By Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
A lot of people think you train horses with equipment. This is one of the biggest MythUnderstandings out there. Try this bit, try that bit. If those don't work, try a thinner bit or one with a longer shank. If those don't work, tie that sucker's head down or crank him in with draw reins.
Most people believe that you should start a horse with a really quiet bit, so-to-speak. Then the further along in the horse's training you go, the bigger the bit you should automatically put in his mouth because it takes a bigger bit for him to understand more. People think that there's a direct relationship between what a horse knows and what kind of bit is in his mouth. What actually happens is that the horse gets used to the bigger and bigger bits. Eventually, you need the bigger bit because the horse is used to the beating he gets with it every day.
You can either treat your horse with respect and use a bit that is only a small part of an entire corridor of aids or you can force the horse to accept its daily workout in a severe bit that is louder than your legs and seat. If you force the horse to accept a bit that shouts, you cut all the other communication lines that you could have developed using your body position and legs.
When you get the horse so worried about how much bit is going to hit him and how often, you take his mind off a total shape. And to ride a horse accurately and to the degree that will make him a winner you need to create a total shape for each stride using:
- an inside leg at the girth,
- an outside leg a little further back,
- your weight shifted onto a specific seat bone,
- an inside rein positioning the head and softening the jaw,
- an outside rein following the horse's rhythm,
- your seat either maintaining the cadence of the gait or half-halting to collect the horse.
You must use a full corridor of pressures that the horse feels and understands as a specific shape. The horse will never understand or feel this shape if you don't understand it. The optimum communication between two individuals must exclude violence and punishment and must be based on both individuals' feelings and opinions. When you choose a bit to communicate with the horse, your first choice should be one that can never speak louder than your seat and legs.
When someone is trying to communicate primarily with a loud bit, the horse's primary effort will be to escape the bridle. And when a horse escapes the bridle the rider often tries to tie his head in position with some device so that he can't get away from the pressure or ruin the leverage. When the bit is louder than the rider's seat and legs the horse will never even feel the seat or legs. He will only feel the squeeze in his mouth. Whenever you see a horse fighting the bit, he has lost all feeling for the rest of the aids. It is just like getting your finger slammed in a car door.
Gadgets such as tie downs, chambons, draw reins and head sets are only substitutes for the correct use of seat, leg, and rein aids as a corridor of pressures that shape the horse. These training gadgets are molds, not aids. They force the horse's body into an evasion rather than showing him the correct shape. They are "breaking" devices, not training devices. Breaking is telling the horse what NOT TO DO; training is telling what TO DO. Control does not come from forcing the horse to assume a shape with gadgets. True control over a horse's gymnastic abilities comes from developing the driving muscles to drive and the carrying muscles to carry.
When you drive hard enough from the back, the front comes off the ground. That is call "rebalancing." You can't get collection or rebalancing using tricks. So many people think that technology is having a trick for each thing rather than having a methodical, logical, systematic, gymnastic conditioning program. You only need tricks and gadgets if your skill is limited.
A lot of people believe they are demonstrating riding skill when their horse will tolerate severe equipment. When you ride with a full corridor of aids, you will never need a big bit or any gadgets to put the horse's head in a position. However, a bigger bit can be used effectively in some situations. For example, if the horse has been carried through his training with a rider who has used the full corridor of aids and the horse understands the rider's body language and positions, the bigger bit can be introduced and used for upper level games so that all the rider has to do is whisper with the reins. But even an advanced horse can be ridden effectively with a snaffle if it is ridden on a full corridor of aids.
Horses are so sensitive that they can feel a fly land on their skin. They can feel and understand a mild bit if the rider knows how to use it. But you can't train in shouts and show in whispers. When you put a bit in the horse's mouth that multiplies your pressures you lose your corridor of aids. The bit becomes louder than your seat and legs and you lose all effectiveness. All attention is on those fingers slammed in the car door.
You don't train horses with equipment. You train them by developing a communication system that uses a full corridor of aids. You introduce each new concept in a horse logical way in the smallest, tiniest bites you can reduce it to. You introduce it so it is just one step away from something else you and the horse already successfully communicate about. Remember that rhythm, relaxation and repetition are the cornerstones of good training.
Instructor and trainer Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (Route 1, Box 66, Waverly, WV 26184; 1-304-679-3128; http://www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.