Friday, October 30, 2009


It's interesting that I seem to have a completely different set of expectations depending on whom I'm working with. With Moo I expect him to comprehend more easily because he has been learning for longer and conversely I expect less from Chaps because he is only just starting out. I'm guessing though that maybe I should expect to be surprised sometimes and not without reason. Chaps is 'uncluttered' whereas Moo has so much white noise buzzing about that my guess is that he is sometimes almost 'deaf' to my blabbering.
So it was frustrating (albeit enlightening) that Moo couldn't translate my aid for halt when ground driving at liberty when Chaps could even take the next step of staying front facing during this halt. Also interesting (although I'm not actually certain of it's meaning OR relevance as yet) that Moo gets unclipped in the school and goes roll and mooch for 2 minutes until he comes over to work whereas Chaps is 'with' me from the first second.
Note to self..just shut up around the horses, less truly is more or they will (like children) just stop listening!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

sense and sensitivity

Another glorious day with temperatures in the low twenties, incredible for nearly November but very welcome. The flies aren't too bad so I was able to continue working with Chapiro again today. Even though the sessions will remain short I will up the frequency towards Christmas now that he's almost four.
Today Chapiro worked a little on desensitizing; targeting cones and then targeting a big sheet of corrugated cardboard (to start with targeting with the mouth and then the hoof) and ultimately getting him to walk over the cardboard.
We continued to take direction from pointing a finger and he will now weave in and out of the cones without following me but taking direction from the pointing. We finished with some liberty driving; firstly getting him to comprehend standing still while I walk around him as this is important when you want to take up the driving position. This is real "brainwork" for him because in some exercises I ask him to move from my body cues and others, like this one, I ask him to stand and wait. He is so clever and takes it all in his stride. He will happily walk on now from the driving position directly behind him and will halt (obviously from the voice command because he as at liberty during all this work) although he does turn to face me on the halt so we'll have to work on him staying forward facing next!
It is a crucial time as I see it. I want to reward common sense and calmness whilst retaining the sensitivity that the Andalusian breed has in abundance. I want him to think for himself yet translate my cues correctly...big weight on both our shoulders. This is uncharted territory for me, it's all in my subconscious and I can feel where I want to go but I need him to show me that I'm not making a big c*ck up; knowing the Andalusians, he sure as hell is going to let me know, lol.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well this morning I picked up the family at the airport and Looby and I had a sob, I didn't actually realise I'd missed them. So it's been a day of mega-cuddles with my baby and a bit of horse time too.
Moralejo had been ridden two days (and reasonably hard yesterday) so we went down to the bottom fields for a wander. Those fields are all on quite a slope but with a series of steps which are good for him to work on. We had a walk and a trot and he settled not too badly but was generally rather tense. We headed back up the track and past the yard and onto the lane...woohoo he was striding out and didn't stop, really keen and forward until we got to the last bit of our hamlet and he slammed on the anchors, bum. I tried to urge him on and we got piaffe, bit more and he felt horribly tight so I got off and led him up to the place where the bridleway turns off and got back on. He was still tentative but we managed the triangle  (only about 15 minutes) without another stop and didn't have any hassle when the fuel lorry came by us on the lane. Lucky the weather is gorgeous and my patience knows no bounds, lol.

Chapiro was a total babe on our first solo walk up the lane. Patrick says he could hear him snorting from inside the house but he didn't stop once except when we exchanged greetings with our neighbour and her dog and I felt it only polite to stand for a few seconds whilst chatting.
We had ten minutes in the school when we got back and he is so accomodating and lovely to be with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

While the cat's away

...the girls will play.

Patrick and Lydia are in the UK for a few days which has left me free to play ponies and catch up with friends. Yesterday Di came over with the treeless saddle so we put it through it's paces. Bev joined us for lunch and we had a great chin-wag and a bit of a giggle and probably too much wine!!

The treeless feels very comfortable but puts you in a slight 'chair' position but to be fair to the saddle it's not a dressage model. Moralejo went really well in it and it remained balanced even in canter.
Di took lots of 'photos but there's something blocking me from uploading them on here or video to youtube, my browser just keeps closing the page down or the computer grinds to a halt. I managed to email a couple to Patrick's computer so here they are. The canter is definitely improving since I started working with the idea of the AI (area of influence) I think I probably drove Di mad with my enthusiasm but it is just so exciting to have found a way to ride my gorgeous boy WITHOUT him being persistently behind the vertical. We now have decent enough canter transitions, OK running on in the downwards transition but he's not tucking back and disappearing up his own rear!!
Today we had another great session and rode in excess of 30 canter transitions from trot, walk or through rein-back to walk and then canter. I interspersed them with the walk and trot work and each time he calmed down and worked sensibly in the new pace. We worked on the canter transition on the long side, no bend, and he was correct each time in his lead and I even got counter canter on the long side (it took a few goes before he trusted that he understood that I was asking the 'wrong' lead lol).
I'm scared that we're having too much fun, he LOVES this work, and that he may not stay sound; oh well live for today and today (and yesterday thanks girls) was just excellent.

