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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Remember this?

Back a while ago, I posted an email from a very irate young lady defending the use of harsh bits. Since then I have been in constant contact with her, helping as much as I could through emails. I asked her if I could post the transcript of the emails here. She agreed, so here it is.

This is the transcript of a series of emails between myself and a young lady who loves her horse. She read a post on my online blog and disagreed with me. This series of emails has helped her to see the difference a little time and patience can make and to form a deeper bond between herself and her horse. Her barrel horse was a runaway in the arena, at one point even crashing into the gate. She has come a very long way in a very short amount of time. Her words are in regular print, mine are in italics.

Ok I'm not going to TRY to be nice about this I'm just going to say it. The bits that you talked about and the way you talked about the horses was VERY insulting and it probably insulted a lot of gaming people. Their horses are not crazy, they love to run, and if they didn't I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be running, trust me. The horses aren’t hard mouthed either, I can stick a very harsh bit in my gaming horse's mouth and she will do everything I ask her to do, I can do the same stuff in a regular D-ring snaffle. But I NEED more than a snaffle because she LOVES to run (and I don’t think she would ever stop if she could go on forever) and I NEED to stop her. They get more desensitized to the bit than pleasure horses because they aren’t being turned a bunch. (And please don’t say I don’t know what I’m talking about, because I’m pretty sure I know just as much about horses as you. I’ve been around horses since before I was even born) But please it would do whoever reads your blog a favor if you would do a BUNCH a research before you post something on the web

Absolute bullshit. The excuse you use of the horse becoming desensitized to the bit is bunk. Why are you cranking on their mouth to turn them in the first place?

I have a mare that was a confirmed runaway. She still loves to run. It was nearly impossible to stop her when I got her. Even the strongest bit had no effect, the harder you pulled, the faster she went. She will still do this if you are too rough with her mouth when riding, and she is 27.

Want to know how I fixed the problem?

I TRAINED HER TO STOP. With anything; bit, side pull, halter, or even a lead rope looped around her neck.
If your horse will not stop whenever you ask, with whatever you ask with, then perhaps you might want to do a bit more training.

Ok, she doesn't like shanks, and I don’t crank on her mouth. I gently pull her around. Barrel racers are only supposed to guide their horses around the barrels and that’s what I do... my horse is a runaway in the arena but I can take my hands off the reins when were just riding and she just stops and stands. 80% of the time I ride her in a regular D-ring snaffle, she does just perfect. I even run barrels with her in the snaffle, she just needs a bit more to actually come to a stand still after putting her whole heart into running for the person she loves and to do the stuff she loves. My horse is only 9 and she’s one of the best trained horses in our county for sure. every one I know loves her and they're like "oh wow she’s so fast and she’s such a sweetie, she listens to you SO well"if you want to see a video of my horse when she actually puts her whole heart into what she loves and then CRASHES in to the gate because the bit wasn’t strong enough to tell her to come to a complete STOP even though she is trained to stop ( She’s THE BEST horse in the world and I can do ANYTHING with her in ANY bit except for a curb, I also can stick a 5 year old on her and not have to worry about anything.

I suggest taking her in the arena, warming her up, and cantering some big circles at first, concentrating on asking her to slow down with a half halt, then speed up again. Get her listening to the rider's signals and paying attention. Then start asking for her to slow down with a half halt, and then ask for WHOA. After she stops, let her relax for awhile on a loose rein, and just walk around the arena. Change up the patterns, ask for gait transitions from gallop to canter to trot to walk to stop, and then reverse the order. Start skipping gaits. Go from gallop to walk, then from canter to stop back to canter. Keep working at it, she will learn. Try to do this in just a snaffle, in the arena she can't really "run away". If she makes for the gate at a high rate of speed, turn her and keep going around the arena, asking her to slow her speed with a half halt, get her mind out of the "RUN, RUN, RUN". Make her think. She must learn that no matter where she is or how excited, she MUST listen to the rider. This getting excited and not stopping when asked is dangerous, as illustrated by the video. The horse sustained a pretty significant injury and it could have been so much worse. There is an excellent book called 101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill. It has tons of advice and patterns to use when teaching a horse to listen to cues. This was my guide when I was "reprogramming" my runaway.

