A Sacred Trust

This week Debbie had a summer camp (next week too) so I was not going to get a lesson anyway. In some ways, then, me getting sick came at a “convenient” time, I wasn't too sick, took my homeopathic remedies and stopped doing much at all, and my fever finally went away. I would have hated missing my lesson for being sick, isn't it odd how the Universe works sometimes?

While I laid around in my bed I went to Horsetalk, NZ, and ran into this very interesting video. It is at https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2020/06/18/paul-mcgreevy-nosebands-tong.... It is a long video, 54:35, and the first part up to 25:28 is a discussion about the long-term effects of using tongue ties on race horses. If you are dealing with any off-track Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds or Quarter Horses I greatly recommend watching this part.

The second part of this video is supremely important for any branch of riding that uses contact with the horse's mouth, especially English riders in dressage, jumping, and Saddle Seat. Nosebands, and the horrible effects of too tight nosebands, are covered thoroughly, and the effects of the bits we use on the horse's mouth.

Many years ago I read the term “a sacred trust” in reference to the relationship between the rider's hands and the horse's mouth. I agree completely. In order to communicate effectively with the horse we humans developed bits that go into the horse's mouth. The inside of the horse's mouth is just as sensitive and easily injured as the inside of a human's mouth. WE do not like it when our mouths hurt, and I can assure you that the horse's do not like it when their mouths hurt either.

Horses are bred to perform in spite of pain. Horses are bred to stay placid when subjected to pain. Horses are so good at bearing pain that a lot of horsemen and horsewomen TORTURE their horses, especially their horse's mouths, to gain and keep “control” over the horses, and the horses quietly put up with it, until it just gets too much.

As you all know by now, I ride Forward Seat. One of the key tenets of Forward Seat Riding is that “your hands belong to the horse's mouth” instead of the more usual “the horse's mouth belongs to the rider.” By following this philosophy I minimized the damage I did to my horse's mouths, my horses did not end up with mouth ulcers, I minimized bruising the horse's bars, and I did not torture the horse's tongues. Even though my seat was atrocious at the beginning, even though I have always suffered from the crippling from Multiple Sclerosis, my balance is horrible, and my hands not perfectly steady, the horses responded pretty favorably to my hands. I “listened” to all the objections the horses made of my hands, I worked to improve my hands so the horses did not object to them, and the horses rewarded me by obeying my rein aids, usually. Eventually the horses become “light in hand” and happy to communicate with me through the bit and reins.

Because of this I was not overcome by guilt when I watched this video. What I saw verified all the things that the horses had “told” me about how I used my hands through the decades.

One thing that impressed me about this video was its emphasis on the horse's tongue. From the great damage that race horses suffer from tongue ties, to the injuries the horses' tongues suffer from harsh and unrelenting contact, he shows pictures of the physical damage riders do to the tongues of the horses they ride. It is not a pretty picture. Blue tongues and the damage that cutting off the blood flow of the tongue is a horrible example of this abuse and torture. He goes into the effects of the snaffle bits and the effects of the double bridle bits when they are used harshly.

He also goes into the damage that too tight nosebands do to the horse's face and the inside of the horse's mouth. In this mad, mad, mad search for any method to hide the fact that the rider's hands are too harsh, riders and trainers tighten the nosebands so much that there is no way that the horse can open its mouth to relieve the pressure of harsh contact and rein aids. Bony exostoses grow on the face and the lower jaw bones, leaving permanent proof of bad riding on the horse's skull. Tight nosebands combined with harsh, unsympathetic hands are a recipe for TORTURE, not good horsemanship.

If your riding teacher DEMANDS that you use harsh hands, and if your riding teacher INSISTS that the noseband be tight, you are totally wasting your money with these lessons. Even if these “tricks” of abusive riding enable you to WIN at a horse show you are causing damage to the horse that will last for years, causing problems with contact, obedience, and the whole body of the horse as it contorts itself in a desperate attempt to limit the pain. Eventually it gets so bad that you no longer win as the horse yells NO, NO, NO, and the horse ends up going “downhill” instead of fulfilling your dreams.

The trust that a horse gains from sympathetic and non-abusive hands is a sacred trust, and it is very easy to destroy this trust. Once this trust is destroyed it is hard to regain, but it is possible when you convince the horse that your hands DO belong to his mouth. Learning to time your hand aids to the push of the horse's hind legs (as in do not use the rein on the side that the horse is pushing with its hind leg), keeping fingers loose and supple instead of constantly in a hard and rigid fist, and learning to follow your horse's mouth wherever the horse puts it, all of these things when applied with patience over a great deal of time, can bring success.

And success is a horse that is light in hand, whose mouth instantly reacts to your gentle rein aids, and who is happy when you ride him.

If I can do this with all my handicaps, anyone can if they want to badly enough.

Listen to your horse. When your horse says that your hands simply suck, improve your hands by going lighter on your contact and following your horse's head. Take the noseband off, you will not “need” it. Stay calm in “emergencies”, and if the horse rams his head into the bit or you have to use the bit harshly lighten up immediately, your horse's mouth is bruised and tender.

It is simply amazing all the riding faults and problems that a horse will forgive his rider is his rider does not torture him with the bit.

And the bitless bridle fanatics, who have their own problems that can harm the horse, will not be able to use you as an example of why they think bits are evil. Bits are not evil, but harsh unsympathetic hands are, and when they are combined with super tight nosebands all of this is downright evil and abusive. Lighten up and let the horse learn that he can enjoy himself during your rides.

The rewards are great.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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