Aide & Slinky

Dsc02112Natural Horsemanship

My interest in natural horsemanship and bitless equitation began when I watched a sampler DVD showing an extract from a demonstration by Pat Parelli.

So far I had been a keen dressage rider and show jumper, and had never really questioned the ethics or even the usefulness of bits. When the DVD started I was so amazed to see Pat whirling round the arena with no tack at all, in perfect control. The one thought that held me back was – what about the dressage. It was when Pat executed a beautiful passage with nothing but a little bit of string around the horses neck that I started to really think about how important or helpful my ‘kind’ snaffle bit was to Slinky’s performance.

After Pat’s tear-jerking but true talk about not asking a trying horse to try ( of which I was and to my own disgust sometimes still am, guilty) that I was convinced to go natural and bitless.
I started by making a horrendous mistake. In my rush to do the best thing possible I bought the first bridle without a bit that came along. A Hackamore, with huge long shanks and a big padded bone-crushing noseband. In my ignorance I thought I was being very nice and kind.  I rode in it and Slinky hated it. I went home deflated and confused.

That night I looked up Hackamores on the web. I read an article that told me all about how Hackamores interfere with the horse’s breathing and can damage the bone structure of the nose. I could not kick myself hard enough. Feeling like someone who’d just spent £25 on an implement of torture I read on and saw a link for the bitless bridle, which the site recommended.
I read the list of behavioural problems caused by pain in the mouth as a result of the bit, and realised that Slinky displayed five of them. Five was a bit too much of a coincidence, and as the bridle was affordable as well as looking lovely I decided to go for it. In the time I was waiting for the bridle to be delivered ( a really fast two days) I rode in headcollars and learned to use my body to stop and turn – an interesting experience for a rider like me- I used to use my hands more than anything else.

Dsc02132But it can be done, easily, through conscious thought the change can be made, and once you’ve made the changes you wondered why you only just did. Our horses already understand, it’s us as riders and horsemen and women who need to alter our comprehension. Horsemanship, true horsemanship is about balance, and you can’t achieve balance if one of you can’t breathe.

I caused a bit of a stir at a Pony Club cross-country rally I attended recently. People were awestruck by the fact that I was jumping without a bit. They didn’t understand that riding without a bit is easier than riding with a bit. The confidence that is gained with the removal of pain is incredible. Slinky was a nervous jumper who used to stop at the last minute, spook and found it hard to hold a straight line. Now he takes me into the fence, and I am riding much more centrally and confidently because I know that if I get slightly left behind then it wont cause him the pain it would have. Our level of performance has definitely increased.

IMGP0379I am now using the bitless bridle at local shows (for jumping) and rallies, but awareness of the bitless bridle is not what it should be. There was a natural horsemanship class at a local show but I was the only entry. If bitless equitation is going to move forward, and it should, then it will take more of us to go bitless and start competing bitless where we can, and start campaigning to be able to compete bitless for everything, dressage, the works. I don’t want to be the only entry forever.

Natural horsemanship and bitless equitation make so much sense that it is a crying shame that they should be ‘alternative’ training methods. They should be the norm.