as one of mine can be quite lazy and is a big bargeing lump of a horse! He may be a likeable, safe and sensible fellow, however he knows his strength and thinks first of his stomach. I use strong leg aids (and pressure from blunt - indeed round-ended - spurs when necessary to back that up). After a while, he gives up and goes forward. Getting him to trot forward if he doesn't want to walk in a straight line also helps.

    He also benefits from a tiny bit of a contract when cantering, otherwise his canter becomes lazy and ragged (unless he is riding alongside a companion, of course, when laziness goes out of the window...) I can imagine that the necessary contact could be provided equally well via a bitless bridle.

    Of course, when the horses doesn't want to go forward, one looks at all sorts of potential causes - saddle fit, does he need the chiropractor, whether the feet are sore, does his feed contain enough energy, etc - before (in this case) concluding that actually the big fellow is just a bit lazy!

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  19. jme, the hard thing about "feel" is explaining it. It's not just contact, or may not even BE any form of direct contact. The "feel" of that little give by the horse that warrants a release is magic. If there was a simple way to teach it, most riders would be stars.


    I am so with you on giving the barn sour horse something to think about instead of moving down the trail. I do exactly the same thing most any time I find myself with a resistant horse.

    I go back to the basics, flexing and bending, moving off my legs. Getting their mind engaged is half the battle, I think.

    I've found by using this anytime I have resistance I end up with a horse that can cope with about anything. I've had a couple of real horror stories where my horse was frightened right out of his head. Then I was called to do an exposition. While getting on wasn't easy, once I'd accomplished that and asked my horse to begin to move off my legs, he immediately relaxed and went on to give an awesome performance.

    Thinking about it, I really should post about those situations. Riders don't realize how much they can overcome with a few little basics in their bag of tricks. It's really not all about pulling on the horses face in an emergency.

    The more of us that post about these issues, maybe the more riders will get to understand and use them.

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  20. Cool to see so much great discussion here!!

    I wanted to offer a visual for the wrist-turning thing - it's not mine, it's from Jane Savoie - but she likens it to turning a key in a lock. So, you're holding the rein and you rotate your wrist as if the rein were a key.

    I also wanted to add a vote toward the barn sour thing where you work "in place" for a few minutes.

    My daughter's trainer did some work with both of us on dealing with horses not wanting to go forward (spec. in response to Cody not wanting to cross water) and she said a very similar thing. She suggested not to focus so much on forward, but initially to focus on not turning around - even a few steps back she said was fine, but the real thing was to do lateral work. Leg yield one way and then the other to get Cody to take steps sideways, and then turns on the forehand to get him a bit closer to the water.

    So what you end up doing is getting their minds off the anxiety and by not demanding that they go forward you also let them know you understand their discomfort, and are working with it, not demanding they just get over it with no steps in between.

    I have never had it explained that way (and this way here, jme) before, but it made a LOT of sense.

    Daughter has utilized it with all this rain we've had - leg yielding Cody toward the huge rain puddles in the entrances to the fields.

    I'm not sure A.N. talks in detail about the how of his work - mostly he talks about developing trust, and based on the horses he has chosen to work with (rescues), and his own hx of what I am guessing is combat trauma of some degree, I suspect he forms a tremendous bond with these animals and in fact they do some pretty miraculous work together as a result. I'm not sure how transferable that is to the regular population.

    I agree, jme, some of the fault lies squarely with officials and judges, and unless the behavior is not tolerated in competition, it will continue.

    There was recently a horrible story of a German trainer who finally got probation and is not able to work with horses for 3 years after someone videotaped and turned in footage of her beating a horse in side reins and on a tight longe line something like 500x in 30 minutes. I couldn't watch the video. But I'm glad someone not only watched, but videoed it and turned it in so that hopefully her demented training methods are over.

