...Minimal contact is whisper soft speaking to each other regardless of what you think it looks like.
Just as in western riding, same is true in English...
We strive for not having loops nor vise-grip appearances but soft, gentle, whisper of communication be present...
I believe my statement is correct. "You train a horse, not to accept bit pressure more, but less...
" Notice I did NOT say, "You train a horse to accept MORE BIT PRESSURE
". My reference was not to how much
pressure is applied, but to how long and often
. It is indisputable that English riding values much greater durations of contact than Western.
That said...the science of rein pressure shows something different from your description. Hilary Clayton, after measuring rein pressures, concluded what Harry Chamberlin had without measurements decades before - that it isn't how much pressure one applies, but how consistent the pressure is that matters to the horse. "...It is difficult for a rider to correctly assess the amount of tension in the reins when the contact is dynamic and tension is constantly changing. Our goal as riders should be to offer our horses a consistent and predictable contact that allows them to seek the bit confidently and, in so doing, to use their entire bodies correctly...
" And yes, that "use their entire bodies correctly" upsets me. Oh well. Life goes on.
Most riders - including me - like to believe they apply light pressure. Ounces. One poster on HF had her instructor describe it in a way I am certain both instructor and student believe happens: "Take a feather / Add a feather". That is a wonderful description of what we BELIEVE we do.
The reality, when measured, is that the feathers weigh more than a bird. More than a grown chicken. In many cases, more like a small turkey! This is what Clayton measured when a skilled dressage rider was trotting a young horse - and thus admittedly not what a highly trained horse might be able to achieve under the same rider:
The release of reins runs around 1-1.5 lbs. That is consistent with a study done by an English bit maker (which unfortunately I can't find any more). They concluded bit pressures below 2.5 lbs were so rarely seen as to be irrelevant, since one gets to 2.5-3 lbs of rein pressure just by taking the slack out of the reins!
While the pressure is kept wonderfully consistent between left & right hand, the pressure in the horse's mouth is not. It varies constantly between 3-6 lbs. With 3-6 lbs of pressure creating the background noise, like the buzzing of conversation in a bar, actual communication with the horse - actually asking for a half-halt - hits 9 lbs of pressure.
If bits are used for communication, then think of rein pressure as decibels instead of lbs. If you want to talk to your loved one in a bar, you will have to talk louder than if you are strolling along a quiet country path. In like manner, if one maintains long duration "soft contact" with a horse's mouth, then any cue (request) given to the mouth MUST be louder than what the horse is already hearing.
A European magazine compared the pressure used to cue a horse to stop from a canter, using identical bits, between a dressage rider & horse and a reiner. The dressage pair used between 18 & 26 lbs of pressure applied repeatedly. The reiner used less than 6 applied once. That isn't entirely fair since reining puts a lot of emphasis on stopping. But...it took a turkey to stop the dressage horse, not a feather! Of course, it took a small chicken to stop the reiner...
Another study measured peak pressures while ridden at various gaits. They found over 9 lbs at a walk, 11.5 lbs at a trot and the canter maxed at 23 lbs.
None of this makes English riding cruel, although it raises serious questions about anyone teaching a new rider to use continuous contact. I believe both Chamberlin and Clayton are right - a horse can learn to accept considerable pressure in the mouth and tune it out, if the pressure is consistent. Here is a thought: How long does it take to teach a horse to "reach for contact"? I don't know. Never tried it. Now, how long does it take to teach a horse to reach for a sugar cube? The answer to those questions may tell us how a horse feels about bit pressure.
FWIW, I'd love to see studies done of bit pressure on a western horses mouth. I strongly suspect such a study would reveal things that might make me unhappy. This as not a moral issue. Not "good" or "bad". It is a difference, and we ought to think about our choice. Not criticize. Just think.
In my case, primarily a trail rider, it came down to this: Is there anything I want to do with a horse that requires frequent or longer duration contact? And for me
, that answer was obviously "No".
"As for your comment about harsh bits...
I can only hope that no rider purposely chooses a bit because it can cause pain, discomfort...
I think it is indisputable that many riders, English and Western, deliberately choose a bit to increase pain. You can buy bits in both styles with very narrow twisted wire mouthpieces. George Morris recommends
using a double twisted wire snaffle on a known bolter! As a training tool, that might be acceptable. Maybe. But he certainly is recommending it because it causes more pain. While I like Larry Trocha, I find it very disturbing that he claims a competition horse always tends to a harder mouth, and sometimes needs a very thin wire bit to 'sharpen him up'. I would be deeply bothered by anything I did with my horses that regularly hardened their mouths! If that always happened in my sport, I'd find another sport...