Going Bitless - Page 3 - The Horse Forum
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post #21 of 40 Old 02-07-2015, 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by ecasey View Post
I think a lot of people who've never actually ridden a horse bitless for any length of time and who haven't trained a horse to ride bitless, have some very strong opinions about how bitless riding is never as good as riding with a bit...
From a mechanical viewpoint, a piece of metal in the mouth, resting on the tongue and surrounded by the lips, WILL provide more precise sensory inputs than something around the face. If the horse is an essentially calm horse doing a relaxed trail ride, that detail of communication is not needed.

Some horses need reassurance and take it via the bit. Some - like Mia - need to learn Whoa means WHOOAAA - and a good bit can be an excellent training device. I switched my Appy gelding to a bit because he tended to be unbalanced in turns, and a bit was far more effective at teaching him how to carry himself than some rope around his face.

Mia is mostly using a snaffle right now because she has become good at stopping, but needs to fine tune her turns - a similar problem to what Trooper had.

BTW - I had 3 years riding my horses bitless. Trooper would have no problem trail riding bitless. Mia? Not yet, certainly...but she could handle it in an arena and I think I can get her to accept it for trail riding. I'm not anti-bitless. But I also am completely certain that bits can be an excellent training tool. Used with understanding and tact, I think horses come to like them. Used by a hamfist, a bitless bridle can suck too.

This is the one I'm thinking of getting Mia:



The maker says, "We know horses are PREY animals and their "flight" response is natural and the Bitless Bridle does NOT offer the same control as a full Bitted bridle."

This is the bit Mia used today:



There are bits she doesn't like, but she seems fine with this and a Waterford and a Billy Allen curb. I think she can learn to be confident in the sidepull above...but I'm not certain. When she gets nervous, she wants to know I'm there. Scratching her withers with one hand helps, but she seems to seek contact with the bit when nervous as well.

Horses for courses, and bits likewise.
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post #22 of 40 Old 02-07-2015, 11:38 PM
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bsms, a good majority of your posts that I see mention Mia and the stopping problems that you have had, so why would you think of getting a side pull that she could easily brace against if anything did go wrong?



This is the side pull that I use to start and restart horses under saddle when I get them. IMO it is the perfect balance, the rolled leather isn't as rough on a horses nose as a rope nose band and won't leave any scuff marks, but has a little more to it than a flat leather side pull that a horse can lean against.
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post #23 of 40 Old 02-07-2015, 11:44 PM
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"We know horses are PREY animals and their "flight" response is natural and the Bitless Bridle does NOT offer the same control as a full Bitted bridle."

I dislike this statement.

Lots of bitted horses will happily give you a demo of their "flight response". Please.

And it's just not true. A bit has no bearing on my heel lateral slides, or one rein stopping, in flight situations (as a minor example).
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post #24 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 12:20 AM
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Originally Posted by BreakableRider View Post
bsms, a good majority of your posts that I see mention Mia and the stopping problems that you have had, so why would you think of getting a side pull that she could easily brace against if anything did go wrong?...
Her bolting was based on fear - diarrhea squirting fear. With a snaffle, she would fight to try to run, but that 'fight' reinforced the fear. With a snaffle, a horse can also stretch its head out and evade the pressure.

A horse cannot do that with a curb. She learned to hold her ground when scared and then learned that life was not as scary as she thought. She has SLOWLY begun to learn that listening to her rider works.

I also have found that once she learned to stop and hold her ground when afraid, she then began to improve if I gave her her head and let her have some freedom - but stop first, THEN get choices. This is slowly building her confidence.

I don't think she is ready to try it on a trail, but I think she could learn to handle life in an arena with it. If I could teach her to use it and stay calm on a trail, I would have finally turned a very spooky, frightened horse into a competent trail horse. She's my first horse and maybe my last...we'll both grow old together, I suspect. She'll be 28 when I hit 70 (14 & 56 now), and I don't know if either of us will need to ride after that.

But it would be nice if I could say I taught a horse who would have eye-rolling, diarrhea squirting fear to be comfortable with riding in the desert. I just would have done it backwards from how many do it - from curb to snaffle to bitless in that order. But if bitless remains a step too far, that is OK. Mia does seem to find reassurance from my pinkie on the reins & contact with the bit when nervous. A bit can be used for added control, but it should train the horse until it is all about communication.

"A bit has no bearing on my heel lateral slides, or one rein stopping, in flight situations (as a minor example)."