Photos of Moo in canter up and open at the front, YAY!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

FEI petition against rollkur

Please sign the petition online and pass it on to friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

this made me cry :-(

Someone on EE brought this to our makes me sick to the core, I have no words to express the depth of my despair....

KWPN Stallion Watermill Scandic ridden by Swedish Patrik Kittel during a two hour session of various degrees of hyperflexion at the World Cup dressage qualifier in Odense, Denmark. Early on in the session, the horse's tongue has turned blue and limp and flops out of the stallion's mouth. Stopping the horse, the rider leans forward and fixes the problem, using the hand furthest from the camera. After this, the session is continued for a minimum of 90 minutes in the same way. This pair is trained by Dutch chef d'equipe, Sjef Janssen, who was present at the warm up arena.

KWPN-hingsten Watermill Scandic under en to timer lang træning i varierende grader af hyperfleksion ved World Cup-kvalifikationsstævnet i Odense. På et forholdsvis tidligt tidspunkt bliver hestens tunge slap, og blå og hænger ud af munden. Rytteren parerer hesten, og ordner problemet med hånden længst væk fra kameraet. Derefter rides der videre i mindst halvanden time på samme måde. Ekvipagen trænes af den hollandske landstræner, Sjef Janssen, som var til stede på opvarmningsbanen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Area of influence

I think I mentioned yesterday that I've been letting Moo help me plan Chaps early training days. Part of this difficult task has been to ascertain exactly what I need to be training. In my previous life it was easy, lol, written down in every classical dressage book ever written. Now truly not much has changed except the lack of contact inside the mouth (to be fair that's quite a biggy if you talk to a true classicist) and many (read that as most) of the tenets that have always bound me to my training are still in place. No, what really has changed is the how, the method in other words. My buzz words are still ...light, energy, soft, together, power, engage and so on but now I have to reinvent my methods of achieving this nirvana.
I would love to sit here and just spew, it's all in my head but not beautifully formed as yet. I imagine I'll manage to put my thoughts down better when Moo has explained them more fully to me (rolley eye smiley just here). So I will try to give a general feel of what we've been working on and specifics as and when. I was hoping to have some video for tonight but as Claire so kindly sent me her rain it wasn't really the weather for filming.
I was given the task on the bitless forum of becoming more precise on my exercises, maybe using poles and markers to stop/turn at very specific points. Now I see the benefit of this but I also see the huge downsides; go look at Parelli type 'gamed' horses (sorry to all Parelli type trainers but the horses look dead and physically unhingeds to me) and that's one reason I don't want to be getting over accurate at this point in time. I still want there to be room for us to converse rather than beating ourselves with a ground pole (scuse the pun).
So I have marked out an area in the school with cones; it's roughly circle shaped but it could really be any shape. It doesn't touch the sides or the ends and sits roughly central in the school about 12/14 meters diameter. This is what I'm going to call my 'area of influence' and I started using it in-hand to begin with and then lunging and finally ridden. The rules are simple, you can only apply any aids/cues within the area of influence, outside of the area the horse gets to think for himself and develop the  balance required to perform the task in hand; outside of the area you must not use any influence except body turning in the case of riding; no contact AT ALL through the hand (I am still using the cordeo in conjunction with the bitless). You can mark the area with anything, cones, poles, ropes etc, basically anything low level and relatively inconspicuous. It's not the size of the marker that trains the exercise but the intent of the rider. I'm finding cones work best as I use them for yielding around, turning and so on but different things would be good just to keep it bright and alive.
The main benefits of the area of influence are rider focussed (well most training is) but the big plus is the confidence the horse gains when working for the periods outside of the area. Things that seem to work well within the area (unsurprisingly) are transitions (direct and within the gait), reinback, turn on the forehand/giravolta, yielding (through the shoulder, through the quarters or leg yielding), any lateral movements.
Yesterday I played more with this and had an incredible session with Moo. We worked on changes of direction in the area through a transition and sometimes reinback (figure of eight) and it all got so light that he 'offered' a walk/canter transition that was so light and with bags of energy...I'm still smiling.
If you have lasted this long then take a medal, it's just really to help my memory but feel free to feedback, god knows I need all the help I can get ;-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chapiro diary 'the plan'

I’ve been putting some thoughts together regarding Chapiro; basically where has my bitless delving left me with regards to his early work. I’ve enlisted Moralejo to help me with this project as he has gone back to the beginning again (in many senses) and has had problems that have made me look at my training and myself in a new light.

I know that sometimes I have been guilty of getting bogged down in the detail BUT it is all IN the detail. For instance, if I’m thinking about transitions and how to improve them I can’t just go out and ride hundreds; I have to drip feed information to my horse and assess the feedback. In Beudant’s words; observe and reflect. So this last week I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, OK I can hear the groans guys!

Some really simple observations when working with Moralejo…. he goes brilliantly off my voice and body aids when used in combination, not so good off each separately. The cordeo and liberty work really highlight this because he can pretty much walk off whenever he chooses; although remarkably he doesn’t. He may not walk away and in fact he seems to choose to interact with me but he isn’t as finely tuned unless I use voice and body. I’ve therefore set out to correct this and we’re working on voice only to begin with, it’s quite a slow process because I want it to be right, no having to go back and do it again. This is definitely something I want to do with Chaps although it will be in much smaller chunks as he has no ‘data’ stored like Moo; mind you that could be a good thing.

So with Chaps the work we already have in place covers the basics of forwards, stopping, turning, backing and moving away from a cue. The next logical step would therefore involve separating the aiding systems (voice and body) and then fine tuning them. Importantly, I feel, the work is of short duration; no more than 15 minutes and no more than twice a week. He remains a real baby in spite of being less than a month away from his 4th birthday. I’m in no hurry but the ‘loose’ plan would be to progress this in-hand/liberty work to eventually include lunging; plus some despooking, walking out on the lanes and tracks and other confidence exercises.

I am not intending to use a bit but should I change my mind I can always introduce one at a later date-it’s important to keep an open mind.

I had an excellent ridden session with Moo today but I’m too tired now to write it up…it will keep.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

quelle histoire

Lydia rides at a nearby centre equestre and this morning we popped back to watch the last ten minutes of her lesson.
Now ponies are always amusing, they have such personalities! Today was no exception, amusement came calling!! At the end of the lesson the kids turn , as a ride, across  the centre line and halt; so far so good. Then they do 'round the world' (le moulin here) and dismount...cue two big Friesians (on holiday livery) breaking the fence with a helluva "crash" and cavorting with neighbouring horse. The sound of the crash sent the ponies in all directions, half of them (the half seated backwards at the moment of the crash) got dumped and the other half dived for the ground. It was utter carnage, pony and child spaghetti, lol. One little girl landed with a nasty thud but kids seem able to take the knocks and she's fine. Lydia was giggling and all the girls (why don't boys ride??) had to have a good old conflab in the tack room. Don't they say never work with children or animals?

Kate asked about Etienne Beudant's book from which I quoted, his major work Extérieur et Haute école was first published in1921 and his other work still in print Vallerine (when no longer able to ride his horse Vallerine, he wrote to the friend he gave her to and this is the resulting book) I believe he wrote another but I'm not sure this is still available in French or English. He was a student of Faverot de Kerbrech (himself a student of Baucher) and well regarded by the great Decarpentry.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

fuzzy felt horses

Winter seems to be the golden thread linking most horsey blogs at the moment and so I'll join the throng. Tonight the boys are in the barn; it didn't get above 10 degrees in spite of the glorious sunshine and there was a raw wind that made their coats stand up like fuzzy felt boards.
I was overjoyed to see Moo walk up the field sound and then up the steep hill with no problem, the blip , for now, seems to have passed. It seemed a good plan to work him dismounted again and we had an excellent seesion, no expectations is generally a good plan and it certainly was today.
The spanish walk has now progressed to raising both legs (mostly in the right order,lol) and he's got the idea of keeping it forwards too. We did some more pole work and some good stretching down in the trot, the rhythm is good and after using the poles he has a real lift in his back. Excellent stretches again to finish.
Don't want to tempt fate by looking forward to the next session.
My thoughts for the day, week, maybe even the year are Etienne Beudant's words 'Observe and Reflect' taken from  ''Observer le cheval libre, réfléchir et tâcher de bien faire soi-même au lieu d'accuser la mauvaise volonté ou les tares de son cheval.
                   La réussite d'un dressage ne s'obtient que par l'observation et la réflexion sans s'écarter des lois de la nature, tandis que l'application mécanique des théories est rarement juste.
                   Le succès équestre n'échoit qu'à ceux qui observent et réfléchissent.''

