Halter & Clip-on reins vs. Bit & Bridle
WANTED: opinions! :wink:
My horse is a 17 yr. old rescue, and she is the most willing and obedient horse I could ask for. I am beginning to train her under saddle this summer. The organization that I adopted her from told me that she was green-broke at one time, but they didn't know the details. That said, I believe it is best to play it safe and work from the ground up. Thus far, she is making my life easy...on the ground, at least.
A very good friend of mine (who also happens to be an experienced trainer) told me that she starts riding all of her horses with a halter & clip-on reins. Since the bit is a foreign object that takes a lot of getting used to, she thinks it is better to introduce that later. Her word is like gold to me, but I also would love to hear what you all have to say... So, Halter & Clip-on reins OR Bit & Bridle for a newbie horse?
I've always started all of mine in a simple snaffle bit. They are going to be expected to be ridden in a bit so, the way I see it, why not get all the "new" over with and out of the way. However, I am not against others starting their horses in halters if that's what they want to do.
Part of the main reason why I choose a bit over a halter is because horses, especially green horses, are inherently unpredictable. Since she is a rescue, you don't know her history; you don't know if she had a tendency to buck or bolt. Of course, proper ground work can go a long way toward minimizing the chances of something like that, but can never truly "prevent" it.
There are probably a lot of folks that don't agree with me, but I'm of the mind that if something happens and the horse decides to ignore the training that is already in place (which can happen in green horses if they get slightly panicked), then a little bit of a sting can often bring them back and remind them that they are supposed to listen to the cues from that thing that just stung them.
For example, if I'm on a green horse that starts to bow up like they are about to buck, I'll take one rein smoothly and ask them to bend their neck and get their hindquarters moving. If they resist or go to take their head down between their knees, I'll "ask" a little more forcefully and a lot of times, that little tiny bit of stinging in their mouth will encourage them to comply instead of resist more and I can stop the buck before it ever really gets started.
Halters, especially nylon or leather halters, don't have that option at all. Rope halters have the sting but, since both reins are attached under the jaw, they don't have the clarity of cues.
But, of course, that's just my feelings on the matter.
Thinking about the same with my filly
I start all my horses, young once and older once from the ground as you did or as you are doing. I prefer riding them with rope halter and clip on reins. However, after the basics are done and saved for the horse and for you I switch to Bridle and bit to get them used to it.... especially in the ring. But on trail rides I always use a rope halter and my horses sure appreciate it. Even though I also ride in bridle and bit - it all depends on what you want to do with your horse...
You're going to have to introduce the bit eventually so why not from the start? There's different pressure when you steer using a halter and when you use a bit. The halter promotes mainly counter pressure, which is I pull left and the pressure on the right side of the face makes the horse turn their head left, like neck reining, i push on the right side of the neck and the horse goes left. A halter will also not gove you the pressure on the poll or under the chin like a bridle would and rally only helps with steering the horse nor teaching it how to respond/bend/give to a bridle and bit. With a bit you pull left and, in a properly fitting bit and bridle, the head is pulled to the left there is counter pressure but only on the mouth and it's not nearly as prominent as it would be without a bit. The halter moves too freely and isn't fitted enough to be much like a bridle at all and therefor isn't as affective when used as such, unless you've got a halter bridle combination. Unless you're going to be riding predominantly in a halter or hackamore I don't see why you wouldn't use a bit unless the horse's mouth isn't fully developed and a bit could cause damage. I also have a rule of thumb to never trust anything that doesn't lock onto my horse's face. i.e. most clip on reins use a trigger or scissor clips which I've seen fail on many occasions at least where I am. I'm not trying to discourage you from trying it, I've just realized that this may sound derogatory, I'm just giving you another point of view.
We have always started our horses in bits. Riding in a halter well I just don't believe it provides with the power and control that a bit can give you. If a horse has never had a bit in it's mouth there are some easy ways to get them to accept it and to like it as well. We have always started our horses in a snaffle and rubbed some molasses on it. Now there is the thought that if you put something tasty like molasses on a bit it encourages the horses to chew it and play with it. We personally have never seen this and it has been a great tool to get our green ones to accept a bit willingly. In fact all of the horses we have trained are eager to take the bit even years later after their broke.
I broke Magic to ride at 5 and she will eagerly put her head down to the ground and open her mouth wide for a 4 year old to put a bridle on her. Now I will freely admit to not having any experience breaking older horses to ride, but I don't think it would be much different. I have never thought about breaking a horse to ride with a halter, riding in halters was something we did after we had a tons of miles and arena training in and we would only ride in halters with the mellower horses. I now ride Magic in a halter a lot during long trail rides when we stop to graze I just find it easier to deal with. (I won't ride with my halter on under my bridle) But I will tell you in all honesty you just don't have as much control over them when they decide they are going to act up about something and you never ever know what a green horse is going to do. I just prefer to have that emergency brake there if I need it when working with a green horse.
During the past year we have started an 11 year old unridden broodmare; we started an 8 year old gelding we raised, sold and he was a 'pasture pet' for the last 6 years, was never ridden and he broke out wonderfully; about 10 3,4,5, and 6 year olds that got left behind when I got too crippled to ride them; and one 2 year old.
They were ALL started in a snaffle bit. They all stood around every day for a week or more while carrying a saddle and a bridle with a snaffle in it. One was pretty 'fussy' with the bit so I put a 3-piece 'French Link on her and she was fine.
Unless a horse has a damaged or abnormal mouth (like the horse I bought that had had his tongue almost cut off and it was attached with less that a third of it left along one side) I have seen absolutely nothing that riding bitless brings to the party.
Training techniques should 'teach' a horse to comfortably carry a bit and training techniques should teach a horse the correct response to that bit. Plain snaffles or some variations of one will work on 'almost' all horses.
Personally I went with one of 2 routes depending on the horse. I either went with a plain snaffle or an actual side-pull. Even tough it's similiar, I'm not a big fan of using a halter with reins. The way a side pull is designed it's actually meant for riding.
We've always started our horses in simple snaffle bits. Like others have pointed out, they're probably going to be ridden in a bit, might as well establish that right off the bat. However, we also do a lot of ground driving while we're starting horses.. So they've had a bit in their mouths many times before you get on for the first time and the bit isn't really new at all.
I don't really think starting an older horse is truly different than starting a younger horse, other than possibly having a few issues to work though.
What bit should I use?
I am currently using a regular snaffle and don't seem to have any problems with it. My question I guess is more like "why are there so many different bits and how do you know what and when to use them?" I know this is a broad topic but I wonder if a different bit would help me get more out of my horse. He direct reins well and I am currently teaching him to neck rein which he is picking up quickly. Would a different bit help him learn both disciplines?
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