Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

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Identify holes in your horsemanship training and continually seek new information

An assignment from my first riding instructor—assembling a bridle from scratch—at first seemed like an easy task. But what seemed easy turned out to be daunting. I knew what a bridle should look like, but I hadn’t gained enough wisdom to know how each piece fit together. I finally I got it right, but I was humbled in the process.

This was the beginning for me. I realized that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve come to believe this is especially true of horses. The more you learn, the more you know what you don’t know. It’s important to make sure you know more than just how to do something—to understand the “whys” of horsemanship and to continually seek a better understanding.

That early lesson helped me understand that I needed to know how the bridle worked and why each piece was important. That first lesson helped me form my own teaching style—making sure to teach riders why they do a task instead of just teaching how to do it. When you understand the whys, you’re drawn into horsemanship and you yearn to know more. Learning why you should move a rein a certain direction or why you shouldn’t greet a horse by rubbing on his muzzle helps you understand horse behavior and make sure you continually learn.

The First Lesson

As a youngster, I took riding lessons from a wise old trainer, Miss Valla. I was her hungriest and most dedicated student, albeit one of her youngest riders, and I worshipped the ground she walked on. I finagled way more than my allotted lesson time with her–coming early and staying late, endearing myself to her by spit polishing the horses and being her gofer, when I wasn’t in a lesson. It was a mutually beneficial relationship (the barn rat to the old master), although I thought I was incredibly lucky to be under her tutelage.

One evening when I was only nine or ten years old, Miss Valla gave me a challenging homework assignment to be completed before I could ride again the next day. She handed me the English bridle from my favorite school horse and made me sit down in front of her and take it apart until every single little piece was in a pile. Then she shoved all the pieces in a bag, along with a rag and a bar of glycerin, and told me to take it home, clean every piece, and then reassemble the bridle. Only when the bridle was completely together correctly, should I even bother to bring it back for her approval–and only then would I be able to ride again.

“Piece of cake,” I thought, as I jumped on my bike and headed for home, thrilled to bring a piece of tack home with me. I was sure I would have the task perfectly completed well before my bed time; I would bring it to her bright and early the next day, proving once again what a talented student I was. After cleaning and scrubbing every square centimeter of leather and washing and polishing the bit, I was left with a jig-saw puzzle of pieces, with no idea how they fit together. I must have put that bridle together and taken it apart at least a dozen times before I got it right. I knew what it looked like when it was right; I just didn’t know how to get there. Although I had previously memorized the parts-of the-bridle, I didn’t really know what each piece was and how it all fit together.

By the time particular this exercise was over, I knew everything I needed to know about the bridle and it was a skill-set that I would draw on for the rest of my life. It taught me the importance of fully understanding tack, not only knowing the proper terminology for its parts, but also what each part does and how it fits together. I also came to understand the value of studying basic information. I never again complained about the worksheets we had to fill out on parts of the tack, horse breeds or common equine diseases. For a kid that absolutely hated school work, I would dive nose-first into every homework assignment I got from Miss Valla.

I was fortunate to have a great classical education in horsemanship as a youth rider and this upbringing shaped the way my career unfolded and I believe it is responsible, in part, for my success. I learned early on in my career, first as an instructor, and later as a clinician, that without a solid foundational layer in your knowledge, it does no good for me to teach you higher level skills.

Understanding the WHY

When I first started teaching clinics, about 20 years ago, I realized that a lot of very experienced horse people often have gaps in their knowledge when it comes to horsemanship. It doesn’t do you any good to work on flying lead changes if you don’t understand leads, footfalls and the canter cue. It doesn’t do you any good to try a certain groundwork exercise if you don’t understand what behavior you are trying to change and what signs to look for when the horse is responding correctly.

I learned a long time ago that just because someone can DO something, doesn’t mean they understand WHAT they are doing and WHY it works. I also learned, as most good teachers do, that many people will never tell you when they don’t know what a certain term means or when they don’t fully understand. So I define and explain as best I can, whether they ask or not—never assume the student knows or will ask if they do’t. To teach successfully, you must break down the lesson and help the student learn why each step is so important.

Backing Up to Move Forward

With horsemanship and with horse training, it is important to have a solid understanding of the basics—in all matters. Sometimes we have to go back to fundamentals before we can move forward, even with an experienced horse or rider. When I teach any given topic, I work hard to cover it from A to Z, never leaving out the important  fundamentals before moving onto the higher level application. It’s amazing how often the more experienced riders will comment how grateful they are to have the gaps filled in their knowledge. In many instances, it is the fundamental information that was the missing link that makes everything come together with your horse.