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  21. WHP - horse domestication and riding is one of those topics of debate among archaeologists, but depending on what criteria one uses to define 'domestication,' i think the evidence is compelling for at least 6000 years and maybe older. riding is a bit trickier, but when we consider how quickly the native americans adopted and became skilled at husbandry and riding of wild or feral horses, i wouldn't think it would take long from the time of domestication to riding with rudimentary bridles. and i think bit wear is a good definitive proof, but it doesn't rule out other means of control prior...

    i agree that the way dr. cook uses exaggeration and manipulation to sell his product is disgusting. i didn't actually read his website until after i bought mine, and i think in the future i might stick with the miklem or have one made up by a saddler just so i'm not validating the propaganda :-\ which is too bad, because it really is a smart, well made product. i wonder if he believes his own ranting?

    i can relate to dealing with a horse's lazy barn-sourness! i've got one who is stall-sour and doesn't want to leave his food behind - if i tack him in his stall, i have to drag him away while he stuffs as much of his hay in his mouth as he can fit, so he can snack on it during our ride!

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  22. Rising Rainbow - i agree, teaching feel is almost impossible, and i haven't come up with a good way to explain it yet. but it's true, once you get it, you know it and it's magic :-)

    your experience with the terrified horse sounds incredible - i'm glad it had a happy ending. few of us have the presence of mind to get on and do something constructive under those circumstances, but having a plan of how the proceed i think helps keep the rider calm as well as the horse!

    i hope you do post about those situations (and maybe i will too.) the more ideas we can get from each other, and the more situations and experiences we can draw on, the more likely we'll have a plan when something does go wrong. there is always something to be learned from other riders and their horses :-)

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  23. billie - that analogy of the key in the lock is a great one - thanks!

    i'm really happy to know that a random method i've been using has been working for other people too - it gives me a little more faith in it as a solution rather than just an instinctive reaction, though you (and your trainer) have probably done a better job of explaining it than me.

    A.N. does sound like a fascinating person. now i'm curious ;-)

    i was actually thinking about taking a camera to the horse shows and documenting some of this stuff when it happens, though i don't know how i would really follow through with it. but the sad part is, these trainers and riders are on good behavior at the shows, so i can only imagine what they do at home. i'm happy someone videoed that trainer. i wish i would have thought of that when i worked for some unethical trainers, like the time when one of them tied a horse's nose to his tail and left him overnight in the stall that way 'because he's stiff on that side.' at the time i was young, a student and afraid of losing my two jobs with this trainer - i told her how i felt about what she was doing, but felt completely powerless to do anything about it. and i think there are a lot of people in that position.

    or maybe the way to go is educate people, and confront them when you see it happening? i don't know. how do you let people know it's ok to stand up against these things, and support them when they do?

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  24. For me, with horses, the place we start is with our very own horses. It's amazing to me that at shows, clinics, etc. everyone and a brother seems to think they are qualified to walk up and offer assistance or free advice on things like trailer loading, etc. And I've seen clinicians advocate being very tough, imo abusive, with horses they don't know at all - I have learned over time to simply say "thank you, but that's not the way we do it with our horses."

    I have also said no when asked to assist someone having trouble with a horse - when they wanted me to do something I personally don't do with my own and don't agree with doing at all.

    Not too long ago someone asked me to help load a horse that was refusing to walk up the ramp of the trailer. I asked if it was a regular issue and the owner said no. The thing was, she was in a tremendous hurry, was trying to get someplace on time, and it was her own intensity that was causing the mare not to load! I told her I wasn't comfortable loading the way she was asking me to - and she asked what I would do if it were my horse.

    I told her I'd cancel the lesson I was trying to get to, and spend however long it took to get the horse to load calmly, w/o drama, drive the horse a few miles, and then come back home and give the horse dinner. She thought I was nuts - but I think hearing that I would actually change my plans in order to avoid creating a bad habit made her think outside her normal box, even for a few minutes.

    I'm not sure what I would do if I encountered severe abuse at a show or someplace we were riding.

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  25. billie - you're probably right. i think that's the best way to go - just do your own thing and give advice when asked. people are not going to be receptive to criticism and attacks, but a good example might make them think a bit critically about their own practices. i know for me, coming out of some scary barns, that was a big part of my education.

    there is a fine line between trying to help and imposing your own beliefs on others. i've been in the situation you describe with a trailering issue, and everyone genuinely wants to help, but often make the situation worse, or do things you just aren't comfortable with. i don't want to get into that, especially because there is nothing to say i'm right or i have all the answers (i certainly don't!) i also wouldn't be too happy if someone got in my face about using bits or horseshoes or whatever, so i can relate and i respect their right to practice their own methods, etc.. i just wish there was a way to confront the really blatant abuse without making it a referendum on all training... i guess at a horse show the best thing to do would just be to find a steward and let them be the official authority. that's what they are there for...

