“Don’t I have more control with a bit?”
“Aren’t I safer riding with a bit?”
These are common, valid questions that many riders ask when considering switching their horses to a bitless bridle. We think that bits give us more control over our horses and that control also makes us safer riding with a bit than riding with out. But, are we correct in this thinking?
Unfortunately, if you are relying on a piece of tack to control your horse or keep you safe, your trust has been misplaced. At the end of the day, we still ride creatures that weigh a thousand pounds and have a mind of their own that is wired to escape any perceived threat by whatever physical means necessary. If the animal decides they’re out, what you have in their mouth will do little to stop them.
I was restarting a mare that had been put out to pasture for a few weeks. She had never given us any issue when we first started her and was pretty solid when we gave her some time off, so even though she bucked when I saddled her up and lunged her, I just thought she was fresh, had gotten it out of her system, and would be safe to ride. I was sorely mistaken when I got on her back.
She bucked around the arena with me desperately pulling on one rein trying to bend her head around and get her shut down. It did not matter how hard I pulled, at what angle, or anything. She was terrified of me, the saddle, everything. I rode her around the arena for two laps while she bucked and finally, I gave up and bailed off onto the fence on the way by. This is just one example of not having control or being kept safe by riding with a bit. She was in a twisted wire snaffle bit. Not the most gentle nor the most severe bit, but truthfully, nothing would have stopped her that day, not even the harshest bit. I failed her in my training and judgment that day. The bit had nothing to do with it.
What would have kept me safe that day and given me more control would have been slowly reintroducing the saddle and only getting on her back when she was comfortable with the saddle and cinches first and then making sure she was also ok with me up there. The bit and attempted one rein stops did nothing to help me. If you believe you are safer because you ride with a bit, you have a false sense of security. Often, grabbing up a handful of reins when your horse is scared can add to their fear and only make a bad situation worse. Not only are you adding pressure or discomfort to their mouths, but fear of being restrained or trapped when they already don’t feel comfortable and want to get away. With the little mare I was restarting, my one reins stop attempts only strengthened her desire to escape me because I was trying to stop her when she only wanted to get away. She was frightened of me, and me pulling on her felt even more like an attack.
I was given an unstarted paint colt when I was twelve years old. I backed him myself and he had a funny personality. One thing he learned to do was veer the opposite way I was steering and unseat or throw me off. He got out of work and usually if he was successful in getting me off he got to go back to the barn or closer to his friends.
I always loved riding in a halter and lead rope around the pasture even as a kid, but with this horse I always rode with a bitted bridle because of his little trick. I could be cantering along on a circle tracking left, and he would swerve right, nearly pitching me over his shoulder. Riding in a bit made it easier for me to try and discourage this behavior, but when he committed, it didn’t matter if I was riding in a halter or bit- I could not physically stop him from doing it no matter what piece of tack I was using.
I actually still own this goofy paint, and since I started clicker training, I have finally been able to resolve this problem. You see, the issue was never about strength or force. It was about a lack of proper training. Chance didn’t want to stay on the circle because going back to the barn or back to the other horses was much more reinforcing than toting me around. When I began to reward Chance for listening to my rein aids, allowing me to guide him, and going the direction I asked, even just for a few steps BEFORE he decided to throw the duces, he learned that staying on the circle was reinforcing. Once there was something in it for him, he was a lot more willing to comply. Training was the solution, not a bit.
If you are holding your horse together with a bit, you already lack control. Preparation through training and proofing are the only way to prevent unsafe situations from occurring in the first place and have control. The only way we can control a thousand pound animal is through their brain. Any attempt to physically control a horse is futile and foolish. The idea that a bit can do this by the amount of pressure/pain/discomfort it inflicts or the strength of the rider is as equally silly. Bits only work in the first place because of the training behind their use- not the tool in and of itself.
You would be safer and have more control riding without a bit if you have taken the time to properly train your horse than you would riding a poorly trained bitted horse. When it comes to safety and control, I have learned that my trust is better placed in my training than in my tack.
#horses #bits #bitless #horsetraining