Advice regarding trying a bitless bridle needed please.
Should I try my mare in a bitless bridle?
At the moment, she's in a Frenchlink snaffle, which is fine. The issue is with removing her bridle, and to a lesser extent putting it on.
When bridling, she often attempts to avoid having the bit placed in her mouth at first. More worrying is the fact that she will throw her head up when being unbridled. She has caught her jaw on the bit once or twice now - very uncomfortable and scary for her, as you can imagine. I believe the problem started when she was taken out to the field in her bridle to be turned out, got excited and tried to pull away before the bit was clear of her mouth. She panicked and ended up rearing. I saw what had happened and stepped in before any injury was caused, but since then we have had this issue.
I am able to manage her, as is OH, but it is still a big concern, especially since she is being ridden and schooled over the summer by a competent teen (H). H is brilliant but I am worried that the mare will catch her off guard when unbridling and end up injured. We are working on resolving our mare's issue but H often rides when we are not there, due to our work schedules.
Mare can be sharp and strong, especially over cross country, but for the most has no serious issues. The only problems I have had have resulted from her spooking and then running from whatever scared her. Hence my nerves. Am I correct that bitless can still inform a horse that it is required to slow down or will she just cart me off?
Neither I nor H are heavy on the reins when riding: if anything we tend to ride with quite a soft contact.
I've no experience of bitless, so please enlighten me!
I had a similar experience with a horse who panicked when I was taking off the bridle, and reared, catching the bit firmly behind her front teeth. I had rest of the bridle still in my hand, so even though I let go, the whole thing was hanging from her lower jaw. I thought she was going to fall over on her back. This was really bad news, because unbeknownst to me, she was just getting over some kind of former issue with bridling. But, I bridled/unbridled her all week without incident
You could always have the bit attached to the headstall with clips, unclip the bit from the bridle and slip it out of her mouth first, before dropping the headstall off of her head.
Or, start doing some practice work just putting a bit in her mouth and out again, holding it on your hand without it being attached to anything.
Mia used to be very spooky. I also rode her bitless only because she was afraid of bits...took me three days of trying the first time I wanted to put a bit in her mouth! That should have been my first sign - or maybe my 4th or 5th - that the "perfect for a beginner rider" advertisement was, shall we say, optimistic?
When a horse bolts in fear, eye-rolling & diarrhea-squirting fear, no bit or bridle will, IMHO, make the horse stop. That first 50 feet to 50 yards, they have to go and pain in the mouth won't stop them.
After that initial bolt, however, I think a bit helps to calm the horse. You can turn a horse bitless. I used a rope sidepull halter, and I could always turn her head. However, that wouldn't calm her. What worked best for me was simply calling her name softly. My mare is a sweet girl, and that would cut thru her fear faster than anything else I tried while bitless.
I eventually admitted I was in over my head and hired a trainer, who concluded that Mia had never been broken to ride. During the 3 years (yes, 3 years!) I had ridden her, she had calmed enough to accept a bit, but she had NO IDEA what a bit meant. So she was started over as a never-broke horse, and part of her training, a big part, was teaching her bit cues. First from the ground, and then from her back.
Once she understood the cues, I found the bit allowed me more subtle cues that in turn helped her stay...well, if not calm, at least not spinning out of control. That was true of my ranch gelding as well. Both horses, when you trot fast or canter, get excited. The mare would excite herself out of control. The gelding would simply hollow his back, raise his head, and go fast with his neck perpendicular to his body.
With both of them, I found it very hard to calm them down bitless. I could turn them in circles and eventually FORCE them to a walk, but I couldn't get them to just ease off and accept a slightly slower and more controlled pace - not bitless.
With a bit, if they start getting excited (which means faster for both of them, until they are strung out), I can milk the reins slightly. Not tell them to slow, but milk each rein in time with the shoulder to tell them 'not so far' with each front leg. What I've found is that both of them, within 6-12 paces, will then slow a little and start to move in a more controlled fashion. Not 'collected', but a tiny bit in that direction.
So for me, with horses that tended to spin up out of control, I found that a bit helps me to calm the horse. Neither bit nor bitless would give me the power to MAKE them stop, but a bit made it easier to settle them down quickly. It also helps me prevent the bolt in the first place, since it allows me to tell my mare, "Trotting is OK, but we're not in a race". For her, that is important.
With a lot of work, both horses are now much calmer. The gelding has turned into an excellent little trail horse. My mare is starting to get the idea. She is by nature a very willing girl, and I may someday be able to return to bitless with her. OTOH, why change what isn't broken?
My recommendation would be to work to teach her the bit is harmless again. It is possible to get a horse to settle after a spook without a bit, but I found it easier to prevent the bolt/settle her after one with a bit.
Old fat guy on a not so spooky mare a few days ago:
I used clicker training to teach a resistant pony to accept the bit and to allow me to remove it slowly while he let go. Initially I used a curb bit, no headstall, as it remains firm in the hand. The horse will have been taught to touch a target during which time it gets a click followed by a treat. When it is adept at this I switch to the bit. It is now the target. Everytime he reaches to touch it I click as he touches it, then the treat. This is repeated many times. I will then hold it to his lips as as it's touching c/t. I will ask him with a finger to open his mouth and barely insert the bit and immediately remove it c/t. With repetitions he will fully accept the bit, c/t then allow him to let go c/t. Do this for a couple of days without attempting to bridle. You will notice that the resistance has gone because the food is a powerful motive. For a while, when you do bridle, be sure to c/t when the bit is in and c/t as you are removing it. His chewing the treat will get his mouth working and better enable you to remove the bit.