So I ask you, do you know the parts of your bridle? If someone handed it to you in a pile, could you whip it together right away? Do you know the parts of the saddle, what type of saddle it is and what the pros and cons of that saddle design are? If I asked you to check to see if your horse’s gaskins were equal, would you know where to look? Do you know what the term ‘collection’ really means and could you define it for someone that had no idea? If not, it’s time to study! Come to one of my clinics and we might talk about all of this!

My favorite part of horses and horse sports is that it is a life-long pursuit and there is always another challenge ahead of you. I’ll never grow tired of learning more about horses and riding, and I love sharing my passion and knowledge with others. This is why I created my online resource library for horse enthusiasts, Horse Master Academy.

I hope you’ll join me, either online, or up-close-and-personal at a horsemanship clinic or horse expo near you, in the pursuit of more horsemanship knowledge. Until then…

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

 

 

 

 

Managing Fear in the Saddle; Classic Riding Skills; Dealing with Balking (Julie Goodnight on the Rick Lamb Show)

Julie Goodnight talks with Rick Lamb about managing fear in the saddle. Tips to help you feel confident and relaxed. Plus, more about Julie’s approach to rider education and how classic riding applies today.

http://ricklamb.com for more radio shows.

Horse Shopping 101

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Horse Shopping 101
I am getting an increasing number of inquiries from people looking for a new horse. So it is with no small amount of forethought that we did a Horse Master episode featuring a young woman looking to find her dream horse. She also happens to be a riding instructor and in that role she finds herself looking at horses for others as well—either a horse for a client or a school horse for the program where she is employed and the episode is about the horse buying process. (Tip: Visit http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/ to see a clip of Shop ‘Til You Drop or http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com to purchase a DVD of the episode.)

I love shopping for horses—one significant reason behind the sale horse side of my business. I just love the hunt for a good horse and I love finding the perfect owner for that horse as well. In this case, the buyer is looking for an all-around horse that she can do just about anything on—trail, arena, pleasure—but she also has a hankering for cowhorse events. Whatever your desires, it is first and foremost important that you decide what your goals are because it is critical that the horse matches those goals, particularly when it comes to cowhorse disciplines. Not just any horse is suited for that.

Next, it is important that you spend some time thinking about how much money you can spend and that you have an appreciation for how much horse that will buy you (consider looking at a few horses above your limit so you have a realistic frame of reference). You should stretch your limits here as much as possible, keeping in mind the old axiom—the purchase price is the cheapest amount of money you will spend on your horse. You can always BUY training cheaper than you can put it on a horse, so don’t get sucked into the mistake so many people make in buying a young, green horse. His board, health maintenance, farrier, etc., will far exceed the purchase price in a short time so spend as much as you can up front to get the best trained horse you can (but only if the horse is worth it).

I wish I had a dollar for all the people I have met that made the mistake of buying a young, green horse. I’d be retired by now. Some survive this mistake and eventually end up with a decent horse; some don’t. You know the saying: green plus green equals black and blue. But even if you are not a novice rider and you have the capability to train a horse, do you really want to spend your precious time at that? Do you really want months and even years to elapse before you can attain your goals? Or do you want to begin enjoying your horse tomorrow at a level that you’ve dreamed of? I wonder how many of you have bought a green horse and regretted it and how many of you have had success with that youngster?

Currently we are in a buyer’s market, thanks to the recession and the glut of unwanted horses. While the economy has not greatly affected the high-end horse market, it has impacted the mid and low range horse market. The horse you would have paid $10,000 for a few years ago, you may now get for $7500—so it’s a great time to parlay your money into more horse, no matter what price range you are in.

In the end, you should spend your money on training and temperament. Conformation follows closely as a must-have because it has a bearing on performance, soundness and longevity. For my sales program, I rarely look at a horse under 10 years old to buy. I try to find those “cream puff” horses that are safe, solid and fun to own and ride. To have the experience, training and seasoning they need to be a solid, “bomb proof” kind of horse, they need some age on them. No matter how well trained that 4 year old is, he cannot have the life-experience he needs to be a sure bet. It’s amazing how quickly training can be un-done in a young horse, or any horse for that matter. I get emails on a daily basis from someone who bought a horse that seemed very well trained when they looked at it (or they took the word of the seller that he was well trained) and a month later the horse has major problems. Have you had this experience? I cannot always fault the seller because any horse can become untrained quickly with mishandling—here’s where temperament comes in.