This tells me that in order to succeed I must observe my horse's nature (the way he moves, why he moves, from what he moves etc) and reflect upon it to find the true 'dressage' solution for us...the mechanical application of theories is rarely just (as in correct). Beudant rocks ;-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finally I'm breaking the surface and gasping some air. The bitless malarkey has opened so many doors in my mind and most of them not actually directly related to bitless; it makes me feel pretty inadequate in my training and will, I hope, spur me on to be better.
I've been making real progress with Moo and had some good ridden canter in the school on Saturday, the first time since his problems in July. We got really clean transitions and although he was rushing, what's new, he wasn't hanging onto my hand and felt quite nice. We've groundworked or ridden every day except Monday and he seemed to be stretching well in his exercises afterwards.
I had planned to ride today but when I brought him in ihe was very tight through his shoulder/wither on the right side. I'm as paranoid about him as I am about my back, one twinge and I have visions of the surgeon's knife glinting.
So it was a change of plan and after some massage we groundworked, first a little in-hand opening up the shoulders with some yielding and then the same with the quarters. We walked over our pyramid of poles, which he did as ably as usual, and then on to some gentle lunging in walk and trot. In these sessions I pretty much let him dictate the pace and although he looked tight to start with, he did end up long, relaxed and stretching. His stretches back in the yard were the best ever, he was very cooperative. If I was a religious person I'd be praying tonight that he is good in the morning, I don't want to slide back down that slippery slope again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The End

Well it's the boring bit (hehe) for me...just a list to remind me where we are in October 2009, lots of bitless options out there in the world and with price tags from 20€ to 200 € you need to choose wisely.
Let's start with the cordeo which is basically just a rope around the base of the neck. It can be used for cuing/aiding but it has to be a very refined system. I will be using this regularly but I doubt for hacking!
Halters which can be very effective yet very simple, the bosal, rope hackamore (the original hackamore) and the next one on the list for me to try...the australian Enduro bridle (not really a bridle but more of a halter with uni-lateral rein possibilities PLUS a lifting under the jaw when the hands are raised together) has reins attached on both sides of the nose piece whereas the bosal/hackamore have one place rein attachments under the chin.
Sidepulls allow you to 'place' the head with unilateral rein aids rather like a noseband with reins...there are many different brands out there made from rope/leather/synthetic materials. Some have a direct 'pull' whilst others attach to the nose piece via a ring to give a firmer pull across the nose/behind the chin like the Scawbrig. There are others that cross over the nose and allegedly are good for pokey nosers (mmm, don't like the sound of that one).
The Dr Cook bitlessbridle specially designed to move the whole head to unilateral rein aids, the crossunder cheekpieces give a 'whole head hug' feel that I didn't like but then Moo doesn't like to feel enclosed around the head and to be fair this bridle is highly recommended by many.
Mechanical bitless solutions like the English and German hackamore are often the first step to bitless and sometimes used for horses that are showing obvious problems when ridden bitted. Their leverage action is believed to be rather severe but the English hackamore, in the right hands, is in my opinion like a curb bit and can enable some precise aiding. I am going to add the LG bitless in here although to be fair the leverage option is only one it offers.It has a 'wheel' type attachment which can offer a rang of aiding possibilities acting on either/or the nose/poll/chin area. I would certainly give this a try.
Here are some names you'll find in the marketplace just google away.
Enduro bridle
Dr Cook's bitless bridle
The Micklem Multi bridle (can as others do, take a bit or not)
Dually (more a training aid)
The LG bitless bridle
The Nutural Bridle
The Be Kind bridle
Barefoot range of bitless bridles Walnut, Amber etc (nicely made and super kid's sidepull to get them started young!!)
Oh the list is endless and more products are coming on the market all the time, please let me know if you hear of new concepts (I'm waiting to learn more of Cabruze's) and I'll add them to the list.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

