Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bridleless riding

Here, Cathy's post: Broke horses

I hate the word 'broke'. Your job shouldn't be to 'break' a horse or even to 'train' a horse. This isn't a dog or a monkey that you 'train' to do tricks - if you are riding a horse, your goal should be to develop said horse into a balanced individual (who is calmer/braver/smarter) and to establish a working partnership with them. One in which they have a say as well*, not where they are simply trained to execute certain maneuvers or respond to specific cues 'because you said so'. No one should ever be 'breaking' a horse - the horse should do what you ask of them because they want to, not because you 'broke' them down into doing so.

So when someone says that the roping horse in question, featured on Cathy's blog, is 'broke', I squirm a little. I hope not! I hope the horse is simply so in tune with the rider and that they have such a solid partnership, that they can work bridleless, but not because the horse is trained to robotically do as its rider asks. It is the difference between seeing a 'push-button' horse being piloted around a course by its rider who is simply 'pushing buttons', and a horse who is responding as it should - according to its rider.

I will start off by saying that I am neither a 'snaffle only' person. However I do not believe in using bits for control. Let me extend upon what Cathy said in her blog and ask you if you can take everything off your horse. OTTB or not (btw, they are not as 'psychotic' as people portray them!). If you took everything off your horse's face, what would he or she do?

I am even going to be as bold as to say that if you can't ride your horse bridleless, that you can strive for better - good, better, best, never let it rest. The rider should be continuously striving for better.

Bridleless riding is not some sort of trick, nor is it the result of 'breaking' a horse. It is the result of a strong partnership and intimate communication between horse and rider. Horse and rider are in tune with one another. Or rather, this is what it should be! When it is just a 'trick', the result of a push-button horse, it can easily fall apart, yet when it is the result of a partnership, you can take and apply that partnership to all aspects of your riding, of your work with that horse! Your trail horse is not spooky and your show jumper is not refusing jumps. Your horse is following your leadership. Your dressage horse is relaxed and has that swinging all falls together as a result of that partnership. There is a balance of trust and respect, and both horse and rider move together as one. How many upper level show jumpers do you see struggling to get their horses under control before the next jump or combination? How many times do you see these horses take down a rail as a result of this tumultuous relationship between horse and rider? Would it not be so much better if the rider developed the horse in such a way where their partnership were harmonious? Where horse and rider worked together with the horse respecting and trusting the rider's leadership in full?

So don't just downgrade bits, get down to the simplest bit or hackamore (ie, a flexible rope hackamore or bitless bridle, not a mechanical hackamore or a bosal) you possibly can control your horse in. Rather than focusing on specialization - jumping, dressage, reining, cutting... focus on the foundation. Foundation before specialization. Get control without having to use a bit (use the bit or hackamore as a safety net only), then work your way up through the bits for refinement!** You should be able to halt or slow your horse, or move it up into a higher gait, using only your seat. You should be able to have your horse change direction simply by using your legs and seat and torso. You should have full control without relying on your equipment. Only then should you be using a snaffle for bending and lateral work, and a curb/leverage bit for subtler communication and straightness. The result will be a more relaxed horse you are not fighting for control over, with whom your work is harmonious and enjoyable. The ultimate test will be when you can ride your horse at complete liberty. The ultimate result will be greater success in your discipline because your horse is fully working WITH you.

*You'd be amazed at what can happen when you actually allow a horse a say in what you do, rather than fighting them to do what you want them to do. When you allow them a say, they start to want to do what you ask, what you want, and they start offering up suggestions and questions. Horses can certainly enjoy being ridden - using themselves athletically, partaking in particular activities (jumping, dressage, cutting, reining), and working in partnership with their rider. The proof? Well, if you take everything off that horse's head and he still sticks with you and does what you ask, willingly and happily no matter what you ask, isn't that proof right there?

**By refinement, I mean subtler aids and more intimate communication between you and your horse. That means that while perhaps in a snaffle you had to open or close your hand, in a curb you might only have to wiggle a finger. Or that in a spade bit, you only have to 'breathe' over the rein. If you use your bits in such a way, you understand what I mean. You put that curb bit in for the first time and wow, you can communicate so much, detail-wise, to your horse! It's so subtle and so refined. So much potential accompanies this subtle communication.