It sure did with Mia! A curb bit is an excellent design for stopping a horse. If the rider never gives a release, the horse will eventually learn to push thru the pain. But if the rider DOES give a timely release, the mechanics of a curb bit can be very helpful, both in stopping a horse and teaching it to stop. Curb means "restrain", and there is a reason they came to be called "curb bits".

Your heels wouldn't have meant the square root of squat to Mia when she was afraid. Nor would a 'one rein stop', which is a learned response. If your horse stops from a learned response, it isn't bolting. If it will stop from a 1 rein stop, it will stop from a 2 rein stop, with the right training. But if you have a spooky horse who is genuinely scared, then the first battle is to get it to stop and hold its ground. A curb bit is a darn good tool for that. No training can happen until you have done that first step.

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post #25 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 01:05 AM
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I think we'll have to agree to disagree, here.
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post #26 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 03:31 PM
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I think this is something we will always disagree on which is fine.

I have dealt with too many horses that would explode if they had to stand still when afraid. I've also retrained too many horses that instead of learning to relax, shut down and 'out of nowhere' break in two because they are too afraid.

If a horse is inclined to, they can avoid just about whatever contraption that is put on them if you use two reins. That's where bending to a stop comes in, which, yes, is a learned response.

My own arabian mare had a long list of problems when I purchased her and had a long history of flipping over backwards. She didn't flip because she really wanted to, she wanted to bolt and if she couldn't she had no other option if she was forced to stand still when she spooked. If she was terrified enough, she stayed down, whites of her eyes showing and shaking like a leaf. when she got into this frame of mind, she was out of it, it didn't matter what you did, she did not realize anything was happening. Obviously this was incredibly dangerous for me, who was 13 at the time. I even got stuck under her a couple of times when I couldn't jump out of the way. I learned through trial and error that there was no hanging onto her and trying to make her stand still. I started using one rein at a time in the curb I rode in but I still didn't have much success as it wasn't made to direct rein in. So I bought a single jointed D ring, which she ran through because I didn't know how to teach her. So I bought a thick twisted wire double jointed loose ring with a dogbone center. I could finally pull her around in a circle and just hold on until she was relaxed enough to stop. At the time I had no idea I was doing a poor imitation of a one rein stop, I was just surviving. Eventually I discovered a better way and went to riding in a rope halter ( something she had never learned how to brace against) and actually taught her to disengage her hindquarters and bend to a stop. The first day we did controlled BTS, I threw up a few times because of how dizzy I got. Eventually she got it and I could move on. I intentionally began to spook her so I could practice them when she was scared. When she could control herself in a rope halter, I repeated things in a snaffle.

It's been many years since our journey began and she's around 22 now. Her reaction is still to bolt and let me tell you, it's painful. I've ridden OTTBs that didn't accelerate like she does. There have been times that i've been laid up for a couple days after one of her spooks, and if it isn't a forward spook, it's sideways. However, as soon as I go to slide my hand down one rein, she starts feeling relaxed and quickly stops. Despite it being years later, I still don't get that response with two reins. There were too many years of her learning how to push through anything. When I bought her she was ridden in a cathedral port and a tie down. It was a hit or miss if she would stop and flip or still bolt through it. She stops wonderfully when she is calm, but if she spooks, I need to bend her to a stop. At this point, I am fine with that quirk. I can bend to a stop anywhere as she doesn't even feel the need to circle anymore. Just feeling one rein put a soft feel on her relaxes her and she'll stop in a straight line.

For her, there was no bitting up, there was nowhere for that to go really combined with how dangerous it was with her. It was all about going down and way back to basics. My mare is most comfortable on a loose rein, being left completely alone unless I need to make a correction. This means anything I do still has a lot of meaning. Mia is the opposite, if you need a little contact in a sidepull she'll gradually get used to it and learn to ignore that, so when you do need to stop, you will have to rely much more on your seat as a sidepull does not have much whoa to it. A side pull really forces people to ride off their seat and legs and not rely on it.
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post #27 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 05:27 PM
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I think until you've ridden a well-trained bitless horse, you will always insist a bit is better. It goes against common sense to think that less is more, but when you have less, you have to train more and then there is more. If that makes any sense. :)
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post #28 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 05:43 PM
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Originally Posted by BreakableRider View Post
I think this is something we will always disagree on which is fine.

I have dealt with too many horses that would explode if they had to stand still when afraid....If a horse is inclined to, they can avoid just about whatever contraption that is put on them if you use two reins. That's where bending to a stop comes in, which, yes, is a learned response.
It may have to do with differing environments. I live where trails are narrow things that pass thru cactus. There really isn't any going off the trail, at least without a high risk of serious injury. You either stop in a straight line, bolt forward, or do a hard 180 and bolt in the reverse direction. No one bends to a stop here. There is no circling.



