Welcome to my blog. I hope to introduce you to different bitless bridles and how they work, share some transitioning and training tips as well as other useful points. I will also introduce you some of my musings on aspects of horsemanship and share my journey with my beautiful horse Ember, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Time to get over it and get on with it

I don't get it. 20 years I ago I rode my pony bitless at shows and competitions and no-one batted an eyelid. Anyone who did Pony Club and BHS exams will have learnt that bitless bridles are just one of the families of bits. It was not a problem.

Nowadays we are debating the use of bitless bridles in competition. I applaud those who are taking this argument to the BEF, they are doing a fantastic and difficult job.

I have had show organisers in recent years state that it was unfair to the other competitiors ( too right, my horse is calm and relaxed and doesn't show signs of bit distress), it was down to safety ( hold on, I am going into an enclosed area doing flatwork, whereas I am allowed to go endurance, cross country, trec bitless), you cannot train correctly in it ( watch me, surely the proof is in what you see). British Dressage don't allow them, FEI don't allow them...blah, blah, blah.
Today I hear that Retraining of Racehorses are banning the use of bitless bridles, really!?!

The Revolution is coming whether organisations wish it to or not. They need to Get Over It, and Get On With It.

Until the organisations wake up to the truth please lend your support to A Bit More Choice, the campaign for bitless equality http://www.abitmorechoice.org

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Without bit nor even bridle!

I love long distance horse treks, being an avid reader of many travelogues from horseback. I also love crowdsourcing. So when a Kickstarter campaign combining both came to my attention I was very interested.
What was different though is that these women are riding 400K without bridles. Yes, that is correct, without anything on their horses heads.
The Kickstarter campaign was to enable their journey to be filmed professionally so they could create a DVD of their travels.
It is truly inspirational, proof of the trust and communication that is so important in the horse-human relationship. And most importantly getting out there and proving to the community that think horses cannot be ridden bitless that they are wrong.

I will be following their progress in a few blogs but if you want to see how they get on over the next few weeks you can follow them on their facebook page.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Groundwork - part 1

A couple of comments made over the weekend reminded me of a conversation I had several years ago with other horse owners where I kept my horse. The comments could not have been more different, one was a lady who explained how she had not been able to hold her daughters horse when bringing him in from the field, the daughter eventually had to get him and even then only in a chiffney.
The other was from a friend who had led my horse out to the field the day before. 'How was she?' I asked, 'lovely' replied my friend 'much nicer than leading the other horses'. I was pleased, I have spent a lot of time on groundwork. But why is it important and how does it relate to riding bitless?

The conversation I was reminded of started after I had returned to the yard following a session walking my horse out round the fields. 'Ooh I could never do that with my horse' was the comment. There followed a conversation between three owners which followed along the lines of the Monty Python Yorkshireman sketch, with each owner successively describing a worse behaviour that their horse would exhibit if they tried the same until the last one declared that their horse would barely step a hoof off the yard without rearing and taking off. It wasn't true of course and the conversation would have been amusing if the owners hadn't considered it a badge of honour to have such a difficult horse.
Now I been riding for a long time, have ridden a large number of different horses some of them problematic or very green and I am not a nervous rider but there is something that I will not do and that is to not get on a horse that I could not control from the ground first.

Let just say that again 'I would not get on a horse unless I could control from the ground first' sounds simple? sounds sensible? but how many owners are dragged around by their horses who then happily hop on board and trust that the piece of metal in their horses mouth is going to keep them safe. It isn't, only trust and communication will keep them safe.
Riding bitless is about trust and communication, so if I have a horse who isn't going to listen and communicate in a headcollar or halter then he isn't going to be safe to ride.
Good communication on the ground is the foundation of good communication in the saddle.

I will cover what is good groundwork that is helpful for riding bitless and how to achieve it in later blogs. Happy Bitless Riding.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

A bit of bodywork

I love having the Chiroprator to my horse. It gives me a chance to find out if there is any soreness I hadn't detected and to know what sort of shape she is in.

So after having the winter off, it was time for a check up before we start exercising.
Many thanks to Emma Hustler who is always amazing for my horse and my dogs.

So what is the verdict?
Generally ok, but she would stay in better alignment if she was fitter (point taken, time for some exercise). Her pelvis is straight (I have had a lot of problems over the years keeping her pelvis in alignment due to an injury she had as a youngster) but she is slightly down in the right hip which was corrected. She is starting to show signs of wear and tear in her hindlegs, exercise will help but also it is time to think about a supplement. She always seems to have some soreness in her back, without being ridden. After a discussion we decided that this was due to her front feet as they were not really conditioned to be barefoot as well as they should be. So her feeling soreness was making her move in a way which was causing soreness in her back. Despite always being barefoot and following a diet that is generally good for barefoot horses there is still more that could be done to improve the condition of her feet.

So the next steps:
Review her diet and management to improve her feet.
Exercise in her boots until her feet improve.
Watch this space for more updates.....

Sidepull bridles

I am going to start the posts on what types of bitless bridles with the Sidepull.

These are the simplest of the bitless bridles. Anyone who has attached a leadrope to either side of their headcollar and ridden in it has used a sidepull.
It works only on the nose, either on the front of the nose when pressure is applied to both reins or on the side of the nose if one rein is used. It gives a direct rein aid and is considered mild as it doesn't have straps that tighten round the nose, jaw or face, nor does it have any leverage on the poll.

It can be made from a variety of materials
Rope - a rope halter halter with rings either side to attach the reins.
Synthetic materials - webbing or beta biothane available either as noseband attachments or a complete bridle.
Leather - also available as nosebands to attach to a bridle or as a complete bridle, sometimes with stabilising straps.
Sometimes they are available in leather with a very stiff rough rope noseband, either or single or double rope (often available from western shops) these nosebands can be quite harsh on the horses face so should be used with caution.

