How I experience bitless riding?
The art of bitless riding is not just about taking the bit out of the horse's mouth and that's it. I want to be able to do everything with my stallions, who are all ridden bitless and will never have a bit in their mouths. I want to be able to go on long trail rides with friends, whether they ride mares or not. Lightness and harmony everywhere, and the highest level of dressage. But dressage for the horse, to be able to do those long rides. If we want to ride a horse, it is our responsibility to develop it mentally, physically and emotionally. We have turned it into an athlete against its will.
People often say that without a bit they are afraid of losing control. Mechanically, that is true. Emotionally it is different. My goal is casual togetherness.
Mastering a horse from a mechanical point of view is too one-sided, it is much more than that. The horse is not a bicycle! One feeling I don't want to have is that I have to dominate my horse to feel safe. If the horse does not do what I want, I can still control it by pulling on the mouth. Pulling on the reins with a bit in the horse's mouth causes a lot of pain. Especially when we feel insecure because we are acting on our reflexes. This means that feeling how hard we are pulling is far-fetched.
At one point, when things were getting a bit more difficult, I asked myself why I was riding at all. When I asked myself this question, I realised that I had too little knowledge of pedagogy. I don't think there's any room for that in today's normal equitation, because everything has to go too fast. I understand that for some people it might be too much and they might say it's just a horse. There are worse things in life, right? But it's precisely these considerations that have led me to explore other ways of achieving different objectives.
Fairness to the horse through knowledge.
To ride my horse without a bit at the highest level, I have to approach riding differently. It's about observing, making the right decisions, empathising and communicating well. I have to be aware that it's a slow process, taking into account:
The age of the horse.
Knowing the science of movement, the challenges of conformation, avoiding negative patterns.
Developing a strong relationship that can withstand adversity.
Keeping my own mobility and weight under control.
Proper nutrition, hoof care, housing, etc.
It's quite a challenge for me to gain knowledge as a partner, coach and trainer of a horse. Also to accept that my horse is different from me, it's a flight animal with unpredictable reflexes. It is not easy to find a suitable answer to all this, to control my horse without resorting directly to a mechanical solution. It requires knowledge. What I need is a gradual, progressive, logical and, above all, systematic structure. Like the development of our own children, without humanising it. I want a partnership with my horse based on trust and respect. The horse gives me control by gaining confidence in me through encouragement in the systematic learning process, even in stressful situations. After many years of experience, I believe that it should be forbidden to buy a horse on the spur of the moment in order to be able to ride it quickly without any prior knowledge. This would save both horse and rider a lot of suffering. It's just fairer for the horse! I like to use the following saying to motivate myself:
The only BIT I need is a BIT of knowledge".
I have to be interested not only in the horses' behaviour, but above all in my own. The horses hold up a mirror to me and it is up to me to look in the mirror and learn the necessary lessons or walk away. We are often unaware of the hidden parts of ourselves that are not always pleasant to look at. This is where many people go wrong. I have chosen to accept the challenge of developing myself rather than running away from it. How far I want to go in approaching a horse as a horse person is entirely up to me. How honest I want to be with myself and my horse and how much effort I am willing to put in is entirely up to me. The only reason my horse is disobedient and nervous is me. Stop looking for excuses. It is me, not something or someone else! The horse has no other way of telling me that something is wrong. It is up to me to find a solution! No one else can help me in the first place, only my horse can. The message is to listen and return to my feelings. A horse knows when I have gone too far. And I know it too. It feels and has intelligence and many riders get stuck because they see the horse as a machine. The horse is too smart for that and will never give me its full potential unless it is treated with dignity and respect.
The magic of true equitation passes me by without self-reflection.
The learning process
Every horse has its talents and weaknesses, just like us humans, and even if it can't always give me what I expect, I can be sure that it will always do its best for me. As a horse person, I have to bring out the best in them, but I also have to make sure that I don't ask for more than they can give. I have to make them a little better every day, and that's done through trial and error.
I always remind myself never to ask for something for too long at the wrong time if it's not ready. The trick is to ask little in a short period of time, repeat a lot and reward the horse immediately for the slightest attempt to do it well. If my question is not clear to the horse then the horse will not understand me, it is important that I stop and think about how I asked the question before I ask the horse again. I must always have a clear picture in my mind. This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt as a horse person!
As a good partner, coach and trainer I have to be able to read a horse and show it what I want it to do for me. But I must also be able to be open to its intentions. I ask and I receive. It's like a dialogue between horse and trainer in the moment. Many riders do not recognise the beginning of this dialogue and begin to force a horse, causing it to shut down instead of showing willingness. It will never be perfect from the first moment because the horse is a beginner and I have to work in small steps to build his trust and motivation in a slow process.
"I go slower, but I experience it so much more deeply"
Something that is difficult to accept today, because it has to be done quickly, is to wait a little longer with the physical and mental strain on the horse. Every year of a horse's life is equivalent to 2.5 years of a human's life. This means that a young adult horse of 7.5 years is comparable to a young adult human of 18 years. I make sure not to overload my young horse for 7.5 years, because this is the age at which a horse's skeleton is fully developed and it can also process it better mentally. It is based on nothing when people say that a horse must be trained early because otherwise it will be too strong physically and mentally. Many of the accidents that happen to horses are caused by the demands they can't cope with mentally. Trauma happens when we ask too much of them mentally or physically before they are 7.5 years old. And the horse pays the price later in life, just like people who have done high level sport too young (believe me, I know). Over the past 20 years I have saddled many horses of all breeds after their sixth year without any problems. My personal opinion is that a horse should not be started in a competition or a ride longer than 5km before it is 8 years old.
Everyone is free to do what they want with their horse when they want, but I know for myself: "If I wait three years longer at the beginning, I will have ten more years of enjoyment from my horses and also less veterinary costs.
It is knowledge, self-reflection, passion and patience that make a horse person so great and different.
At a certain point it was a foregone conclusion that I would never use a bit again. So there was no point in listening to others and comparing myself to those who were not looking for what I was looking for. We all have our egos that get in the way more or less. I take advice from people with different goals with a grain of salt and keep my eye on my ultimate goal, which is to ride bitless at the highest level of equitation so that I can enjoy wonderful rides in the country with my stallions and friends. We have to dare to think outside the box and be different.
I hope that what is "different" now will become "normal" in the future... Sooner or later we all have to slow down.
We are here to be real, not to be perfect.
With a lot of understanding for those who don't.