let's put this to bed

Not for a permanent sleep because I can tell you for certain that I'll be boring you some more over the following months but for the moment it's done.
My conclusions (well Claire pretty much said it on her comment before) are pretty inconclusive, lol! I  now need to study some of the options to take my own work forward but I've learned a lot (thanks to some generous people who have posted interesting stuff on the web) and I think the important thing I've learned is to let my horse follow his nose...quite literally if I can 'place' his nose (or head) then I can direct him, if I can place his nose I can stop him (if my voice and seat fail).
Working bitless in it's truest form (at liberty) takes a patience and vision for the future that not everyone can/wants to sign up to. I began this search thinking that these NH (still makes me shudder) types are living in cuckoo land and training horses that look drugged at best, turned off at worst. Of course there are bitless solutions that fall in the middle ground between bitted and liberty and I'll give an overview of the options available in my final post. What I think I've discovered (well in truth this is something I already felt but bitless takes you one step further)  is that the true sense of horse training is finding the most simple solution to getting the best results; by stripping down your training system you can find it's weak spots BUT, most importantly, find a confidence within your horse/human relationship that is uplifting if not magical. So it is simplicity, clarity, confidence and sincerity that work WITH either bitted or bitless and your horse truly is an image of you, he is what you make him. Of course the old 'less is more' has never been truer.
Will I ever use a bit again...probably.
Do I despise bits and the people that use them...absolutely not.
Do I think the  haute école movements are possible bitless...yes but it's only a gut feeling.
Will I bit my youngster Chapiro? Hopefully not.
Am I good enough to train my horses bitless, probably not but then if I can't do it without then I probably can't do it with.
I am so glad I started this I will never be the same but then hopefully that's a positive!
I'll finish with a round up of the marketplace tomorrow and may I say a big thanks for all of your input.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

grown up stuff

I make it a rule not to spout about stuff that I know nowt about, as I have never trained a horse to GP then I can't begin to suggest that it may be possible bitless. I read recently (and Di shows a video here) that there are very few folks who ride bitless at the highest level and any that do are previously trained bitted so it's not quite the same as starting at the beginning. I have trained passage and piaffe with a couple of my horses in the past and I think the energetic, hot blooded ones could possibly have been able to be trained without a bit but I'll just never know so I'll not try to surmise.
Let's just say that I'm finding depths to my training that I hadn't thought possible and if I was twenty years younger I might have the time and energy to prove the theory; as it is I'll just rely on someone else to prove it to me.
Just short and sweet tonight but next I'll have a quick look at some of the bitless options.

Friday, October 9, 2009

the next steps

My plan was to develop my thoughts towards the next stage of training. That is the work that follows the basics, if you think of it in terms of competition levels then it's elementary/medium (sorry you overseas guys but the stuff like medium trot, half pass, shoulder-in simple/flying changes etc). This is when we expect to see the horse in true self carriage, able to perform lateral work with ease, with energy and in an unceasing rhythm. The engagement is upped and collection has started to be the focus of our training but only enough to perform the required tasks. This is the exciting point for me, so much promise and some good work already under the belt, and the horse...about 7-8 years old and strong enough to continue to even more collection when asked.
Whilst I will throw a few words in the direction of the uber advanced work in a later post, at the moment I think this is where bitless has lead me and will leave me (until Moo gets his knickers straight and we progress in rapidity ,lol) 
So we're a little off target (Moo being 13 now) and we have some higher level work in place because of our past lives but really we're working on the elementary work of basic collection.So I'll share our previous few days work to give an idea where all this bitless info has sent me!
Aside from hacking off down the fields or up through the village we spend on average 3 hours a week in the school. After my  first experience with the cordeo I was hugely impressed, this is for me the biggest test of your aids and determines whether your horse is 'in tune' with you.
So every session starts with some in-hand work in the cordeo, the biggest problem initially being how to influence the head and neck to achieve inside (or indeed outside) bend. The cordeo really doesn't give any idea of bend and so it has to be a vocal or visual cue and I've found a finger pointing to where I want the nose to be is the best method yet. Basically I ask for direction indicating (with a pointing finger) from a standstill via a walk on and then click/treat the desired behaviour. This is like magic!
Riding today I used the cordeo but with the bitless backup (like a second pair of reins) to stop in a hurry if necessary.
What was truly amazing was the fact that I could practice my hands on the cordeo without upsetting his mouth and at the same time I knew for sure he had nothing in the hand as long as I rode only off the cordeo. EVERYONE should ride like this at leastonce in a while. Off for beauty sleep now, xxx Trudi

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Classical trainer sacked for not using a bit

Well now comes the tricky bit. I’ve always struggled with describing myself as ‘classical’ but it is the tag that probably describes my training best. That is about to change; it is one of the biggest cardinal sins to believe one can train ‘classically’ without a bit. So I hereby renounce all previous claims that I may be classical in my approach. I am not classical, there, said it and I feel better already. So what am I really trying to achieve with my training? Not great success in competition arenas that’s for sure. A horse trained to Grand Prix? Get real Trudi, lol. No I’m not actually goal driven much at all, I used to be but then I suppose that has mellowed with age. All I really want it to enjoy the time I spend with my horses and for them to enjoy the time they spend being and working with me and for us all to keep fit enough that we can continue to a ripe old age.

