It has been noted, repeatedly, at my agistment that I am riding Maz in a halter. And I have been questioned on this ie do you ride in a bridle? With a bit? Why not? etcetc. One of the agistees asked Mr Nancypants about Maz and how she is going only yesterday, after seeing me ride in the arena. Again, it came up that Maz is ridden exclusively in a rope halter at the moment. She commented when told no bit, no bridle, "Gee, Maz must be quiet then." The reply was no, she's a bucket of dynamite. I would have replied, nope, that's why I wear a helmet!
But the comments and observations, some with agendas behind them, some with appreciation for what I am doing, indicate various levels of understanding of riding horses, most based on myth. And in my inbox this morning, the lateste Cynthia's Natural Horseworld Blog. And in that blog, an article on this very thing ie riding bitless and people's responses to that. Exactly what I have been thinking about since I have been riding Maz over the last few weeks. It's worth the read, to save me writing the blog I was going to write (until I read the article!)
So, let's take the comment made yesterday, that Maz must be super quiet to be ridden in a halter. So only quiet horses can be ridden bitless (and then, if so, how do those horses get quiet?), that other horses (ie not quiet) must be ridden in a bit. That a bit controls a horse and confers a level of safety (having ridden racehorses, bolting, bucking and rearing horses, I'll refute that til you are blue in the face listening to me). That riding without a bit is not safe, unless of course you are riding a really quiet horse. And that you can't really train a green horse properly without a bit, and riding in a halter is a beginning phase of education that will be surpassed at some point with the use of a bit. This flow of logic astounds me, but this heuristic seems to be a quite solid base for the comments I am getting on a regular basis.
I guess it comes down to choice: what kind of relationship do you want as a rider, with your horse? I am well aware of the damage a bit can do, as can a severely used noseband, chain, rope, halter. Brute force might work once if you are lucky, but it's not sustainable. Time spent building trust, respect and solid responses to trained cues is. Severity is a quick fix but it doesn't address the base cause or issue that elicited the action or response. And severity has repercussions that may not display immediately, but may at some point down the track.
Some people may not want, or have the time to spend developing their relationship with their horse through training.They enjoy riding and just get on with it. That's their thing and they are comfortable with it. And if something bad happens to them out riding, often the horse will be blamed, will be given the responsibility for whatever happened. To me, that's like blaming a five year child for crashing the car.
Safety isn't found in a piece of metal, rubber or leather. It's found in thoughtful training, well timed communication and considered handling of the horse. It's about keeping things within the boundaries of what you and your horse are capable of at this moment now. It's about anticipating potential problems and making decisions to avoid that possible outcome ie thinking ahead, planning and being prepared. It's about being proactive, helping your horse out of trouble, so that they can help you out of trouble. It's about respecting the capacities of your horse, and your own skill sets. It's about knowledge, information and applying that knowledge at the right time, with the right intent. You won't find that in a bit in your horse's mouth.