Bitless Riding


All around the world, people gain great pleasure from riding and handling their horses. It’s a wonderful feeling when your horse learns to co-operate and try his hardest for you. And I’m sure that the horses enjoy the mental stimulation and the exercise they receive from good training.

However, your horse won’t do anything because he loves you. Your horse won’t move anywhere unless you make it easier for him to go where you want, than wherever he wants.

And don’t worry, horses always have somewhere they want to go. If you don’t believe me, just give your horse a long rein, take your legs off and stop “riding” him. Your horse will soon turn and head for home, for the gate, for the feed tin, for the grass or wherever else he wants to go.

When a horse refuses to leave the stable or runs back to the barn, people say he’s “barn sour”. This is not so. Such a horse has simply learned that if he pulls against the reins and swishes his tail, his rider will give up and allow him to go where he pleases. And I’m afraid it pleases many horses to go back to the barn.

Lots of people have the wrong idea about the loving partnership they have with their horse. They think their horse loves to carry them around, jump over things, work cattle, go to competitions or carry them all day on the trail. Well, I wonder…

Let’s face it, horses love being out in the paddock with their friends, eating grass, running around and relaxing whenever they choose. If you don’t saddle and ride your horse ever again, I’m sure he’ll still get along quite happily. And I’m sure he won’t miss carrying you around one little bit.

This isn’t what I think should happen. Just like you and me, horses have to earn their keep. It’s not unfair to ride horses. We can teach our horses to enjoy our company and to co-operate and work for us and to try their hardest for us.

Once you’ve made the decision to ride horses, you must also make the decision to teach your horse carefully and to treat him fairly and consistently at all times.

Some people want to ride but don’t want to use a bit or a stick or blunt spurs. They say that using these things is cruel.

Hang on a minute: Why are bits, sticks and blunt spurs cruel, but strapping a saddle on and expecting your horse to carry you all day not cruel? It’s hypocritical to say that it’s okay to ride a horse but it’s cruel to use a bit or a stick or blunt spurs.

Of course it’s cruel to use excessive force or to punish a horse when he doesn’t understand. But it’s equally cruel to be inconsistent, and let your horse wander along wherever he pleases, then “correct” him every now and again for reasons he doesn’t understand.

The only way any horse can relax is through correct and consistent training. Your horse can’t relax if you allow him to make some of the decisions some of the time.

If you’re not prepared to reinforce your lessons and make things uncomfortable for your horse when he doesn’t respond as you ask, he’ll soon learn to take control, run home, kick up or use other undesirable behaviours and he won’t be able to relax.

Yes, you can ride without a bit or a stick or blunt spurs. Your horse may mostly do what you want and you’ll probably arrive at your destination. However, if you’re not prepared to reinforce your lessons, you won’t improve and your horse will become nervous and worried because his world is unpredictable.

If you want to improve your horsemanship and teach your horse to co-operate and try his hardest for you, you must be prepared to reinforce your lessons at the appropriate time.

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Very well put. When a horse is asked for compliance and the learned stimuli are used such as body position and following of the movement in say the walk, the horse knows at every moment what he is supposed to be doing and isn't going to jog or whatever unless his rider is prone to attacking suddenly with the Spurs "to keep him awake". A slight tightening with the calves is sufficient. Horses can react much faster than we can.

Marilyn Saitzeff October 15th, 2016

Thanks for your comment Marilyn.
All the best from Neil

Neil Davies October 16th, 2016

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