BITLESS RIDING: A Presentation at Cornell Horse Expo By Christine Trutmann I.
I’m here representing Bitless Bridle, a company that offers horsepeople a way to retain precise communication and control while riding their horses without a bit: the cross over bridle.
Which I will tell you about at length a little further on.
Here at the start I want to emphasize that I’m promoting bitless riding first, and the cross-over bridle second.
Bits are inherently harmful tools, which can be made even more harmful through misuse.
My first priority is to encourage people to stop using bits on their horses.
Since the cross-over bitless is the most effective and humane alternative to a bit I’ve used, I’m happy to advocate it not as some company employee, but as a personally satisfied customer and user of the bridle.
Bitless riding isn’t just a fun thing to try with an easy-going backyard pony: it’s a humane upgrade from a bit…for any discipline, any breed, or any level of horse or rider training.
I’ve been transparently implying that horses are relieved to lose their bits, that their behavior and performance tends to improve when they are ridden with a bit-free mouth…this is because bits are harmful to horses, particularly in imperfect hands.
Most people concede that without fine, independent hands, a rider can hurt a horse with the bit.
But how many of us can honestly claim that we never make mistakes, or never deliberately put more pressure on the horse’s mouth than he is plainly comfortable with? Increased pressure for a hard downward transition… A quick jab on the rein for not responding appropriately to a cue, or to attempt to sensitize a hard mouth.
Or what if the horse spooks or we misjudge a distance at a fence and get left behind? We punish the horse’s mouth—accidentally or deliberately.
But beyond the consideration that almost none of us are master riders our entire equestrian career, there’s another problem: the bit is inherently at odds with the horse’s physiology, and therefore inherently harmful.
That means that even in the hands of a master, bits cause problems for the horse.
Let me go over how bits inevitably interfere with a horse’s athleticism and comfort first.
Then I’ll talk about a few of the other health problems bits and their misuse can cause, as well as training problems for horse and rider.
Finally, I’ll tell you about the crossover bridle, how it works, and why it’s a superior alternative to any kind of bit. II. III. Bits: Inherently Harmful a.
A horse exercising at liberty breathes in rhythm; at the gallop he takes a breath for every stride.
He has a dry, closed mouth.
Even if he has just been grazing, he’ll stop chewing.
Many of us have seen that: something catches a horse’s attention while he’s grazing, and he looks up as his jaw goes still, in preparation for flight.
Put a metal rod in a horse’s mouth, and immediately that natural athletic state is disturbed.
The horse’s body is programmed to produce saliva if there is something in his mouth, just like we humans do.
The body assumes we intend to digest whatever we’ve put into our mouths, and so it sends out enzyme rich saliva to begin the breakdown process and lubricate the swallowing process.
Personally, I’ve drooled over my car keys an unfortunate number of times, holding them in my teeth while my hands were preoccupied.
You all could probably attest to similar experiences.
A great deal of that excess saliva just slobbers out of the horse’s mouth as he exercises, which is often mistakenly considered an indication of a soft mouth.
This might all be no problem, because horses breathe through their noses, not their mouths.
But the horse also needs to swallow some of that liquid, like we do when we run.
And every time he swallows, he needs to stop breathing.
This can cost him at high levels of exercise.
He’s deprived of that rhythmic flow of air he has at liberty, and the interrupted rhythm can even have an effect on the horse’s regularity and length of stride.
Lactic acid builds up in his muscles faster than it would if he could breathe steadily; he tires more easily.
The pressure on him to breathe and swallow at the same time might cause him to inhale saliva or swallow air…both potentially harmful occurrences.
Aside from innately interfering with the horse’s respiratory system at exercise, the bit has a painful position in the horse’s mouth.
It rests on the bars of the mouth, conveniently teeth-less ridges of the jaw thinly covered with nerve-filled gum.
The mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of the horse’s body.
If you take a close look at this jaw…this is where the bit sits…the bars of the mouth are extremely narrow.
With a two or three pound bit on top of them, the nerve-filled gum is pressed into this edge of bone.
It’s your judgment on whether that might hurt or not.
Bear in mind that added to the bit’s own slight weight, there’s the pressure of the reins in the rider’s hands… say an average three pounds in each hand…only enough to have contact.
Most people use significantly more.
Other Health Problems a.
We’ve looked at why the bit is inherently harmful, even in the best of hands.
If used improperly, it can cause a multitude of health and b. c. d. e. training problems.
I’ve a full list of such problems at my booth if anyone would care to peruse it.
There are slightly over a hundred so far: many kinds of resistances and aversions to the bit, respiratory problems, musculoskeletal problems, problems directly affecting the horse’s mouth…For now I’d just like to point out a few of them.
The classic text Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners has an entry on head-shaking syndrome which is a good example of most medical description of the condition. [TEXT].
My understanding of scientific theory is that if you’re trying to figure out what’s causing something, you experiment with the variables.
So if a horse is ONLY displaying a condition when he is being lunged or ridden, it would seem logical to examine the variables singular to those experiences, like the tack.
Why this hasn’t occurred to most researchers I couldn’t tell you.
Maybe they’re not horsepeople and don’t know the first thing about lunging.
Notice the same is said, in various sources, for ‘roaring’, or laryngeal hemiplegia: it begins to affect horses between the ages of two and seven, after they have begun training.
This would again imply that something specific to the training is creating the problem.
But I must add that unfortunately, simply removing the cause of these problems alone won’t cure them once the damage has been done to the horse.
Just like taking your hand out of the fire won’t make the burn on your skin go away.
Corrective treatment is often necessary, and in the case of head-shaking, which is believed to be a symptom of facial neuralgia, treatment is often ineffective.
Often, though, time is enough for the horse to heal himself.
My pony, Mr.
Right, had both head-shaking syndrome and a perpetually mis-diagnosed respiratory ailment…Out of ignorance and bad guidance I did nothing more to help him than to adopt a halter as our official riding bridle…and over time the respiratory problem stopped recurring.
The headshaking also stopped.
This pony who had never been able to hold a steady canter suddenly could, from one day to the next.
That all changed when I sold him to a lady who used a bit on him.
His breathing began to worsen again, his headshaking came back, his canter fell apart and returned to its previous runny shuffle.
I asked her to ride him in a halter or a cross-over bridle—which I’d discovered by that time—and he hasn’t had a problem since.
What is it that causes these numerous health problems? Various things: Again, the bit simply sitting in the horse’s mouth interferes with breathing in more ways than I have discussed.
For full descriptions come look through or buy Metal in the Mouth: the Harmful Effects of Bitted Bridles, by Dr.
The excessive pressure the rider puts on the bit causes many IV. V.
Read more about Soft Mouth : A great deal of that excess saliva just slobbers out….: