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.