A fairly sharp fellow once noted that you never stop a bolting horse, you only stop a horse who has stopped bolting. A horse who is genuinely bolting doesn't respond to training, UNLESS the training has reached such a strong habit pattern that no real thought by the horse is required. Unless the horse has a few thousand good stops done consistently in non-bolt situations, you do not stop a bolting horse...only stop a horse who has stopped bolting.

As a response to terror, it is a difficult training challenge. Mia would stop fine in a rope halter unless scared...but she scared at a lot of things on a trail. She needed something that clicked in her mind as "You will stop and will stop in a straight line". A curb bit provided that. It only took about 3 rides of around 45 minutes each for her to understand the message. When she then became scared and tempted to bolt in the desert, she could be stopped with a single warning tug on the reins (both of them).

That doesn't mean everyone should buy a curb bit - or a snaffle, or a bitless bridle. James Fillis argued that one of the most valuable things a horseman could have was 'equine tact'. He meant an understanding of the individual horse and situation, so that a person could respond in a way that made the horse a better horse. What works for a nervous horse might not work for a rebellious horse, and neither might work in a different environment or in training to a different goal.

That is why I think the choice of what bit (or what bitless) cannot be done categorically. I've seen horses ruined by curb bits, while Mia's experience with one transformed her for the better. Some will do great bitless, and others do best with a snaffle. Ideally, a good horse would be trained to respond well to any rider in any combination - but we all need to start somewhere.

I have no objections to folks choosing to go bitless, provided they don't preach that everyone should do so. I also dislike the 'curb bits are cruel' theme one finds so often on the Internet (along with the 'ANY bit is cruel' theme). I've got 4 bridles hanging on my door - 3 snaffles and one curb. They may soon be joined by a sidepull. Which I choose varies with my goals for that day & how I think Mia is feeling. About the only 'wrong' answer is to categorically rule out any of them. I've been known to take a couple out, and make my choice after grooming and saddling Mia (and thus assessing her behavior on that day).

Part of going from 'sitting on a horse' to being a horseman (or horsewoman) is to learn how the various tools affect the horse, and to choose the right one for that horse on that ride.

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post #29 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 06:00 PM
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I think until you've ridden a well-trained bitless horse, you will always insist a bit is better. It goes against common sense to think that less is more, but when you have less, you have to train more and then there is more. If that makes any sense. :)
It is the TRAINING, not the bit or bitless. A well trained horse in a bit will do great. A well trained horse will go great bitless.

The question is what happens when the horse is not well trained. Bits haven't been used for 4,000+ years because no one ever thought to ride them bitless. In fact, there is evidence bitless has been done just as long - but that the large majority found bits useful. Given the expense of a metal bit in 1000 BC, folks didn't use them just because. They have been used because folks found they worked well - better than bitless with a 'not well trained horse'.

As a means of communication, they are inherently superior. Why? Because there is far greater subtlety possible when sending signals to the lips and tongue than the face. A bit is both harsher and gentler at the same time. It is easier to abuse, but also has more potential when used correctly.

I found a curb bit extremely helpful in training Mia to listen to me instead of her fears. I find a snaffle superior for working on her turns and body carriage. I honestly see no advantage to a bitless bridle as a training tool unless the horse was abused in a bit.

When I trail ride with Mia, my goal each ride is to use the curb bit as a place to hang the other end of the reins. If we can go the ride without ever using the reins at all, great! But if the horse hits the fan, a curb will give me more options for keeping her under control and listening to me. I say that having spent a lot of time bitless & using a snaffle with her. Your horse may vary.



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post #30 of 40 Old 02-08-2015, 09:38 PM Thread Starter
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Jimmyp ~ The reason I switched to bitless was because after having the dentist come out and check his mouth to make sure nothing was wrong with his mouth and trying bit after bit with my horse still chomping constantly. I don't mean a little bit of chomping and after I had a trainer come out he said, "He really is having trouble with the bit isn't he?" The trainer said to give him a try without it. I was extremely hesitant to go without it. (The reason I had the trainer come out was that Scooter had taken off with me on him (he had a bit in) and I couldn't get him stopped. I had him act the same way (dancing and act like he was he was going to take off again (with no bit in) and I was able to get him stopped. If I thought it didn't matter to my horse he would definitely wear a bit but since it does bother him and he acts better without it is the reason I have chosen to go without one.
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