...The argument from people about going bit less is that they feel that a well trained horse would respond to a halter/sidepull/rope halter ect as well as a bit ,and if they don't respond it is because they don't have adequate training.For me who is learning as I go,something tells me that this should be the case....They feel that a good horseperson will have a responsive horse without the bit and wouldn't need a bit to even get the "finesse" that people talk about on this thread...
1 - But some horses, and Mia is a good example, are far more emotional and intense. Mia bring more energy and intensity to a walk in the arena than Trooper brings to a gallop in the open. She is hyper-alert and her mind is constantly involved. That can make her fun to ride. If we go out in the desert solo, I'm NOT alone! There is a constant, stirring, restless, inquisitive 900 lbs of muscle underneath me.
But it can be exhausting as well, because she IS always present. We don't normally go 50 feet without some interaction. She wants a constant give & take from her rider. And it pays to keep her engaged, because the alternative is for her mind to wander. And when her mind wanders, I need to get it back to me before she finds SOMETHING to distract her and stir up her inner fears.
After 14 months of training and very regular work, we're getting past most of her valid fears. But during all that time, I needed a bit to keep her engaged. I think I always will. It is, as I said, about COMMUNICATION, not PAIN. If I want Mia obedient, then I need to keep her mind occupied with ME. Not the wind. Not a bush. Not a piece of paper. Not a pink rhinoceros, or whatever else her mind can conjure up. Me. And the bit and reins are an easy way of keeping that constant feedback going between us. A rope halter just doesn't allow the communication she craves.
2 - Also, she canters fine in an arena, with or without another horse. She seems pretty good about cantering by herself in the desert. But put another horse in the picture, with a trail going out in front of her, and she gets competitive. She starts to focus on beating the other horse, preferably by a big margin. And if I tell her to stay behind the other horse, she gets pissed!
There may be some safe training technique that I don't know about to train that away from her. But she doesn't show it in the arena, because the arena confines her and she knows it. And she doesn't do it alone, so the only time to see it is on a desert trail - with rocks, gullies, bends, etc - and with another horse. She needs to yield to my mind, not her desires, to stay safe. If I owned a racetrack, I'd love to take her out and let her run against other horses. I'd bet she'd be a blast! But it isn't safe where I live.
When you are fighting an excited, competitive horse, you need leverage. I have to yank hard with my hands down past my knees, and even then it is a struggle. I can stop her dead with a pulley stop in that situation, but that is a rough solution too!
But bitless? Forget it! And if that is a training issue, well, where am I going to safely train it out of her? And can I? I suspect there is a reason why some sport horses are used with harsher bits. When their competitive spirit kicks in, they will run harder and faster than they ever would from a whip - but that means they are also more likely to ignore any signal you send thru a bit, let alone a mere halter.
There are some other solutions I'm trying. We've started back doing arena work, and stopping from a canter while using a simple snaffle. Full stops, to a back up. I'm working on her jigging along the trail too. Yes, she is a work in progress, and I'll use any reasonable suggestion or tool I've got.
But here is what will never change: she is a lot of horse, and I'm not a lot of rider. But I'm all she has. No one with a lot of experience wants a hot-headed mare who wants to race other horses in the desert. They know better than to buy her! And she wouldn't be safe with anyone less experienced, nor could I count on them to care for her. The trainer who worked with Mia said Mia was lucky to meet me, because she had known a lot of folks who would have dumped her at an auction by now.
I'm lucky too, because Mia has taught me an incredible amount about horses. She fascinates me. She got me hooked on riding, because she is such an overwhelming presence to ride. She doesn't have a mean bone in her, but she doesn't have any "ATV bones" in her either! But no, she is not safe to ride in a halter, although I've done so many times. I just got tired of trusting to luck to keep me alive...
I'm sure there are folks on HF who could do wonders with Mia. But I'm all that Mia has. I use an Aussie-style saddle because it improves my odds of survival. I use a bit with Mia for the same reason. And I ride because I just darn well enjoy her company!