Posted on Facebook in 'Dressage Schooling Discussions'
I have had the pleasure of working with Allan Buck and two of his horses, both of which are being trained in classical dressage while also being used in a therapeutic riding program for individuals with disabilities (Camp Kostopulos Equestrian Programs) at which I am one of the program coordinators. Since Allan has been contributing his knowledge and expertise at our program, we have begun using the Spirit Bridle on ALL of our horses. From the first time we used the bridle we saw immediate results in our horses - their heads relaxed, they became more engaged in their work, and the rider had a better way of communicating with the horse. Now briefly, as an aside, let me tell you what this means for many of our riders - the connection between horse and human is sometimes nearly magical for some of the individuals who ride with us. The Spirit Bridle - in a crudely oversimplified form - takes a barrier to that communication away, while it simultaneously offers the rider a language with which he can talk to the horse and the horse will not only understand, but will WILLING embrace. There is no BIT - there is no BARRIER! Immediately, there is an opening for criticism - believe me, I can see how easily one can say that a horse without a bit cannot be controlled or cannot maintain proper confirmation, etc etc. And before riding and teaching riders with the Spirit Bridle I would agree. Now - my intention was not to get on here and discuss the benefits of the Spirit Bridle to the community of rider's with disabilities. But before I leave that point, I would like to offer a thought to all of those individuals who are quick to criticize the Spirit Bridle and the logic behind it - if a person with little riding experience and a physical and cognitive disability can, with support from trainers, achieve lightness on the forehand, beautiful flexion, and solid communication with the horse without pulling or resistance from the horse at all due to using the Spirit Bridle, why would we not use this product with all of our horses all of the time? From our most advanced students to our least - the changes in our horses has been phenomenal. The most significant change, or perhaps better put, the most noticeable change occurred today while I was schooling our half Arab, FCF Tuscan Summer, who was the 2010 Open Hunter Pleasure and Open English Pleasure Jr National Grand Champion, but was donated to us do to a tripping problem. We have had "Tusci" for about a year and have only been able to ride him for about four months, due to problems with his hooves and back. He has had terrible pain in his lumbar, relating to improper hoof trimming and has worked hard for us, even though we were unaware of the pain in his back for a fair amount of time. Today, before riding him, Allan and I assessed his back pain, noting that he was fairly tender but still able to be ridden. We tacked him with my dressage saddle and Allan's Spirit Bridle and breastplate and yoke. Though I have schooled Tusci with the Spirit Bridle and gotten good results, the effect of the breastplate and yoke was noticeable from the first step he took. He instantly was reacting to the pressure on his poll. He stiffened at first, not knowing how to react to this new type of information he was receiving. It was clear that he had been ridden behind the vertical with his head and neck compressed as we could see (AND FEEL) the muscle structure that had developed around his salivary gland. Within about two minutes, Tusci started relaxing and lowering his head and bringing his nose out to the proper position. This was not due to any cues I was giving him at the time. I was keeping contact with the reins, but my hands were relaxed almost to the point off not gripping the reins at all - this was Tusci's reaction to the entire bridle. We started doing circle work. Work which previously required contact and pressure on the reins, now required light pressure - simply just manipulating my fingers and using leg aids - and a horse that had been stiff and reluctant to bend started to arc gracefully. Then we moved on to cavalletti work - Tusci fears poles because going over poles has always caused pain in the past. We went over the poles maybe six or seven times with one refusal. My hands remained light on the reins and Tusci was able to engage his hindquarters as he never has before and was also able to collect beautifully. To me - the most amazing part was after the ride as I groomed Tusci, Allan and I checked the soreness in his lumbar and it had actually IMPROVED through the ride. I will say that again - TUSCI'S LUMBAR PAIN HAD IMPROVED DUE TO THE WAY IN WHICH HE ENGAGED HIS BACK DURING THE RIDE!!!!! This is absolutely due to the Spirit Bridle. I am sorry this post is excessively long - I had a lot to say. I haven't posted on here before, but my experience today with Tusci is something that had to be shared. To those of you that doubt - why not try it - what do you have to lose? To those of you who have questions of someone who has used the bridle - please feel free to ask? I am no expert, I just see the results. To those of you who use the bridle - share it with the rest of the world - the horses will thank you.