Take yesterday as an example; I had one of the best days! Did we find more engagement in our half pass? Move effortlessly from shoulder-in to counter shoulder-in? No, we trotted a figure of eight keeping rhythm through rein changes and with Moralejo not rushing or leaning. It was a joy that we could do this simple thing with zero contact but 100% concentration…we were both in the zone and it made me want to cry, partly because I’ve waited so long but partly because I’m realising I’ve been up a blind alley for way too long. I haven’t felt his back swing so freely or seen his head so quiet ever and to finish we went down the hill and trotted home in the same trot, no hands, just him finding his balance.

So I ask myself again, what do I want from my training? I want that smile from yesterday, I want it too feel like I’ll burst with pride in my boy because we achieved balance together but at the same time independently…like dancers, touching and blending with each other but not leaning on each other.

My old favourite Paul Belasik says that dressage isn’t dressage without a bit, it’s a reference point for propriocentric (had to add that one to my spell checker, lol Mr B) balancing i.e. a static reference point (Cabruze and I already confused each other with this idea of ‘static’) that the horse senses in order to balance himself over his feet. I’m not sure about this statement but I’d like Mr B to substantiate his belief with some science, alas I doubt it will be forthcoming.

Dr Thomas Ritter writes ‘you can't produce the same level of suppleness and throughness with a bitless bridle as with a classical bridle.

None of the classical traditions use bitless bridles. None of the classical schools use bitless bridles.’ Mmm, lacking in science again I’m afraid.

Did I say afraid?? Well do you know I think that’s just the problem, the classicists believe that there is a process one must go through, believe in, to achieve a ‘classically’ trained horse and are pretty terrified that someone comes onto their turf and asks too many questions. The answer…blind them with art, well that’s not good enough for me any more ;-)

Oh this is tiring, I’m going to call it a night, I need to choose my words carefully. So I guess it's back to my tongue in cheek title of a while back...I'm a 'living' trainer (well it's better than being a dead one) and open to ALL things based on believable science, dusted with a little art and being of benefit to my horse and at the moment I don't see a big reason to use a bit. I think tomorrow I'm going to talk about the cordeo work I'm doing with Moo, the lateral work and baby moments of collection (yes without a bit).
Night, night.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meat for Di

Before I gather my thoughts on advancing the horse I want to put some meat (there you go Di, meatballs for you!!) on the bones of the method.

This is actually something I’m playing with now so it won’t be hypothetical but of course it’s only (at best) a two-horse study and hardly proof that the method works but I’m happy to share my thoughts.

In-hand work is something I’m actually not bad at, I learned lots when I was not able to ride after a back op and it kept me sane. The most important aids for groundwork are surely body position and voice? Well yes I think they are but I would also add touch (hand or maybe whip), hand cues (by this I mean pointing or arm sweeping which can obviously be great for giving directional aids) and all helped by clicker work. Before starting the serious groundwork I would ‘play’ in the stables with some basic clicker training and ‘get outa my space’ stuff but this is important for all horses ridden or not and makes them nice to handle.

In the early days of groundwork before we even think of riding we will want to have all the basic aids well learned. Starting and stopping are obvious firsts and they will be revisited and refined forever more, they are THE FOUNDATION STONES UPON WHICH ALL ELSE RESTS. I get really hacked off when folks make up every excuse under the sun why horses can’t do these rudimentary basics well…but never blame themselves. My dog is untrained, woefully so but it’s not HER fault it’s MINE. Horses weren’t born knowing these things and their lives and ours will be happier if we can at least concur on the basics.

Lunging and long reining will follow the close up ground work and again this is something that I’ve done bitless for a number of years and truly I just don’t ‘get’ side reins, the human fixing the horses head, trying to ‘connect’ with the front end…I have heard the classical reasoning for bits and side reins in this work (read someone like Paul Belasik for a great explanation) but personally I feel if the head is the barometer for what goes on behind then why would you ‘fix’ it and loose this communication?

When we move on to mounted work these simple ideas of moving forwards when prompted, stopping or slowing on cue and turning will be solidly in place. Now this work was often performed in the cavesson, no bit, and indeed it’s heartening to know that this still continues with the transition to bit being made after the horse is initially mounted in the cavesson.