Depending on your goals and pursuits, breeding (pedigree and type) can also be a big factor. If your ultimate goal includes endurance racing in the Tevis Cup, you’d be well advised to stay away from draft horses. The more specific and more demanding your riding goals, the more important breeding and training is. The frustration of an unsuitable horse and/or a poorly trained horse trying to do something he’s not ready for or capable of is real for both horse and rider. We do horses a huge disservice trying to make them into something they are incapable of or asking more of them than their training allows.

If you are currently in the market for a new equine partner, where are you looking? Where have you found the greatest success? Word of mouth? Classified ads? Internet? Trainers? Has it been frustrating and impossible or easy and successful? How many near-perfect horses flunked the pre-purchase vet exam before you found the right horse? Was the horse you bought everything you thought he’d be or did you find holes in him after you got to know him? It is certainly not an exact science and to some extent, being in the right place at the right time is priceless, when it comes to finding the perfect horse. The best horses don’t stay on the market for long. But the more you know, the easier the buying process is to navigate.

If you’re in the market for a new horse this spring—good luck! And there’s even more advice on my new Buyer’s Guide. Search for “buyers” on the search page.

Until next time,
–Julie Goodnight

Buying A Horse

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In “Shop ‘Til You Drop,” the Horse Master episode taped at my ranch in Colorado, I helped my friend Sddita Fradette begin the horse shopping process. She’s a skilled rider and NARHA riding instructor but doesn’t have her own horse at the moment. She wants to make sure she has the know-how and strategy to start shopping with confidence. We talked about the importance of conformation, breeding, size, temperament, training, sex and more during the show.

Be sure to watch the episode on RFD-TV, log on to watch the extra footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghGuPH_bLOI then read on to find out more about finding your own perfect horse. The show is part of a new series of episodes shot at my ranch (we’ll shoot in Colorado again in late summer 2010 if you’re close and would like to apply to get help for you and your horse: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/apply.html). In the new shows, there’s help if your horse refuses to approach obstacles, if you’re a new rider and want help learning how to work with your new horse, if you’re horse shopping, if your horse won’t accept a bit and bridle without raising his head, and if you want help finding the proper bit for your well-trained horse. Here’s more about horse shopping….

