Hackamore : Cynthia says that horses previously ridden in a bosal or….

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s ready to explode, caused engagement by doing a hind etly driving her forward with soft feel on the reins, helped ch in turn elevate the neck olute self carriage. Photos by Marty Schiel October/November 2011 – Page 63 Transition to Bitless continued… Isolate and Influence Cynthia Cooper “If a rider has been using rein pressure on a bitted bridle to achieve a semblance of what they think of as collection, they will initially be disappointed with the bitless bridle, and may even decide ‘it doesn’t work,’” says Tasmanian rider, trainer, and bitless bridle authority, Cynthia Cooper.

Developer of the Lightrider bitless bridle, Cynthia says that many riders will find their horse is more relaxed without the worry of a bit in its mouth. “What we do as riders ultimately affects how our horse responds to a bitless bridle.

A horse may respond better to one style over another, so it’s worth getting one of each type, to try out.

Most companies selling them allow you to return the bridle within a certain time, if it doesn’t suit your horse.

But keep in mind that the horse will need some time to adapt and learn how to respond, before one decides which bridle to keep.” Most bitless bridle variations deliver aids by applying pressure to the bridge of the horse’s nose, while the cross-under applies pressure to three areas: the nose, the side of the face, and to some degree across the poll.

Cynthia says that horses previously ridden in a bosal or Hackamore that have been trained using good horsemanship principles (ie cue and body training) will quickly adapt to a bitless bridle.

She suggests carefully fitting the chosen bridle and then turning the horse loose without reins in a roundyard or small pen (under constant observation) as a good way of introducing it to the horse and taking note of its reactions. “Cross-under styles generally require the noseband to be fitted firm for safe riding as well as correct and efficient function, but for this exercise it is better left a little loose so that the horse can eat and drink – an important benefit with bitless bridles.” EXERCISES Four basic exercises, first taught from the ground, test whether the horse will understand and respond well to these pressures when the rider is up.

Exercise 1: With the bridle fully fitted, test that the horse will lower its head to a gentle pressure at the poll (using the hand).

Exercise 2: standing by the saddle, test that the horse will  
back up calmly with gentle rhythmic pressure from the noseband, with the neck and head lowered and flexing rather than hollow and braced.

Exercise 3: Thirdly, from the same position beside the saddle and with the October/November 2011 – Page 64 Top Left: Cynthia Copper teaching ‘Charlie’ lateral flexion from the ground, but he is not yet showing correct flexion (ears are not level).

Top: When introduced to lateral flexion under saddle ‘Charlie’ has responded well and note that this time his ears have stayed level.

Left: A hindquarter yield from a light rein.

Photos by Nikki White-Bayne nose flexed slightly inward, ask the horse to move the hindquarters over using gentle rhythmic pressure with a hand on the horse’s hip.

Do this same hindquarter yield using gentle rhythmic pressure with the stirrup halfway between the girth and the flank.

This same exercise should also be tested at the walk and trot, to disengage the hindquarter causing the horse to stop.

Exercise 4: Once again standing at the horse’s side, flex the neck laterally (sideways) to achieve flexion of the horse’s head in response to gentle rhythmic pressure on one rein, which will apply pressure to the opposite side of the face.

Also, using the reins as one would from the horse’s back, teach the horse to flex at the jaw in response to gentle pressure on the noseband (from the reins).

On ground and mounted work: Aim for an instant response to very light aids.

Once on the horse’s back, test these aids in a confined area, perhaps with a knowledgeable person on the ground to offer assistance.

Keep first rides out fairly short and on a ‘non-spooky’ day, either alone or with one trusted companion.

During each and every ride, test the horse’s response to the aids and the the rider’s ability to isolate and influence each section of the horse’s body.

This, really, is where overall control begins and ends. ADJUSTING TO BITLESS Janene Clemence Professional rider and trainer of horses for liberty performances and bitless advocate Janene Clemence specialises in helping riders make the transition.

She says that while some horses take to the change without a murmur, most – even highly educated animals – do need some re-training. “This is because they have largely been controlled by pain or force – not deliberately, but that is the nature of bits.

My method of re-training a horse to bitless is based on the same principles as traditional dressage training, beginning without Continued Transition to Bitless continued… a rider on top.

It is basic training I would carry out before getting on any horse.” Re-training takes place in a contained area with the horse first worked at liberty so that certain basic commands and cues can be established, and areas that need work can be identified. “It is not just a matter of making the horse do something, it’s about creating a dialogue and establishing responses to cues that become automatic.

It’s also about building the correct muscles, particularly over the back, so the horse can carry its rider easily and comfortably.” Initially, un-mounted work is easier for the horse and also shows up any physical issues, which will manifest as stiffness in the body.

These need to be addressed before the rider gets on or they will create resistances and problems in the training. “Most horses are not strong enough to carry a rider easily without this work,” Janene says. “A horse’s reactions to pain – stiffness, tail swishing, bucking, etc, are usually misinterpreted as disobedience, yet misbehaviour is mostly a manifestation of some point of discomfort.

Transition to bitless is a perfect time to re-visit these issues.”

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