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  26. Great post and great discussion. I love that you talk about using the bitless bridle in situations where you think your horse might act up. Most people would go for a stronger bit. I'll admit to being guilty of that in the past, but my relationship with Jeeves is such that I trust him and I want him to trust me and trust that I won't hurt his mouth. I'm not sure I ever would have thought of going bitless, it is something to think about. It irks me so much when I hear people talk about "having" to use the double bridle to "control" their horse in excitable situations. It seems to me that if the horse's training is advanced enough that they are in the double, they should be safe and obedient in the snaffle. I view the double as a way to increase the subtlety of the communication, not to provide more "control".

    This post helped clear up for me the notion that I was "stuck" on. I couldn't understand how a horse could "go on the bit" without a bit. I kept thinking it must just be going in a "frame", not really on the aids. So many people only look at the nose (is it vertical?), and don't notice whether the back is round/hollow or if the hind end is underneath the horse or out in the next county. Here I was guilty of the same mis-conception in regards to riding without a bit. What matters is ALL the aids and the horse's response to them.

    Now, can I be brave enough to try riding in a halter?

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  27. AnnL - thanks for stopping by :-) this was a great comment!

    "I view the double as a way to increase the subtlety of the communication, not to provide more 'control'."

    exactly! i haven't posted much on double bridles or bitting in general, but i couldn't agree more. and i think it speaks to the larger point that it's not the equipment that's inherently bad (or good,) but what you use it for... forcing the horse through the mouth is counterproductive and i find produces more resistance. 'control' is in the horse's mind, not his mouth!

    and i'm glad if something here helped 'on the bit' make more sense to you. i know for many years my trainers would say things like 'put the horse on the bit by sliding the bit back and forth in his mouth until his head comes down.' so that's all i thought it was - getting the head down and the nose in by working the bit. it wasn't until later that i realized the whole horse has to be engaged and responsive to the aids, not just from the neck up, and you can't get that from the bit...

    if you want to try riding in a halter, you could try putting it on over your bridle with 2 sets of reins in case things don't go as planned... with horses i always hope for the best and plan for the worst ;-) good luck!

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  28. I started riding as an adult and I've been very, very fortunate to have always had good instructors, been able to read good books, attend clinics and watch lots and lots of lessons and shows. I've always been the one to tell people NOT to look at the nose, but look at the back and the hind end. But, when it came to riding without a bit, I seemed to get stuck in thinking of just the nose. I figured the horse must just be going in a "frame" and not really engaged, but, if you've got the whole horse engaged, without the bit, why is it any different? I'm still mulling this over. It makes sense in that we want the horse to be light in the bridle, light contact, so it's not really the "bit", it's the whole horse and the signals.

    Thanks for the tip of trying a ride with the halter over the bridle. If we ever get rid of the icey footing, I think I will give it a try.

    And, thanks for stopping by my blog. :-)

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  29. AnnL - you're lucky to have had such a good start. i started in the H/J world as an equitation rider where it's all about how everything LOOKS, which is not to say i didn't learn how to ride correctly from some great trainers, but i also learned how to hide what was wrong and fool the judges. i think maybe that's why i've got an eye now for those false collections and forced frames... and an aversion to them! it's not only bad for the horse, but it's dishonest in a way. but i see even dressage judges at the highest levels being fooled by a head position designed to mask the fact that the rest of the horse is not properly connected!

    to everyone who has commented (or will): thanks for stopping by! i'm adding your blogs to my bookmark list - i'm terrible about reading and responding daily, but i'm so glad i've been introduced to so many great blogs in these last few days :-) looking forward to reading more!

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  30. Thinking more about rein aids and the bit, and aids in general. And faking it.

    The most hilarious thing about the Big Bay - he will sometimes "pretend" to bend when I ask him with the aids - he is the master of what I call "torquing" his neck so it looks like he's bending, but he's not, really, at all.

    The funny thing is when I say it verbally, as in "will you just do a proper bend and stop that mess?" - he does it. I forget that about him sometimes - and keep re-discovering it. Last ride I was asking him to do a free walk across the diagonal and he wasn't doing it. I got frustrated and said "would you just stretch down and walk?" Ding! He went into a perfect free walk.

