I saw a lovely picture on facebook and it made me really happy! The horse in the picture I saw is a police horse from the Houston police department and their horses are barefoot! How amazing is that? And some are actually also ridden bitless.
One of the arguments I face the most when I talk about bitless riding/driving is that it’s so very dangerous to go without a bit. But then, please tell me why the people who are making a living by keeping everyone safe would put themselves or the ability to do their jobs in danger? It can sometimes be a matter of life or death when it comes to their job and it’s crucial for them to be in control of their horses, so why would they jeopardize that? I don’t think there’s any other horse related activity that requires more obedience, calmness or control from a horse. Yet the police horses are being ridden bitless?
Their horses are working in very challenging environments, lots of noise and people. Far from the calm trailride or the empty arena most people ride in. If they can do their job without a bit there I guarantee that anyone can do it at home. Because after all it only comes down to training. Who is willing to really do the ‘dirty work’ of earning trust, building a relationship and taking the time it takes? The reason so many horses allegedly can’t be ridden bitless is because they have not been properly prepared. There’s simply nothing else to it than that.
If you need a bit for your horse to listen to you, he isn’t really listening.
I usually divide a horse into two parts (just so you will get my point, not because there’s only two parts to a horse). First, we have the brain and then we have the body. I always aim to communicate with their brains instead of their bodies, but the classical way of training a horse is mostly focused on achieving the opposite. They are putting all their focus on getting the body to where they need it to be.
That is also the reason why there’s so many training gadgets, different nosebands, spurs and sharp bits out on the market. When you are not physically strong enough to move a heavy object you need tools.
If you can’t get the object (the horse) to go forward fast enough you use a whip. If you can’t get the object to slow down fast enough you use a sharper bit. If you have problems with collecting the object you use draw reins. If you can’t lead the object you use a stallion chain. If your object is moving in the wrong way you put on a lunging harness. If your object responds too slowly you use spurs. If your object is afraid of things you use blinders. If your object is putting its tongue out you put a noseband on.
Do you get what I’m saying? For every problem – there is a tool to be found. A quick fix that magically solves all your problems. Us humans love tools, learning to use them is part of the reason we evolved to the beings we are today. But it’s time to stop trying to go through every tool in the toolbox and actually use our brains instead.
Think of it this way. If I get my horse to a state of mind where his brain is willingly following me and wanting to be with me. Do you think the body will follow the brain?
Or… If my horse refuses to turn so I pull really hard until he finally turns because he gave in to the pain/pressure. His body moved in the direction I wanted, but do you think the brain was turning too? I know this sounds confusing but keep reading, please. What I’m saying is that the body will always follow the brain, but the brain does not necessarily always follow the body.
If someone bent your finger back until you had to get on your knees to relieve the pressure, would your brain be with you on your knees? Would you suddenly think ”yes, I want to be on my knees now”. Or did your body give in to the pressure even though your brain really wanted to keep standing up? When the pain is gone and your finger has been released, what will happen? Your brain will take over again and you will get back up since you never even wanted to be on your knees in the first place. See, you can force the body but never force the brain.
If you are constantly trying to control the horse’s body (by using tools), what do you think will happen on the day when your tools are no longer working or you remove them (i.e. by going bitless)? The brain will take over instantly and the horse will do what they wanted to do all along. Maybe they’ll run off, go out on a field to eat grass or trot back home with you left on the ground.
But! … What would happen if someone offered you a free back rub, your favorite chocolate or something else that makes you happy. The only thing you would have to do to get it is to get down on your knees for 2 minutes. Would someone have to force your body down or would your brain happily choose to sit there?
You see, when the brain is actively making a choice there’s no need for force. The body will always follow the brain so as long as you have the brain on your side, you’re all set.
If your horse is choosing to trot next to you with a lead rope on, what would happen if you took the lead rope off? The horse would still trot next to you because that’s what the brain wants to do.
But if you were using the lead rope as a tool to pull your horse forward (controlling his body with pressure/force) and then took the lead rope off, you would get a different result. Without the tool that was controlling the body the brain will take over and it will do what it wanted to do all along, like running away or simply stopping (depending on his/her personality).
So please remember to try to minimize the use of tools in every way possible if you want a good relationship with your horse. Especially when it comes to liberty training! When you come across a problem, don’t go searching through the toolbox. Use your brain instead!