“‘The bit is no stronger than the hand holding the rein’. So they say but you know that is complete rubbish. Riders who can control a 600 kilo warmblood with their bare hands alone are far between. Most need bits. It is the bit which confers real strength to the hand in the first place.
“In addition to the advantage gained by the rider who uses any bit, the purpose of a curb is to make it even more powerful, relative to the hand that holds the rein. A curb amplifies whatever pressure is applied by the rider’s hand. Agreed? This does not mean a double bridle must necessarily hurt the horse. There are riders out there who can ride with one without causing pain. But if the rider is not skilled enough, the risk of him or her hurting a horse will be increased when a curb is used, compared to riding in a snaffle or even perhaps a halter for the very least able. Everybody knows this. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even news.”
Look, I can ride my 500 kilo reining horse with a mild low ported grazing bit and a leather curb strap that barely touches his face under any circumstances… and I can direct his motion at hand gallop, when bringing him to a sliding stop at 25mph, or in lateral work. I can ride that same horse and direct him with a halter that has a rein strapped to either side. And I can take all that off and still direct him with soft leg pressures on the order of ounces.
He will turn and weave and back up, depart, change leads, stop and spin, gallop and then just stand there. All with pretty much nothing in the way of pressure in mouth or sides. Because he’s been well trained through a delicate pressure and release dance that spanned years of learning without ever needing to cause pain.
I always felt that the highest form of horsemanship was to become one with the horse so your ideas are his, his motion is yours, and and the end of it, he stands in the arena, yawning, not from exhaustion (though it probably was a good workout) but from the relaxation of having had an exquisite ride.
I never understood the Vaquero, who says – I have a bit too powerful for normal mortals to use – you will require seven years of training to be able to use it without injuring the mouth of the horse.
I never understood the dressage rider who says – I cannot control this horse to do fine lateral work or expect him to obey the subtlety of my commands without using two bits, either of them very powerful, and the pair so powerful that it takes years of training to even think of using them.
Why bother, when you could be so subtle after all those years of work as to be able to ride that horse with nothing in its mouth at all?
I never understood a sport that said – “at the highest levels of the sport you can use nothing less than the most powerful and potentially painful bits, maybe even two of them at once”.
I never understood a rider who thinks – “to achieve the highest art with the horse i must treat him like a machine, not directing him with the subtlety of my body, but compelling him with forces similar to attending a dentist without novocaine or being stabbed in a knife fight. Otherwise, he will be unresponsive and will not assume the painfully difficult shape i require of him as he performs.”
To me, that is a recipe for sadism and a clear sign of bad training, bad horsemanship and maybe the wrong fashion in body position – can you get by with your horse holding its head somewhere comfortable so you can let go, after all?
I still don’t get it. And I don’t want to get it. It’s not what I want from my horse or from my riding. And there’s no excuse for saying that’s the only way to ride any horse in any discipline.
The FEI, USEA, and the other associations should alter the grading scale and give additional points to riders who ride with less bit, less spur – and the highest points to those who ride with no bit, no spurs and no bridle. (I’m not a bareback fan – the saddle is the best way to distribute the weight of the rider across the back of the horse and keep him safe). Nosebands hide the distress of the horse – they should be banned and horses who are gaping, whose tails are flailing with discomfort should have their signals read by judges and their riders should be marked down.
That doesn’t necessarily control what goes on at home, but it does incent the best behavior in the ring, which will, with time, leak back into training, practice and instruction just as the horrible bad practices of today have.
The thing is, you can’t inspect your way out of welfare problems at competitions – the culture has to be changed and it will take time. You need to create and hold up better examples and reward the right performance. You need to help people see they can have a better success without the levels of force they used to use, and no success at all unless they stop.
Then things will change. From the renewed love of the horse.