    I wish I could talk to the people who trained him. I suspect they had a sense of humor and also were very verbal with him. It's uncanny sometimes how he responds to simply being asked to do something - not like walk/trot/canter, but something more complex, like "would you please get on the bit?"

    It doesn't help me develop my silent invisible aids, but it sure is nice to get the "result" so I can feel it in motion. :)

    Salina is the utter opposite. You can ride her through third level (and probably higher) with nothing but your seat. Unfortunately, I am not so advanced to know what the heck I'm asking for, so riding her was quite the exciting experience. If she didn't have arthritic knees she would be my schoolmaster for sure.

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  31. ha ha! what a clever boy! it's amazing how much riders can fake, but when horses try to fake stuff to fool us - that's a whole different story... we had a horse who was spooky and i swear sometimes he would pretend or exaggerate being spooked to get out of work, and i'd do the same thing - i'd say to him: 'would you knock it off? i know you've seen that a hundred times and you're not afraid of it!' and, sure enough, he'd stop 'spooking' and just get on with his work... i wonder if they understand more of what we say than they let on ;-)

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  32. That is what I call "selective spooking." Keil Bay will sometimes do that and if I get off and walk him up to the monster, he's totally fine. I have no idea what is truly behind it - his previous owner called it resistance. I suspect it is his warped sense of humor!

    The fascinating thing about it is that for me, his selective spooks have come at exactly the perfect moments to teach me that I can ride them. His spooks are like high level dressage movements, albeit w/o my cueing them - but easy to sit and in the end, confidence builders for me.

    But back to the original point of the post - tomorrow he gets to try out his new bit, and if he doesn't take it, I'll put the halter and clip-on reins on and notch our work up to see how we do. :)

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  33. billie - "selective spooking." that's it exactly! now i have a name for it ;-)

    good luck with your bit/halter tomorrow!

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  34. jme, I wanted to update you on my anti-snaffle mare. I put a second set of reins on her familiar pelham and tried her out yesterday.

    Two sets of reins was incredibly hard to handle. I spent some time over the holiday reading up on different methods of holding all that leather, and I settled on running the snaffle rein between ring and little finger and bringing the curb rein up from below the little finger. That seemed to work well, once I got everything situated right. I could ask her to bend, etc, normally, and a few times when she got confused at the strange signals I could just rotate my thumbs forward toward her head to pick up some curb action.

    I think I'll give her a little time with four reins, then switch to a converter for trail riding or just snaffle reins for schooling.

    Thank you again!

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  35. hi funder - thanks for the update. i'm glad things are going well. getting used to 2 sets of reins can take a while and you might have to experiment with a few different ways of holding them before you find the one you're most comfortable with. my trainers all wanted me to hold them with the snaffle rein outside the hand under the little finger and i could never do it - it just never felt right to me. i hold mine in a sort of unorthodox way, but hey, whatever works, right? it sounds like you've found a way to keep the snaffle and curb effects separate, which should help - i think helps keep the horse from getting confused. good luck :-)

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  36. Thanks for the interesting post. I switched my mare to a Dr. Cooks when it became apparent that she could not cope with fear and a bit at the same time. Removing the bit has helped me to communicate more effectively with her when she's afraid, and I have been very impressed with the bridle. I am going to start working with her with a bit again in the spring just so that it remains familiar to her, but I find Dr. Cooks to be the best thing for her.

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  37. dp- thanks for stopping by and for the comment. that's a great point - sometimes both fear and signal (or, let's face it, pain) coming from the bit in a tense or explosive situation can be more than a horse can cope with all at the same time. i love mine for those situations for the same reasons. it's also comforting to know that there is something to go to when the bit isn't helping, or else i think, without an alternative, a lot of people would just feel helpless and give up on trying to ride through some of those rough spots to overcome the fear (or end up making it worse with the bit!) i wish more people would give bitless a try when confronting riding challenges, but then it does seem they are catching on - i'm amazed at how many people are using them at least some of the time!

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  38. Really interesting post :) I'm not sure what I think of the cook's bridle design, only because I think some might use it thinking it's "kinder" than a bit when it's just different, and there's a lot of potential there to still be severe with it (leverage and pulley design, basically).

