Years ago, when I was a kid at a horse show, I took a stand that was way before its time, and way ahead of anyone's comprehension of what I wanted to show the world. I was riding my Western Pleasure mare Rizeta, her nick name was Lover, and I had hung her bridle on the saddle and rode in the warm up without it. I put the bridle back on before the class and when I finished, I dismounted in the ring unbridling her, and told her to go back to the stall. She did and I followed her, along with a few people who were interested in what we were doing.
I was before my time then, but if more people did this today the tide would change and more people would be encouraged to join in. The point is that horses don’t need to be forced, they are capable of deeper bonds and abilities in partnering with us, and bits are not essential. Bits get a bad name because they are used improperly. I still use bits along with bridle-less riding and find them not at all abusive when one knows how to use them properly. First I school a horse to do all movements without a bit, then I can use a bit in the most appropriate way.
What I’m interested in is bringing to the world a better approach, that is evolutionary and kinder to horses. I understand that evolution is a slow growing condition and needs to be supported. These days my attention has been drawn by Mark to a controversial matter in regards to a method of training called Rollkur and a YouTube video titled “Blue tongue”, which is a clear visual of the abuse bits do when used aggressively on horses who are competing in Dressage. But, to make changes, this matter must be approached in stages.
There is no way you can ask a horse to take a giant leap into the dressage ring in self carriage, like rollkur is doing through the use of the bit. We cannot expect the equestrian world to ride bitless and bridle-less. But we can show them that abuse is not necessary by taking more time to train our horses in a more natural way. We must be careful, usually small progress in asking for change is more lasting than leap-froging attempts, especially when it comes from an “ ivory tower philosophy” based on nothing, and not offering the path to get there.
It is so nice to see the progress that is being made in the public awareness on how horses are being abused today, and the inroads that we are making by bringing awareness to the next generation of equestrians. Being kinder and more generous to horses is key. It is so simple that a lay person can easily see when good horsemanship and schooling is kinder and more enjoyable to the horse.
On the subject of the bit, my stand on using them is that one day it would be nice if tack is never used except for the well-being of the horse and safety. Being an expert in training with tack and without, I believe that when a bit is used properly it is not abusive. But properly is not going to happen in general, because people will not take the time and years it takes to become truly skilled enough to correctly use one.
If bits are used, and the majority of equestrians use them, the horse should like his bit. If he doesn’t this needs to be fixed. Some horses have mouths shaped in a manner that a bit just cannot be used without inflicting undue pain and abusing the horse. In this case, do not use one and find another approach like my method offers.
It is very important to improve your horsemanship skills, to learn how to ride and school without a bit. Until you can train a horse to respond to your aids under saddle without a bit, it would be hard to understand what support a bit would offer. The key is learning how to use it properly, without depending upon it too much and using it like a crutch. Even after learning how to train a horse without tack or without a bit, one still needs to be schooled in how to use a bit properly, in case you ever need to use one.
Bits are hurting horses because people do not know how to use them, and are pulling and jerking too hard on them. It is common for bits to be used to hold a horse to a frame by inflicting pain if they do not listen and respond to the rider’s wishes. Think of the bit like the headphones a pilot uses to communicate with the ground. In some instances, it is just easier to be understood by your horse if you use a one. A bit should be designed to be comfortable to the horse’s mouth only, instead of designed to inflict pain to make the horse listen. Being harsh and using chain chin straps or crank nose band should not be necessary in good horsemanship.
The reason why bits are so helpful and used today is that the request that comes to the horse is more timely and precise than if we do not use one. A halter, bridle or hackamore would shift around too much. Without something on the horse’s head it’s harder to keep the horse’s focus on us and on the turning aids for a continued length of time. Because of this reason we are not going to stop people from using bits but we can stop Rollkur.
Let's change the subject back to bitless riding. The good news is that in schooling a horse for bitless riding you will have a better trained horse, a better friend and more awareness of the value in respecting others. You will learn many new things and it will help you in “staying young” by being a professional student on the cutting edge of new ideas in schooling horses.
You do not need a bit, even though, with one, you can make it a lot easier in communicating with the horse. It just takes longer to develop your own skills to ride bitless on a horse, and to make him trustworthy. It is just time consuming. It is an exciting life to buckle down and take the long journey to the art of liberty training, and the uberstrichens are a wonderful training tool to get there.
It is my hope that more and more people will compete using my method as a foundation to show the world what light aids and loose contact in self-carriage can offer. These exercises will make it possible for you to ride without the need of a bit or noseband.
You get to choose how you wish to reach your own moral issues on this hot topic, whether you want to use one or not.