Horse Shopping 101
When it’s time to look for a new horse, you want to be an educated buyer—understanding what to look for and what questions to ask as you shop for your dream horse. You’ll want to find the safest and best-trained horse that your money can buy. You will love a horse that makes you feel safe; get one that you can build confidence with instead of constantly re-building.
It’s very important to identify exactly how you plan to use your new horse because you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Spend some time thinking about what your short and long term goals are; be realistic in terms of your time commitment and physical ability. If your time commitment is limited, you’ll need a very well-trained and seasoned horse that can stand around for days or weeks and still ride easy, not a “project” horse that is young or poorly trained. If your goals include competitive riding, you’ll need a horse that is the right type, with good athletic ability and solid training. The more demanding the competition, the more type, pedigree and training play a role.
It may be that you want an all-around horse that you can do a variety of things with, from casual trail riding to dressage, both English and western. If so, realistically rank all the activities you plan and what is most important to you and set up a list of priorities so that you can evaluate individual horses and rate their best qualities.
Realize that one horse may not suit your long-term goals and you may out-grow this horse, particularly if you plan to compete regularly. If you are just starting out as a beginner, you need a steady, solid mount that has a lot of patience; these horses are typically not the sharpest athletes. As you reach higher levels of riding, you’ll need a horse that can move up the levels with you. Maybe you’ll need a starter horse and in a few years you’ll be ready to move up to a highly bred and trained performer that will propel you to the highest levels (start saving your money now!). Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’ll keep every horse you have for the rest of its life; horses are not like dogs. While it is possible that you may keep one horse forever, you may find that the horse you buy does not turn out to be the best horse for you in the future and you may need to sell him and move onto another.
In a booklet I wrote for the Certified Horsemanship Association (a non-profit organization that promotes safety in the horse industry, http://www.cha-ahse.org) called Ready to Ride, I cover when to buy a horse, purchasing vs. leasing, and the many and varied breeds and disciplines to consider. I also cover finding a riding instructor and trainer, setting realistic goals, etc. If you haven’t owned your own horse before or are looking for a horse for a young rider, the booklet helps you consider all the aspects of horse ownership—costs and extras you might not have added to your budget and plan. Here’s information from Chapter 10, “Should You Buy a Horse:”
“When you consider the purchase price, boarding, health care, and equipment needed, owning a horse is clearly more expensive than simply riding school horses. Owning a horse requires a substantial investment of time and energy and a serious long-term commitment.
Owning or Leasing a Horse Many stables offer leases and half-leases on horses, which gives a good introduction to horse ownership, without the capital investment. Often leases are available for the cost of board and maintenance, so it is a more affordable first step to horse ownership, without the long-term commitment. However, the purchase price may be the least amount of money you will spend on a horse; the maintenance costs can be considerably higher in the long run….
Many naïve horse lovers make the devastating mistake of buying a young horse for their first horse. Horses are not like puppies; you cannot effectively train a young horse without years of experience and a young horse is much more dangerous than a little puppy. Between the horse and the rider, it is imperative that one of you knows what you are doing. Unlike puppies, horses can become big dangerous animals in a heartbeat; it requires a competent and experienced horse person to raise and train young horses.
Horses are not really mature until they are about eight years old and they are in their prime in their teens. Most good beginner and novice horses are 14 or older, although some may be younger. The older a horse gets, the more he has learned about life, humans and his job. You want a horse that can teach you; not a horse that needs an education.
Look for a stable with a program that teaches good horse care and knowledge as well as riding skills. Volunteer for horse chores at a stable; allow your child to take advantage of the opportunity for character development. Horses are not machines and one of the most important things a child can learn is personal responsibility.
Some stables offer full care only, while others give you the choice of providing some of your horse’s care yourself. There should be a regular schedule for feeding, watering, stall cleaning/manure disposal, farrier, and veterinary visits….”
It’s crucial to consider all the costs and think through where you’ll keep your horse and how you’ll keep him safe and healthy before you buy. And no matter if you’re shopping for your ultimate dream horse or your first horse, take the time to research your purchase and seek out support for your shopping trips. Find a trainer that specializes in the discipline you’d like to work in or seek out a friend that has more horse experience than you do to help you weigh your options throughout the process. There are seller’s agents and buyer’s agents. You need a buyer’s agent that you can pay his/her regularly hourly fee to look at horses with you. Or you could engage a trainer to look for horses for you for a finder’s fee (be wary of commissions for buyer’s agents since that encourages the trainer to look for an expensive horse). Most often what you encounter is the seller’s agent (like with real estate), who is receiving a commission on the sale (usually 10%); therefore you may not get all the info you need about the horse. Be very leery of double-dipping agents (taking a commission from both buyer and seller). It’s best to have an objective third-party agent who has no motivation other than to give you his/her honest opinion.
Check out even more horse shopping tips and strategies in my Horse Buyer’s Guide PDF available free at www.JulieGoodnight.com. And visit the horse sales page on the site: http://juliegoodnight.com/horses.
–Julie Goodnight

Nurturing The Try In Your Horse

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I have lived with and worked with horses for more than half a century. And the older I get, the more appreciation I have for horses and their willingness, generosity and ability to forgive. It never ceases to amaze me how they tolerate some of the crazy things we humans do and how they will keep on trying to please.

Over the decades, I have learned that horses thrive on structure, consistency, praise and discipline. They crave leadership and authority and they feel safe and content in its presence. Leadership is very black and white to a horse and he knows it when he sees it. There is no faking leadership to a horse.

In domestic herds, groups of horses that are forced together, sometimes there are unqualified horses in the alpha role and the other horses know it—they agree to the terms, but do not have respect or admiration for the stand-in. Being a bully does not make you a leader and although a more subordinate horse will defer to the space of a more aggressive herdmate, he does not respect the bully as his leader and certainly does not like him.

A true herd leader is not a bully, but is willing to dish out discipline when it is needed. The true leader of the herd is responsible for the herd’s safety and for insuring that all the herdmates are good citizens of the herd—sometimes that means disciplining an unruly horse.

Horses recognize true leadership—fairness, courage, authority, confidence, intelligence, honesty, responsibility. When horses find a true leader, they have the highest respect and deference for and come to worship the ground their leader walks on. They trust and want to be with their leader and are always on the lookout for ways to please—to stay in the good graces of the one in charge.