Moving into the ridden work is a natural progression from the groundwork and so the same directional rein aids/voice/touch/clicker will be more than handy when our seat and weight is at first just an unbalancing confusion. This is the point at which I feel the bit is LEAST needed. If our previous work (taking months) has been patient and logical then this is just a small  but important step. What if we loose our balance and grab the reins just a little too roughly or our youngster jumps a little at some noise in the hedge? Well it surely makes the whole bitting process somewhat more difficult? I have stopped offering the bit to Chapiro (did so about 6 times) and at present I have no intention of reintroducing this work but I will be documenting his progress as we go so watch this space.

Straightforward riding in the early days, little, regular and varied will build up the horses musculature and general ability to carry us without compromising his own balance and still I can’t see a reason that one HAS to do this with a bit. Gradually the seat and weight will take a bigger role in the work and the hand will remain just an indicator of direction. Many horse’s (Moralejo for one) come to rely on the hand too early and the using the ‘fifth’ leg to balance can become a hard habit to break Ah but… then the horse could lean/rely on the bitless hand I hear you cry. Yes, absolutely true, except that the whole concept of riding bitless is more likely to produce a horse that is truly working ‘away’ from the hand because the hand is not capable of such brutality (yes I KNOW none of you are like this but some (plenty) of folk are) and if the hand attached to the bit can be so light and kind, what happens to it and why do we see little of this type of riding later on? Where do all the pully pushy yanky riders emerge from? It’s even rife in the classical world; remember the classical girlie’s video I posted? Well they don’t come much more classical than her.

OK, ranting over and just to recap…at the moment I don’t believe in the early days of training a horse we need to introduce a bit. Some of this work I have almost never used a bit for anyway and the rest I now believe it is not necessary for either.

This is defo now spaghetti and meat BALLS but I am really giving some form to the ideas in my head so it’s helping me but probably driving you guys (if you got this far) nuts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Sorry this is possibly late as I've had my head up my derrière but a big welcome and thanks to my two new followers Molly and Vectormom....hi both and you're very welcome.

raw material


I could just go and pick up a book and quote a definition but first I’d like to explore my own head a little. Horses don’t need collection to carry a rider, they need self- carriage (or let’s say it makes for a nicer ride if they have), it’s helpful (I’d say almost essential), that a horse has a naturally good conformation. It’s neck and head coming out of and at a good angle to it’s well sloping shoulder. A strong, not overly long, back and quarters that balance well with the front end. Of course it would be a whole other subject for me to go into greater detail but suffice to say that a horse with the correct raw material will find collection way easier than a horse that was born on it’s forehand.

Before riding our beautifully put together steed we will prepare with groundwork to strengthen and enable him to grow accustomed to our bizarre human behaviour. Once mounted for the first time we will begin to allow him time to rediscover his balance whilst carrying his wieldy load. There are many ways of starting horses but most will use this type of progression. After a period of time we will ask more of our horse through transitions, changes of direction and the beginnings of lateral work. We will take him out for hacks and walks to further increase his confidence and strength and after (ideally at least) two years we may begin the serious work. That isn’t to say that we have had zero collection before this time but any collection should have come through the horses own desire to perform a task better and not by us asking for it. What should be obvious to the onlooker by now is the fact that the horse can carry himself and his rider, he is relaxed and able to stretch down and he can keep a good rhythm.

Aside from being able to place the head left or right to turn and maybe some rudimentary stopping (as a last resort) why would we need a bit? Do we need a bit for these basic commands?

Next I want to look at the journey from the ‘straight line horse’ that has no collection to the horse that begins to engage his hinds and step under himself.

That is, however, for another day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The first bit

The beginning bit (excuse the pun)

Since learning to ride at the age of five I have spent the majority of my hours in the saddle relying on a bit for control; that is to say directing my steed and regulating his speed. As a five year old I believed the main function of the bit was to enable me to hoist up my pony’s head once he had a mouth sufficiently stuffed with grass. The kids today, riding in arenas with no chance to munch don’t know they are born.

As I grew up I learned the good old four pounds of weight in the reins rule, along with a damned good gripping with the knees and backside (anatomically impossible to do both simultaneously but what the heck, that didn’t stop my pony club teachers trying).

By the time I was a teenager I had seen a ‘new’ way after I was given Waldemar Seunig’s great tome, Horsemanship, which left me with more questions than answers but then that’s the story of my life.

