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.