I find that the sidepull is one of the best bridles to start a youngster in, the aim in bitless is to try and achieve the lightest possible feel so starting with a simple bridle and teaching the horse to respond to that lightness will produce a responsive horse.

Thanks to Vicki of Inspirational Horsemanship for the use of her photos.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Introducing Ember

One of the things I want to do with my blog is to record the journey with my horse Ember. It might seem like I should have started that 10 years ago when she came to me but hey better late than never.

To say she hasn't been an easy horse is a bit of an understatement, but she has also been the greater teacher and the greatest inspiration and has always pushed me to be the best I can.

She came to me as a very green 6 year old. It was impossible to ride her safely, I couldn't get near her hindlegs or feet and she had had an accident when she was younger that left her with a twisted pelvis and a slightly bowed canon bone. But the biggest problem she had was emotional, she had separation anxiety and was herd bound on a dangerous scale.

So far she has taken me on an incredible journey, I have learnt so much, ad have still more to learn, I have made mistakes but there have been some amazing parts to. She has inspired me to design a bridle especially for her which then I patented and now sell. And more important she has inspired me to help others.

So why am I sharing my journey now, the first reason is that I wasn't blogging before so I have some catching up to do. The second is it that we are now going to be doing more training. Whilst emotionally she is a lot better there are still some physical issues I need to fix. Over the years she has gone pretty well but I always thought that there was still some crookedness, so this year we are focusing on straightness training and you never know, I might get that demo horse I always wanted.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Why go Bitless?

There are many reasons why people go bitless, some due to dental or medical problems and some because their horse shows discomfort in a bit or has problems with it. But during recent years and with a growing momentum it has become a bridle of choice, horse owners are seeking a different way, a better way, questioning traditional tack and training.

So is it a better way?
If I didn't think so I wouldn't be writing this blog but lets look at some of the benefits. These are all things I have experienced myself of have observed in some of my clients horses.
  • A more relaxed horse
  • A steadier head carriage
  • Improved movement
  • Become a better rider/trainer
  • A better relationship
A more relaxed horse - I have felt and seen this countless times. On the first pony I tried bitless after 5 minutes he let out a big sigh and I could feel all his muscles relax. Because his muscular tension was so much apart of how he had been up to that point it went unnoticed. I certainly never wanted him to be like that again. On Ember going bitless was even more visible. In a bit she was upset, unsteady, argumentative, pretty dangerous really, changing to bitless she instantly stopped fighting and started listening.

A steadier head carriage - how many times to you see a horse flipping his head, or diving for the bit, snatching for the reins? Certainly I have ridden horses which do this, sometimes in a habitual way. Yet with a bitless bridle the head becomes steadier and horses can become much more settled.

Improved movement - Very often horses do not move forward, by this, I do not mean speed but with freedom of movement and impulsion. I have observed that this can be due a hesitance with the bit, they shorten their neck to avoid pressure rather than stretch forward and open up their frame. Sadly this is often mistaken for 'being on the bit' (something we will cover soon) and is encouraged, shortening the horse even more. In a bitless bridle, very often the horse has a lot more freedom of movement, can feel really open up in front and go forward properly.

Become a better rider/trainer - A bit can hide a lot of training and riding faults, it can disguise them, the horse is obeying under a veneer of control. With a bitless bridle, you become much more aware of the other aids and how to use them, the effect of weight aids, reading the horses energy and how to influence it. In order to ride bitless successfully you need a horse who is listening to you and is responsive, making you a better, more aware rider and trainer.

A better relationship - This partly comes from the reason above, by improving the communication you will find that you have a much truer, fairer relationship with you horse, a true partnership.

In these more enlightened times and increased communication between like minded groups sharing information and experiences the question shouldn't be why go bitless? But why would you want a bit?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

How did it all start?

So first up, a little bit of background. I first went bitless back in 1992, yes 23 years ago. Back then I came across a book called Riding - the true techniques, by Lucy Rees. It is an understatement to say this book changed the relationship I had with my horse, it was an inspiration to me.

In the book there is a picture of a pony being ridden in a noseband with reins attached, the caption said 'some sensitive ponies don't need a bit'. Well in a dashing gung ho teenage way, I thought, I have a sensitive pony, I have a noseband with rings I can attach reins to, let's try it out.

The very next day with noseband and reins I set off for a ride, everything seemed perfectly normal and then 5 minutes into the ride my pony stopped and let out the largest sigh I have ever felt. He suddenly felt all relaxed and soft. But, I cried I didn't even know he was tense, after all he didn't have any tagible problems with the bit, not of the behaviours we are used to seeing. But he must have been carrying a lot of tension anyway. Bitless bridles were not really available back then, except the English Hackamore, remember when there was no internet, when we were not connected to the four corners of the world and all the knowledge it contains? So unless it was in my local tack shop, in a mail order catalogue or a magazine I could not buy it.

So I started making my own bridles, which were really just webbing nosebands I covered with fleece and attached to my bridle. I took pony to local shows, dressage, jumping and gymkhanas and I am happy to say that most of the time it went without comment. Except for once at a local riding club, one week when I arrived for the meet one of the instructors looked at my pony and asked 'where is your bit?' In true teenager cheekiness I looked at my pony, clapped my hands to my face in mock horror and exclaimed 'Oh No, it must have fallen out on the way here!' That earn't me an exasperated look and a sending to the back of the line, oh well, I know my pony was better off without a bit, is yours?