Bumbling along trying to fathom contact, submission and relaxation all in the same breath, I finally ‘broke’ when a trainer had me slap on draw reins and wind in my horse’s head. Science told me that this was way more than four pounds of pressure and I’m proud to say I broke down and cried with frustration and in desperation. Looking back this may well have been the start of me changing paths; it was more than 10 ago and it set off a big alarm bell in my head.

So as you can see I took a very traditional path towards horsemanship, as have literally hundreds of thousands of us throughout the world. What I’m interested in here is not so much (although I will focus on it later) which bit/bitless works but more the really fundamental question…

Do we really need a bit?

To begin then this question begs yet another question; Why did some humans decide to train their horses to wear a bit?

Well from my research so far it would appear that it was the quickest and most successful way to train a prey animal to stay put and do your bidding (be that war or work). It’s a fact that if you have the horse’s head you have the horse (that would apply in a physical and mental capacity) and bits made of metal, bone and other materials were used to this end. I believe at one time they even tried nose rings but this was abandoned as a useless practice.

So it was the efficacious way to train a horse, tie a piece of metal into it’s mouth and hey presto CONTROL!

Now what you need to bear in mind is that this started before the birth of Christ and I’m left wondering how many other practices are still hanging around since those days? Certainly our world is much changed from even that of say one hundred years ago yet metal bits have endured.

My quest then is to try and fathom why we aren’t all bitless these days and why not one of my dressage training books (of which I have a few) mentions the idea that one could achieve collection without a bit. Indeed I find it odd that for centuries trainers have justified, yet never questioned, the use of a bit.

My thoughts over the next few bitless blog entries will focus on just that, do we really need a bit to achieve collection? Do the very small voices of those who believe in bitless collection really count against the worldwide dressage community? And does it really matter?

Stay with me if you can bear it and please chuck as much as you like into the pot…hopefully it will lead me somewhere.

Here are some links I’ve found useful, I shall round them all up at the end and put them in the bitless gadget box for ease.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

unravel the spaghetti

Well it ain't finished but I get the feeling if I don't start soon then I never will. I have added a gadget to the side of the blog where I will add each link to the bitless posts as I create them. Tonight is just a paperwork exercise, getting my desk straight as it were but I would like to open by referencing a blog friends  post on this subject.
HorseofCourse  and to urge you all to use the www to find out more, you too may then have spaghetti brain syndrome like me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Be bop a lula he's my baby

Same one long rein on the neck exercise that I did with Moo, no where near so well executed but heck I'd give him 10/10 for calm and sensible and it has decided me on a slightly different start in life for him.

killing me softly

One of the reasons that I think I'd prefer not to be using a bit. At least you would be less likely to use the bit to train piaffe :-(
Can I just ask that we don't mention who this person is or do a big knife job on her, she's not the only one doing this stuff (although you wouldn't think she would from her publicity) so try and keep it polite.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I can see clearly now

Well let's just say things are a little less blurred on my bitless ideas.
 Yesterday Di came over and as always it was great to see her and have a natter. Di brought her treeless Trekker saddle over for us to try on Moo and so after getting the boys in we tacked up and headed down to the school. Now I don't have 'photos, it's Di's fault as she is  useless and her 'phone (with camera) had run out of power.....and me, being even more useless than Di had no power for camera or video; must be our age.
So, dear readers, you won't get to see how gorgeous he looked (actually joking aside it did look 'pucker' and as Di said a little 'iberian' too) but it did sit very nicely on him.
Di had already warned me that it feels rather wide sitting on the Trekker and as I sat on Moo bareback last week (omg he's wide, it's like sitting astride the kitchen table)  it was with some trepidation that I mounted.
I didn't feel too stretched but the big sloping pommel affair was pressing slightly into my upper thigh and took me back to machines of torture in the gym. Moo felt really comfy and walked out beautifully on a long rein; into trot and he was still moving well and very relaxed, although I think rising trot in the Trekker is an art form in itself, I did find the sitting trot fine and Moo just stayed moving freely over his back.
Di had a sit too so that I could see him move in the saddle and I've never seen him move so well behind, no hint of the pelvic problem.
To round up; I think I may like treeless although the Trekker wouldn't be my choice as it sits your hip/knee angle a bit too closed and the pommel torture thingy would drive me to distraction. I felt no hip or back discomfort though and that is a huge bonus for me :-)
We finished with lunch and more putting the world to rights. I wish Di had taken notes on bitless because I've crystalised my ideas more after talking it through with her and if she was a REAL friend she'd be writing them up for me, lol.
Thanks for coming over Di and for letting me try the saddle.