    That said, I'm always impressed by how little the bit actually makes a difference for a lot of horses. I've ridden my own horse lots of times in a halter and he rides exactly the same as he does with a bit. I've also ridden several off-track training projects that way and also found they went the same way.

    I've also been riding bareback a lot lately, and am getting quite impressed by how much easier things are the less equipment you use.

    -Kelly

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  39. This post was a wonderful read on a snowy New Year's Eve day as I fend off my kids and try to catch up on my favorite blogs after the holiday bustle. Your last paragraph sums up my thoughts on bits and bitless as well.

    I have often wondered how these Dr. Cook's or the Miklem bridles work. I never found anyone who had one that I could borrow to try on Monty. What I have used is a Sprenger jumping hackamore which is the kind with leverage arms and the traditional english jumping hackamore that attaches to the english headstall and holds the reins on either side like clipping a leadshank to either side of a halter's nose.

    Monty is fun to play with or trail ride using either of these but I'm a traditionalist and truthfully, I find he's happier with the bit. We seem to understand each other and communicate better through the bit.

    I am glad to finally read from someone who had used the Miklem bridle. I saw the ad in Dover's catalog and aside from the odd look of it was intrigued by the mechanics. I'd love to see some pictures of you using it. It's always much more informative to see it used in a setting not specifically for the purpose of selling one to you!

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  40. kelly - thanks for reading! i agree that sometimes people take the lack of a bit as license to be more severe with their hands, but there is just as much potential for abuse, especially with the dr. cooks.

    i've been riding bareback a lot too, and i have noticed a huge improvement in my balance and the overall coordination of my seat, legs, position... there is something about going back to basics. without a platform to brace against or perch on, there is nothing to 'fake' when you're bareback. it shows up all of your bad habits and forces you to find a better, softer way of doing things...

    thanks for your comment!

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  41. hi solitaire mare - glad you stopped by! i'm a bit of a traditionalist too, and i go a step further and think even high level trained hunters should go in a full bridle as they did years ago... but that's a subject for another post!

    i see no reason to abandon bits, and agree that the bit is probably the best tool of two-way communication between horse and rider when used properly, but i do see the benefit of going bitless at times too...

    i have to admit i haven't used the micklem in crossunder mode, as i bought mine from tack store in scotland many years ago and it didn't come with the extra attachments (i suspect they are a new addition since the popularity of the dr. cooks)

    i use it mostly as a light longe cavesson/bridle for schooling. for that purpose it's worth it's weight in gold! i do a lot of ground work, but have always hated working a soft horse in one of those big, clunky cavessons with the metal plates across the nose or attaching the longe to the bit in any way... and it easily converts to a bridle or fits under one for training (though i don't like using the noseband in front of the bit like a drop.) before it became available here in the US, i had people actually offer me tons of $ to buy mine!

    but when the horses go back into training after the winter (or when our indoor is finished - whichever comes first!) then i will try to take some pics/videos of them in use (i have a request to do a video of a chambon in use too, so i'll be busy!) i agree, sometimes it's too abstract just to hear these things described - you need the visual!

    thanks for reading and for you comment!

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  42. Wow! So cool that you mentioned it about the high level hunters showing in the full bridles. I remember reading something somewhere that this is the way a higher level hunter should be presented. It may have been a top hunter judge saying her preference is a hunter in at least a pelham bridle and that it completes the look of the horse.

    I would love this! It seems so many horses are penalized in hunters for wearing a pelham. The perception that a pelham means the horse is difficult to control is so wrong. In some cases it's true but I like the pelham for the ability to get results with minimal effort. I'd rather see a horse in a pelham than in a twisted wire snaffle!

    I'm looking forward to that post when you get to it!

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  43. SolitaireMare - isn't it odd how much prejudice there is against full bridles/pelhams in the h/j world? it used to be a way of showing a well trained horse to his best advantage, and now it's considered a sign that the horse is not properly trained! from what i understand (though i have never shown hunters there) high level hunters in the UK are still required to show in a full bridle (on the flat, at least) and the judges ride the horses as well, so there is no faking it. imagine if they did that here!

    i couldn't agree more that sometimes a judicious use of the curb is kinder and more refined than a double twisted wire, or even someone yanking and sawing on a plain snaffle. i will plan on doing a post on the subject in the near future, thanks!

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