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Bit Release


Recently on Horse Master, Featuring my friend Tedi Tate and her off-the-track-Thoroughbred (OTTB) gelding, Hunter. I thought this was a really good episode and Tedi was so dynamic on TV—as was Hunter, who seemed to act on cue. Maybe it’s because they are both from LA and the TV business is just in their blood.

I first met Tedi at Equine Affaire in Pomona a number of years ago and we instantly became friends. After one of my presentations there, where I had made a comment about horses being ridden behind the bit and often with a heavy hand, Tedi wanted to share information with me about a movement in France, called Alleged Ideal– all about bringing dressage horses back to lightness and a natural frame. I have maintained an interest in this movement ever since and Tedi and I became fast friends, sharing a common interest in lightness.

This episode is all about a horse that is hollowed out, throws his head and speeds up—all in his effort to get a release from the pressure on his mouth caused by the bit and the rider’s hands. He’s been ridden by a lot of different people, not all of whom have soft hands or knew what to do. I love horses like this because it is relatively easy to make a big impact on them and have a dramatic turnaround in only a few moments. It helps that I exercised race horses all through college, so I know what they know and what they don’t know. By the way, riding on the race track is a great college job because you’ve done a whole day’s work by 8:30 in the morning and your legs are so tired at that point that sitting in class all day sounds really good!

Horses that are acting the way Hunter was are simply trying to find a release of pressure on their mouths and if the release does not come, they try other means—like throwing their head up (which causes a momentary release), rooting the reins or running off. When horses are uncomfortable, they try to run away from it. Typically horses that are going too fast simply need  a release of rein pressure—something that is counter-intuitive to the rider. OTTBs in particular need to be ridden with a looser rein because believe it or not, on the race track, the faster you want your horse to go the tighter you hold the reins and the slower you want him, the looser the reins.

It didn’t take long at all for me to teach Hunter where the release was—when he rounded his frame and relaxed he would always find a release. Like most horses, he didn’t want to be ‘bad,’ he just didn’t know what else to do. Happily, Tedi and Hunter figured each other out and by the end of the show (which is 24 hours later in real time) they were working well together.

This was one of my favorite episodes for many reasons, not the least of which is that I love Thoroughbreds—I grew up riding them and they have always been one of my favorite breeds. Have you had any experience with OTTBs? What’s your favorite breed?

Enjoy the ride!



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1 Comment

  1. YES! I have had two OFTT, one many years ago that became a favorite western pleasure & trail horse. He’d suffered a tendon injury on the track that required some rehab, but eventually he was 100% sound. Once he was gelded, he was amazingly easy to train, considering his pedal-to-the-metal backgound. I got him as a coming 3-y/o & sold him at age 15 to some friends who wanted a dependable kid horse. In spite of his size (almost 17hh,) he was perfect with children. They kept him until he died at age 27. Sadly, my husband & I found the second OTTT last winter wandering the dirt roads near our ranch. He was an ancient, starved rack of bones, but still identifiable from his lip tattoo. Someone had simply driven him out in the country, and dumped him out like a stray dog or cat. We’ve managed to put several hundred lbs on him, floated his teeth, and treated his skin & hoof conditions. He’s still a bit skinny, but he acts & looks like a new horse. But since long-term starvation is harder on old horses than on younger ones, it’s hard to say how much longer he’ll survive. For now, we’re just enjoying his sweetheart personality.

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