To me, this is the ideal relationship to have with a horse and it makes me a much better and stronger person to live up to the ideals of my horse. When your horse thinks of you as the supreme leader, he will go anywhere with you, trusting you to look out for his well-being, having faith in your decisions and knowing you have his best interest in mind. He will work hard to please you and will get his feelings hurt if he thinks you are unhappy with him. But that attitude comes at a price—you have to earn it– and it is easily lost if you fall down on the job.

Once your horse recognizes the qualities of a true leader in you, it means that he trusts you to be fair, consistent and protect him from anything that could hurt him. That trust can be lost in an instant by asking the horse to do something that causes him to get hurt or frightened. This is an important obligation of the leader and should never be overlooked.

Horses are herd animals and as such, are instinctively drawn to the herd; but membership into any herd is not a guarantee. In the domestic setting, a new horse introduced an existing herd will automatically be shunned and treated harshly, as if to say, “We do not want you—go away!” Once the new horse shows a certain amount of contrition and a willingness to respect the hierarchy of the herd, he will be allowed provisional membership. But he is treading on thin ice and knows that if he is not on his best behavior, he could be once again banished from the herd.

Acceptance into a herd means that you are willing to abide by the rules of the herd and be a good citizen to the herd. Horses are very good at learning and following rules and as long as rules are clearly defined and consistently enforced, horses will follow the rules religiously.

There are many important lessons for us to learn from life in the horse herd. To be accepted as the leader, you have to establish authority right away and not worry about being liked—that will come later. You have to take charge, establish the rules and demonstrate your willingness to enforce them. Then your horse will come to accept your authority, feel safe in your presence and be eager to please you.

You cannot bribe or pamper your horse into thinking of you as a leader. That is not within his frame of reference. If you start out your relationship by begging him to be your friend, you automatically put yourself in the subordinate position. Horses crave authority, not pandering.

If you are the leader in your herd of two—you and your horse—then it is up to you to set and enforce the rules. Always. You lead—he follows. If your leadership skills are inadequate, your horse will step into the leadership role and start making all the decisions, like where you both go and how fast you get there. In that case, sooner or later, your horse will make a decision you don’t agree with.

It is a hard thing for some people to accept, but horses thrive off both praise and discipline; he gets a lot more of the latter in the herd. Praise is only meaningful to the horse if he has earned it and if he thinks of you as his leader and someone he wants to please. And without discipline, rules have no meaning and the horse will not make an effort to please you. If there are no rules, there is no leadership.

Discipline and praise go together and the horse needs both. If you constantly shower praise on a horse, without him making any effort to earn it, why should he keep trying to please you?

Your horse needs to know when you are pleased with him and know when you are not. Often just a stern word is all it takes, especially when the horse has an attitude of wanting to please you. But just like a child, the horse needs structure and rules to follow and ramifications to be meted out if he disobeys a rule. Otherwise, you end up with a very unpleasant animal—whether it is two-legged or four.

All of my horses, selected by me largely for their temperaments, fall into the category of very willing and eager to please. That does not mean that they are always perfect, never make mistakes or never misbehave. Since humans have been breeding horses more for pleasure and recreation than for beasts of burden for nearly a century, as a rule, horses are much better tempered than they used to be.

But this eager and willing attitude can turn into the likes of a tantrumming toddler in the presence of inadequate leadership. Recognizing when a horse is trying his best, when he is goofing off and when he is blatantly breaking the rules, is the first step in nurturing the “try” in your horse.

When I issue a directive to a horse, it is not his actual response or performance that matters—it is the effort he makes to do the right thing. If he tries, he gets rewarded and praised. If he doesn’t, he gets scolded and put immediately back to work. He doesn’t have to be brilliant, but he does have to make an effort.

Although praise is a great motivator for horses and scolding is a great dissuader, the best motivator of all for horses is comfort. When my horse puts out a good effort in response to something I have asked him to do, I always acknowledge it by whispering sweet-nothings to him, rubbing him on the withers and leaving him alone for a moment to let him rest and think about how good it feels to be a good horse. When he cheats me or doesn’t try hard enough, I put him immediately back to work. When he makes an exceptional effort, I might just stop what I am doing and immediately put him away.

Equine behaviorists have long known that safety and comfort are the greatest motivating factors of a horse’s behavior. Often people are surprised to learn that it is not food, as it is with dogs. Horses can find the food on their own—they don’t need a leader for that.

