Riding bitless doesn’t mean lack of control

Riding Bitless

You can read this article on the Chronicle of the Horse by clicking on the photo.

No, Kelly McKnight did not forget his bridle. He also didn’t forget that horses get some “say” in how they are ridden. When you read the horse bulletin boards you’d think there was a “magic bit” du jour. That if your dressage horse doesn’t like a loose ring snaffle, if your show hunter isn’t perfectly mellow in a D-ring, or your eventer can’t go cross country in his dressage bit that you are somehow doing something wrong.

For many years I hunted a Trakehner who loved to be ridden bitless. In fact, he told me very clearly, and for a long time, that he didn’t like bits, that they were

Once I discovered this bitless set up I had a much happier horse.

Once I discovered this bitless set up I had a much happier horse.

uncomfortable in his mouth, where his big tongue and low palate didn’t leave a lot of room.

Eventually, I tried riding him bitless. First I tried the Dr. Cook’s bridle, but he didn’t much care for the poll pressure. Then I discovered the LG bridle, which is basically a side pull bridle with the reins attached to a wheel. You can achieve a bit more leverage when you attach the reins to a spoke that turns the wheel very slightly.

This discovery was a real turning point for us because suddenly I had a happy, willing partner. He was soft and light in my hands, he jumped beautifully and he was never out of control. I hunted him bitless for many seasons. Sometimes it surprised people, who wondered if I had enough control in it.

Certainly, this isn’t for every horse. I’ve tried riding Freedom and Zelda both bitless and I don’t have a lot of control. It’s fine for a hack, but out hunting? I don’t think it would be much fun. But I think that everyone should try, on occasion, to give their horses a break and see what kind of ride they have without a bit. Who knows? You might never go back!

Remember Sheldon? The CANTER horse I had before Zelda? He also was a much happier horse without a bit. The important thing is to listen to your horse and see what works for him.

How about you? Do you ever ride bitless?

How much fun is a horse’s tail?

I love this video of the cat in the horse’s tail. It reminds me of my standard Poodle, Merlin. We got him when he was about a year old and he had never seen a horse before. He used to chase after me when I rode and would grab onto my horse’s tail. My instructor used to laugh until tears ran down her face.

Eventually, my very patient horse gave a very gentle tap to the mischievous dog and that was the end of tail surfing.

What’s Zelda doing on TV?

Aiden Turner riding Seamus

When I started watching Poldark I did a double take. What’s Aiden Turner doing riding Zelda? In fact, Zelda bears a striking resemblance to the horse he is riding, a 16 hand Irish Draught named Seamus. Apparently, Seamus has become almost as popular as the brooding Turner. His owners are getting calls asking Seamus to attend events as the visiting celebrity. Seamus is so important to the series that he has his own stunt double! In the original Poldark series, the riders had Thoroughbreds. This time, they are using more “authentic” mounts that represent the types of horses that would have been ridden in Cornwall.

zelda hunt

Okay, I’m not Aiden Turner, but Zelda sure looks like Seamus (only more feminine).

Insulin Resistance in Horses

muzzle

Willow wears the Muzzle of Shame. Don’t worry, even though she looks pitiful, she is still able to eat enough through the hole in the bottom to survive. Sometimes, I wonder if the Muzzle of Shame could be used to stop humans from over eating!

Freedom’s pasture-mate, Willow, was recently diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrom (EMS) or Insulin Resistance (IR).

 What does that mean?

According to the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut,

Glucose (sugar) normally functions to fuel many metabolic processes in the body and is the primary energy currency of the body. Insulin is normally produced in response to elevated blood glucose and is key to the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and glucose utilization. Insulin promotes glucose uptake by cells and promotes formation of glycogen or fat. Insulin resistance is defined as a reduced sensitivity of the body’s cells to insulin’s facilitation of glucose uptake.

