Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Endless Discussion!

This is a question from our friend Carrie, to Sarah. It relates to the 'bitless' text on Dr Cook's website. I thought you might enjoy reading it, not so much because it's a bout bitless, or bits, but more because I think it important to try and get to that point where the 'endless discussion' stops.

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hi sarah, as i said on the fone the other day the vet said to look up bitless. so i did. im not going 1 way or the other but was just interested and open to both sides. at the moment i use both methods, ie bit and riding of the head coller and cant c me changing yet. ive copied and pasted dr robbert cook whos seems to be very opinionated but he did throw up a question for me i wanted to seek yr opinion? the question is wots yr opinion on the bit interfering with breathing? ive also put other info of his just for u 2 read

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Hats off to you for researching stuff - I'd say the majority of horse people I meet can't be bothered, or read something and pick out the sensational bits, pass them on as gospel and then immediately forget about it all again!

I haven't really got time to read through all this right now (I've read quite a bit of it, and way in the past have read the whole thing). But I might make a few general observations:

1) Be wary of 'scientific' claims made by people who are trying to sell you something.

2) I'll take back No 1 if DC has full and proper, extensive, provable and repeatable scientific evidence for everything he says (maybe that comes further down the text?)!

3) This whole dichotomy between 'bits' and 'bitless' seems completely artificial to me - and I think to you, as you are doing both. My feeling is that it has arisen over the past few decades as horses became primarily leisure (not working) animals and people began to see them as pets - with all the sentimental, ill-conceived baggage and shrieking about 'cruelty' that goes with that. There are traditions of riding where both bits and bitless are used at various different stages of training (eg vacquero cowboys, who progress from snaffle bit, to bosal, finally to curb for the fully trained horse), and plenty of people who mix both as they like. I ain't got a problem with that, would do it myself, and riding with just a sidepull or headcollar or indeed nothing is fun and different for the horse and rider, good training, and so on - but for safety's sake, and 'kindness' sake, it does presuppose your horse being responsive to your feel on the reins (whatever is on the horse's end of them), weight, body movements, breathing etc, which many horses that are being 'tortured' in bitless devices aren't.

I just think pitting bits against bitless is the wrong thing to do - both have their place, depending on your individual preference, where your horse is at in his training (or lack of it!), and what you want to do with your horse, both overall and at any particular time. Humans naturally want to seek one 'truth' and stick to it (and slag off anyone who is doing things differently) - basically, it's easier that way - but the reality of the situation is that there are many 'truths' built on top of some (possibly) universal principles. Hence, all the different riding styles that have evolved around the world, for different purposes.

4) I do think you would find it hard to achieve some things with some horses without using a bit - you need that fine, subtle communication and clarity for the horse. If you think it's 'cruel', fine - stick to doing the things you can do without it.

For example, if you look at the proponents of bitless who do High School, you'll notice straight away that they select their horses really carefully - mainly Iberian horses - because these horses have been bred for correct balance for collected work from birth. And at least one leading proponent I know of adds a bridle at the end of training in order to reach the highest level of refinement. (He also said, when I went to watch him, that most horses could not offer you anything beyond shoulder-in - which is clearly nonsense, but might be true if you couldn't offer THEM anything extra in the way of help with their balance.) Ditto for NH - everyone focuses on the riding in a halter, but these systems too end up with a bit. Why do you think that is?

5) I tried out a DC bridle many years ago and found it pretty gross and unclear for the horse. Others obviously have a different experience - but we're all looking for different things from our horses. (And it's not the equipment, it's how you use it - I recently watched a chaotic lesson with someone who was adamant that she would only ride both her horses in a DC bridle because it's kinder, and neither had the slightest understanding of what they were supposed to do - is that kind?)

6) This is the same type of debate you get between barefoot and farriers, vets and equine dentists, treed and treeless saddles - again, note that many of these debates are based on business/market share rather than a search for what is best for each individual horse and person. I'm sick to death of it all, to be honest. In my view, people need to get informed, just as you are trying to do, then make up their own minds and shut up trying to tell everyone else what to do! The difficulty is that it takes a long time to get a good overall view of all these aspects of horsemanship, see where they overlap or contradict, how things fit together, how different training methods are aiming for the same or different things, and what ARE the universal truths (if any?) about horses - mentally, anatomically, biomechanically, emotionally, etc. It's this understanding that then allows you to look at this overwhelming morass of STUFF and make an informed judgement, which then allows you to take things forward in a way that makes sense to and benefits your horse.

That's the quest I've been on for decades, Carrie, and the one you are on, too. It's worth the journey even to get as far as I have, but it's tough. And when you reach a certain point, you truly feel liberated - you can make up your own mind and be confident that at least you won't make things worse for the horse, and very possibly you'll make them better. KEEP GOING!!

Write back if any other questions/comments. And do you want a slot on the next clinic (£35 per day this time, as an old timer!)? Got a couple of people interested already, so don't wait too long.

Lots of love to you and your horses


glenatron said...

A really nice response and a point of view that I wholeheartedly agree with.

I watched a film a which a wafty-voiced lady talked to various horse trainers the other night. That had a lot of people going on about how mean bits are and how everything needs to be done at liberty and whathaveyou. To me it was annoying, particularly the way it showed that a trainer can keep horses carrying just as much tension at liberty one ever could working in a bridle or however else. Liberty is great, it looks like special magic to a lot of people who haven't seen it done a lot, but I'm not sure how much you actually get done that way. The whole thing seemed to mostly be made up of people looking for excuses not to ride.

Of course, we should think through the outcomes of our actions and how and why we do things, but sometimes it's worth letting the horse guide us with regard to what they are alright with rather than believing everything we get told by the latest authority. Perhaps a lot of us don't know enough about how to do that.

Hey, now there is your breakthrough DVD- What Your Horse is Thinking - just showing a set of different circumstances, in the field, mounting up, riding, with a voiceover talking through where the horse is showing tension, where it relaxes and so on. That would be a really useful tool for a lot of people...

June said...

Interesting question about breathing though. I'd have thought bitless, fitted too low, would interfere with breathing whereas a bit wouldn't, since horses can't breathe through their mouths.

dazey said...

Maybe there are as many viewpoints about how to relate to horses as there are people that relate to horses. Especially for trail riders who keep horses at home, there is Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse with subtitle of Eliminating the Fear Factors. It is a small paperback with narrative and instruction that shows how a person can teach a horse to be as safe as possible for trail riding without using bits, spurs, lunge lines or round pens. Newly available at Amazon.com.

glenatron said...

A question that may lead to another post: The other day I met a horse who doesn't like a snaffle bit. I once would have taken that at face value, but now it leaves me wondering whether they quite understand that bit or whether it just comes down to other reasons. Have you found horses that, once they knew what was meant by it, still showed strong preferences between bits, and if so what do you attribute that to?