Switching Back to the Spirit Bitless Bridle

The past few weeks, ever since Mick’s little girl switched to the Nurtural Bitless bridle for jumping, Mick has been somewhat hard to bridle--he’s just been telling people that for right now he prefers the bitless options.  Mick has a right to his opinion and I decided to honor it because I had been able to ride with a bit all summer, in fact for most of last year.  Mick had been somewhat entertained with all my experimenting with my saddles but now that I’ve settled on my saddle I’ve been picking up traces of boredom again.  I don’t blame the poor horse, I can’t do much in the ring to entertain him!  So I decided to do a whole head-gear change and go back to using my Spirit bitless for a while (but without the running martingale.)  At the same time I also switched from my Spursuader spurs to my smooth rowel spurs so my heel would have a new feel, one that’s not spread over as great an area, since I was getting tired of working harder than the horse during my rides.

I went out for my lesson Wednesday even though it was drizzling some.  When Debbie groomed Mick I checked on those small lumps under his skin where the girth goes over the sternum and, amazingly, there was just one round lump instead of 5 or 6.  I pointed this out to Debbie and she felt around and told me that she felt three little flat places where there were round lumps last week.  Yeah, improvement!  Debbie has been using the Anxiety and Nervousness remedy I lent her on Mick a few times last week, so I guess it may be working.  Mick has also been very good for his other lessons, Debbie and Mick taught an autistic girl the basics of riding last week including a posting trot and he did not put a foot wrong.  Debbie said he was not very girthy when she tacked up Wednesday, and since Mick was looking more cheerful I was quite happy.

Mick did get girthy when we tightened the girth right before I mounted but when I mounted he was pretty happy with everything.  Once he discovered I was wearing the smooth rowel spurs he obeyed my leg aids with gratifying promptness and no tail switching.  Walking out with good, ground covering strides, Mick cheerfully obeyed every single twitch of my little fingers.  I tried a turn on the hindquarters, Mick did a wonderful turn on the hindquarters.  I asked him to back up and I encountered no resistances.  I think that Mick was being so good and perfect because he wants to do the bitless for a while.  Of course I did not try to keep any solid contact with his nose and Mick rewarded me by establishing contact all on his own whenever he wanted to, only ending his contact with my release at the halt.  He even promptly extended a little at the trot when I alternated between my legs and hands.  Debbie was VERY PLEASED with how Mick traveled during my lesson.  The main problem she noted was that Mick was reluctant to cross his right hind in front of his left hind leg so I will have to do more circles to the right using my inside leg as Mick picks up his inside hind leg to encourage him to bring his hind leg more to the track of the circle instead of being braced to the inside.  If I do that enough (and if I do it properly) Mick should strengthen and supple up enough so he can use his right hind properly in a turn and hopefully he will get strong enough so he will no longer drag it at a walk and trot.

On Friday it was above freezing so I went out to the stable.  By the time I got into the barn I decided not to ride because the wind was wicked, wicked cold.  Mia would have hated being out in the ring with no windbreaks!  So my son and I just groomed her so her winter coat would work properly in the cold wind, trimmed her feet and gave her a little extra feed.  I usually do not give Mia any feed when I just groom her but the wind was so cold I thought she could use a few more handfuls of concentrates.  My son told me he was picking up hints that Mia is getting tired of Quizzy’s infatuation, sort of telling her “enough already” when Joe took Mia through the gate.  When Joe turned Mia back out Quizzy was all excited and wanted to play but the only thing Mia was interested in was staying in a little spot by the gate that was sheltered from the wind and basking in the sun digesting her snack.  After all Quizzy had a blanket on so the wind did not bother her as much and all Mia had was her impressive winter coat.  Quizzy finally gave up and went to play by herself.

At first I had been planning to keep on using a bit with Bobby when I changed the other horses to the Spirit bitless, but since I wanted to see if my smooth rowel spurs made much difference with Bobby I decided to try him in the Spirit bitless bridle too.  I was not too sure how he would take it since he had learned he could successfully resist riders in the Nurtural cross under bitless bridle.  Unlike Mick, Bobby considered the change a perfect opportunity to question many of my aids.  Like Shannon says, Bobby takes every tack change as an ideal opportunity to find any “loopholes” he can exploit to get his way.  So I would be riding along nice and peacefully and all of a sudden Bobby would decide he wanted to go in towards Shannon, I’d say no, and Bobby would freeze in place.  I just kept tension on my leading rein away from Shannon, reapplied my leg aids a few times, and then he would give in and obey me and continue walking in a straight line.  Again I did not try to keep contact and I am really glad that I’d done all the work on straightness with the bit, since he had gotten used to going straight with mostly loose reins I had few problems getting him straight in the Spirit bitless bridle by using my thighs and having to use the reins only occasionally.  Then Bobby decided that there was NO WAY he could stand quietly on loose reins, hey, there was Shannon in the center of the circle and he wanted to run home to mommy!  I’d keep him in one place, then he would sigh and sort of give up.  We practiced standing with loose reins a lot.  Bobby’s circles improved greatly today, our circles actually resembled circles even when Shannon was standing in the center of the circle.  Unlike Mick, Bobby was LESS responsive to my smooth rowel spurs than he has been to my Spursuader spurs though he finally did consent to extend his walk somewhat.  Then Bobby suddenly improved and I was able to walk him past Shannon with loose reins AND quiet legs.  I ended the ride, perfection demands a reward!

I found that with Mick I did not miss having the bit, his responses were just as quick or quicker and I always felt like I had a connection to his mind.  I had ridden Mick a few time bitless but had not felt the mental connection, I think that doing the Ttouches on him before every ride has freed something in his mind so I could feel the mental connection without the bit.  This is GREAT, I had gotten really tired of riding bitless because I could not feel the mental connection, now, at least with Mick, I may not get bored with the bitless riding as quickly as before.  As for Bobby I will probably have to ride him two or three more times in the Spirit bridle before I can have any hope of a mental connection bitless, I think Bobby liked being able to gnash at the bit to express his inner resistant pony self.  By taking the bit out of his mouth I am depriving him of that pleasure.  Oh well, I am sure he will adapt.

Have a great ride in spite of the cold!  (Or heat for those of you in the Southern hemisphere.)

Jackie Cochran




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Comment by E. Allan Buck on February 3, 2013 at 5:33pm

Great post Jackie.

Every horse can express themselves in SB, we just have to observe the manner in which they choose to do so.  Some choose popping lips or rotating the lower jaw....we just to be aware of when and how they express.

Thanks for believing in and using Spirit Bridle.


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