Horses only feel safe in the presence of a strong and committed leader who is fair, in-control and makes all the important decisions. Horses are comfortable when they are allowed to take it easy and have the satisfaction of feeling appreciated. Pampering, indulgence and a lack of rules and structure can turn a good horse bad in a matter of hours.

If you watch for and acknowledge the try in your horse—his effort to do the right thing or to please you– and recognize and reprimand when he is disobedient or distracted, he will work hard to stay on your good side and he will feel safe and content to be with you and to do your bidding.

All the money in the world cannot buy this kind of respect and devotion from a horse—you have to earn it by being a strong leader and recognizing your horse’s effort, be it good or bad. This is a tall order—that’s why horses make us better people.

Enjoy the ride,
Julie

Bitless Or Bridle-Less? What Is The Difference?

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Bitless or Bridle-less? To me, there’s a big difference. Often when I write about riding my horses bridle-less, people confuse it with the issue of riding bitless. To me, they are totally different subjects.

At expos and clinics, I am often asked, “Is it okay for me to ride my horse bitless?” It is presumed in this circumstance that you will use headgear of some sort– be it a rope halter, side-pull, hackamore or bitless bridle.

When I talk about riding bridle-less, I am referring to what I personally feel is the ultimate bond with my horse—to be able to ride complex maneuvers and patterns with nothing on his head and no reins or physical control of the head and no way to physically restrain the horse.

To answer the question of whether or not you should ride your horse bit-less (with some other form of headgear), I would ask you three simple questions: Do you ever have trouble stopping or turning your horse? Is your horse ever disobedient? Does your horse ever spook and bolt? If the answer to any of these question is yes, then personally, I would not want to be riding that horse bitless.

Truth is, most well-trained horses will work just fine bitless. Many horses actually work better bitless—with a rope halter, hackamore or bitless bridle for control–because they do not have the added stress of a rider who is inarticulate or unskilled with her hands or the harsh pressure of a totally inappropriate bit, both of which happen a lot more often than you might think.

There are many good reasons to ride a horse in some sort of bitless headgear—from dental issues to scarring on the tongue; from a young green horse to a sensitive horse with a heavy-handed rider. As long as you have adequate control of your horse at all times, there’s certainly nothing wrong with going bitless.

Limitations may come into play when you are training a horse without a bit, when you ask for more difficult things like collection, jumping, rollbacks, etc. The more difficult it is for the horse to comply with your request, the more likely he will be to ignore the pressure on his nose. He may well make the decision that he’d rather live with the pressure on his nose than do the more difficult thing that you are asking.

The bit is one tool that riders use to allow you to put enough pressure on the horse to motivate him to do things he isn’t otherwise motivated to do. Sort of like a person being willing to work overtime if he makes time-and-a-half, a horse is more motivated to do hard stuff in order to avoid pressure on the bit.

For myself, my ultimate goal with my horse is to be so bonded, so in-sync with, so in-control of him that I don’t need any head gear at all. When my horse is so obedient that he says, “Yes sir Captain! Your wish is my command,” and he listens intently to my body position and gestures for cues as to the direction and speed of the course I have chartered for us, it is truly an accomplishment.

This is not a relationship that develops overnight; however, with a horse that is already well-trained, experienced and willing, it can be accomplished quickly, if the rider has enough skill. A horse that is responsive, compliant, willing and eager to please, that is finished in his cues, can perform complex maneuvers, has a good work ethic and is respectful of authority, is years in the making and usually involves a bit and a skilled rider.

Once I start riding a horse bridle-less, I still constantly revert to riding with the bridle, to reinforce as needed to keep my horse honest, sharp in his responses and to develop new skills.

The bit, or more accurately, the rider’s hands, can be the cause of many, many training problems. The wrong bit in a horse’s mouth can cause problems as well and the right bit can resolve lots of problems, as you may have seen on many episodes of Horse Master. A bit cannot train a horse, only a skilled rider can; but it can sure cause a lot of problems.

On the other hand, the bit is a communication tool that when used properly— not as a cue, but as reinforcement of a cue and only as needed—can assist the rider in developing the performance and cooperation of the horse. To me, the bit allows us to develop a fine line of communication between horse and rider—so fine that the horse can perform incredible maneuvers, cued only from the rider’s seat, legs and gestures and without the need of any type of bridle.

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

PS- I always enjoy your comments here in my blog– thank you for contributing to an interesting discussion!