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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Bridle-less Riding

Hi Franklin,

My name is Catherine and I am 15. I ride a 15.1 grey mare called Pru, who is 16, at my local riding school. She is ridden in a very severe bit by the riding school and all who ride her. She is very fast and strong especially over jumps and she is very hard to stop and get tense and wound up very easily. I decided to explore the option of not having a bit, having heard many people saying that she needed spurs, a stronger bit and "a good beating". It took a great deal of persuasion for me to get permission from my riding school to try a bit-less bridle and I immediately bought a simple rope halter. Since then, we have rejected jumping and she has come on so quickly; I was never fully aware of her potential! Unfortunately, the riding school will not use the bit-less bridle for all of her lessons, but I ride her in it when I can afford it. Having found your website, I decided I wanted to take it another step, and remove the bridle altogether. I was wondering if you could give me any advice to help me with this as I am unsure about how to introduce it and the aids that are used.

Thank you very much and best wishes, Catherine

Hi Catherine,

I am so sorry to hear you seem to be surrounded by people ignorant of horses. Whenever someone says a horse needs "a good beating" or abusive use of aids, force, punishment, or anything like that, you can rest assured they know little of the true nature of horses or how to really train them to willingly perform for and trust humans.

It is not about the 'bit' actually, or any piece of equipment. It is all about the hands, seat and equestrian skills of the human. When you pair that great skill with compassion, wisdom, leadership and developed trust, then you have true partnership with horses and they will provide miracles for humans. Ignorant and erroneous perceptions and beliefs about horses abound. So, you are not alone. Its a sad commentary on how humans relate to animals in general.

To train a horse For bridles-less riding, begin to ride in a very small area (round pen or small paddock) with just a rope halter and lead rope. Expect to feel out of control. Initially the head=strong horse may take off and go a lot faster than you want and not want to stop when you ask. Your job when this happens is to ride it out. It may be a wild ride for a few minutes. You must be a very good rider to do this, balanced and confident. Within a short period of time (perhaps a couple of minutes that may seem like an eternity) the horse will want to slow down and even stop. Horses really do not want to keep running much. They prefer to stand around and eat peacefully. Once the horse indicates it wants to slow, this is when you ask it to keep moving for another 30 seconds or minute, then you allow or request it to slow down and stop. Then give it a brief break, a minute of peaceful standing still. The you ask for more movement. It may take off running again. The process is the same. Let it go (stop trying to control the horse) and ride it out until the horse wants to slow, then ask it to keep moving for another minute and you then allow it to slow. Very good riders can do this in a big arena. The horse just runs around the area once or twice and then wants to slow. If you are in a round pen, fairly soon you should be able to simply lift the lead rope (begin to use a simple neck rope at this point) and use your seat to easily stop the horse. It will realize it is OK to stop and that its mouth is not going to be hurt. A bigger bit and hard hands produce fear within the horse and prompt it to want to keep running. Turning it lose prompts it to run a little and then exercise its normal desire to stop moving and be peaceful. But it has to be free from pain, being controlled, etc. to want to be peaceful. Everything else produces fear of capture, not surviving and more pain. Logical isn't it? Punishment, producing fear, causing pain, etc. is actually illogical and works against a willingly compliant and well performing horse.

This technique has risks obviously. If a horse slips or falls at a gallop it is very dangerous. A round pen (60 feet in diameter) keeps the horse confined enough that it may not go at full speed (no straight-a-ways). But there are still risks. It is also possible to bring a horses mouth back this way. Horses should be taught to stop off of a riders seat. Your hands and reins are supposed to be lines of communication and not air breaks. Obviously your horse doesn't listen to these cues, probably because it has been over-ridden, over- cued, over-bitted and had most things overdone to it for a long time. As this is not your horse, so do not expect much or any support for what you want to do here. Probably it will not be allowed at all. Especially allowing the horse to run until it wants to stop (brief as it may be). But this is the most efficient way to train a horse to become good bridle-less and to re-developed the animal's mouth by getting rid of the bit. Humans ignorant of horses tend to go for expediency, power over and punishment rather than developed good wisdom, learned and practiced skill, patience in the training process, compassion and developed trust, as this take time and thoughtfulness. Expect any decent bridle-less training to take several months to accomplish reasonably well. This is if you have 3-4 days a week to put into it. Good Luck....

Sincerely, Franklin

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