Basically what happens in insulin resistance is that the cells become resistant to the glucose uptake action of insulin. Initially, this just means that more insulin is needed (hyperinsulinemia) to keep blood glucose concentrations within normal limits after a starchy or high sugar meal. If it is severe enough even super high insulin concentrations are ineffective and blood glucose may also be abnormally high. The problem is that not only does this limit energy availability to the cells but insulin also has other effects on the body that may be detrimental when it is higher than normal for prolonged periods of time. Unlike humans, horses rarely go into the second stage, where the pancreas becomes “exhausted” and no longer can secrete adequate insulin.

In practical terms, this means that Willow, who only gets enough concentrate to mask her vitamin/mineral supplement, must wear a grazing muzzle because too much sugar could cause an episode of laminitis. In fact, it was because her owner felt digital pulses that she ran a blood panel and got the diagnosis.

It didn’t take Willow very long to figure out that this is NOT FUN. She is getting less tolerant about putting it on, although putting a tiny bit of grain in the muzzle is still enough of a temptation to overcome her reluctance. Unfortunately for Willow the new barn has a lot of grass and she’s mighty peeved that her access is now restricted.

I tried using a muzzle on Freedom when I first got him – not because I need to restrict his eating, but as a way to stop him cribbing. That lasted about 5 minutes. He destroyed two or three grazing muzzles in short order and then refused to let me near him him with a halter.

Have you had to use a grazing muzzle on your horse or pony?

Mr. Stickability Part II

Nate Hubbard

Interesting way to finish a race! Nate Hubbard hung on after his horse stumbled in the mud and finished second! Photo: Golden Gate Fields

Here’s another amazing example of a rider (jockey Nate Hubbard), who refused to let gravity and bad luck bring him down.  In fact, Hubbard held on for dear life after the filly, Sweetwater Oak, stumbled in the home stretch. He was still dangling from her neck as they crossed the finish line in second place. The track stewards ruled it an official finish because Hubbard’s feet never touched the ground and Sweetwater Oak carried her assigned weight throughout the race.

Hug your Horse Today

Willow and Freedom

I was trying to take a photo with Freedom but Willow photobombed us. She was determined to be included. She is  very good at making her humans smile!

Next time you go to the barn, make sure you give your horse a hug.

Last week a friend of mine lost her fabulous mare after a pasture accident — Living Life in the Middle — reminding us that these fabulous creatures that we love and treasure are as fragile as they are powerful, and that their time with us is sadly limited.

Horses give us an amazing sense of elation and freedom. They allow us to sprout wings and fly. They are our partners in often unimaginable thrills. After a day of hunting, I look around and see riders who are grinning from ear to ear, humbled by the willingness of their horses to gallop, jump and share the excitement of following the hounds.

And yet horses can break our hearts. A bad step, a stomach ache, a moment of panic — any one of these can be career ending, or even worse, life ending. Horses find innumerable ways to hurt themselves even when bubble wrapped. We care for them the best way we can and yet some still find ways to thwart our efforts.

I remember all too well when I lost my Trakehner gelding, Kronefurst, back in October of 2008 (hard to believe it was so long ago), it was sudden and mysterious. He showed a variety of unrelated symptoms, stumping my team of vets. He died at Tufts less than 24 hours after arriving and I was stunned. I had been preparing for a long rehabilitation, not for grieving. Three months later, after a necropsy was performed, I learned he had a blood clot near his poll. There was nothing that anyone could have done for him; it was just bad luck.

Freedom and Kroni

Freedom and Kroni — two “heart horses” which just goes to show that we all have enough love to have many of them.

I suppose that the best thing we can do is enjoy our horses every day we ride, even the bad days — the ones where you doubt your sanity and want to throw in the towel. Then remember to give them a hug and thank them for giving you so much joy.

Horse owners sometimes say that we have “heart horses”, horses that are so special they own a piece of your heart. Suzanne’s mare, Sugar, was certainly one of those. She was beautiful, powerful and extremely fun to ride. I was privileged enough to hunt her a few times and she was magnificent. I know that she gave a lot of joy (even while inciting a few unprintable words). She was well loved and will be long missed.