Ok, ill try the transitions this weekend and I’ll look for the book, I need a lot of help. She did get hurt really bad at the rodeo and I thank god it wasn’t worse.Thanks for the help :)

Ok, it's going to take a LOT of time and patience. I was around your age when I got Darlin and had to deal with a horse who had suffered abuse her whole life and knew nothing but RUN. I understand that it is easy to get frustrated and want an instant result, but it just doesn't work that way.. I am very worried that you or she could be seriously injured while competing if you are unable to get her under control in the arena. That is how Darlin was, and what prompted me to start over with her. When I say she was a runaway, I am saying that she was literally that. She was so much worse than your horse, you would not believe. It is really remarkable that we were not injured. She had NO brakes, NONE. I was not even close to in control of her for a long time. I fixed her with these methods, you can do it too. Your girl just needs to learn that she has to stop, even when excited about running in the arena.

Remember to always stay calm and relaxed with her, if you get excited and tense, she will feel that. Use deep breathing exercises if you feel yourself getting frustrated or excited. This is very important. You have to have the mindset of "We are going to do this; we are calm and relaxed.. We are going to WHOA." Keep this in mind as you begin to prepare to ask for the halt.

Ride with the reins coming from her mouth between your pinkie and ring finger, with the bight (the loose ends) coming out the top by your thumbs. Do not PULL on the reins, keep your hands soft and your elbows supple, keep light contact with her mouth and keep the bit "live" with small movements of your fingers to keep her mind on you. Don't seesaw the bit; just imagine that there is an electric pulse coming from your hands going through the reins to her mouth. Imagine the reins are made of fragile ribbon, if you pull too hard you will break it.

Try everything at a slow pace at first, get her where she will stop in the arena at a walk and trot, them move to faster speeds, asking for transitions, and keeping her thinking about YOU not about what she wants to do. This will not happen overnight, you will have to keep at this for a long time.

Do figure 8's or big sweeping serpentines, asking for halts and half-halts in different places, so she doesn't anticipate where she is going to be asked to stop. When you ask for whoa, settle into the seat, press your tailbone down, close your hands and say WHOA.. As soon as she stops, loosen the reins, allow her to relax her neck, pat her, and continue on. If she is being difficult and wanting to take off running, do smaller circles, disengage that RUN mentality.

Don't overdo each session, 20 minutes a day is more than enough. Always end on a good note and reward her with a wash down, lots of pats, and praise.

Please, if you have any specific questions email me and ask.

Oh wow poor Darlin, how long do you think it took for you to fix Darlin's problem? I’m going to work REALLY hard with Ladie this summer to get her off that problem. I also start 4-H horse practice on Tuesday (she hates going to that arena) so I think it will do her good to work her there every week

It took years. Literally. The first couple were spent trying to overpower her using typical "cowboy" solutions. Tie-downs, bigger and bigger bits, it just made it worse. It takes a long time to correct 15 years of abuse and ignorance. Today she is fine; I can ride her bareback and bridleless, even jumping and galloping cross-country like that.. I have her whole story here...

I don't think it will take that much time to fix your mare. Just stick with it and be patient. I also suggest branching out with her; do more events than just speed events. Even if she doesn’t do well. It will get her into the mindset that she can go into an arena and not run. Take her to open shows and do things like Western Pleasure, Trail Class, and Horsemanship, anything that requires multiple gait transitions. So what if you two don't win? That is what I did with Darlin; we tried to compete in every event, even halter and showmanship! Gosh we got some funny looks, she is a Saddle bred/Walking horse cross and everyone else was a stock horse!

Wow I’m reading her story now... I wish I could ride my horses bridleless. I worked with Ladie on Tuesday doing the stuff you told me about and there was a HUGE change of attitude in her. It was amazing! I worked with her in trail patterns and stuff and she didn't want to go over the bridge so my instructor made me work with her around the bridge for like an hour, and she jumped it a few times, but she was completely calm the whole time and I even got her to back a couple of steps with out even touching the reins it was SO COOL! Every one thought I got a new horse, I worked with her for like an hour before practice and it was a HUGE difference. My friends even thought I got a new horse she acted like a pleasure horse instead of a gaming horse and I want to thank you SO MUCH for helping me I think now that she’s starting to calm down in the arena just after a little bit of work and I work with her all summer that she will start doing better in the games because she wont be so caught up on just running and freaking out. So thank you SO MUCH again for helping me :)

So, how are things going? Been a couple of weeks since I talked to you. Is she still listening?

After awhile, I will tell you how to start working towards bareback/bridleless. For now though, keep up the good work!!

Good, she’s listening REALLY well I got her calmed down in the arena and we practiced the games she didn’t get hot or sweat and when we ran, it was amazing! I stopped her by the barrel and backed her up with out any pressure on her mouth, and she flexing at the poll, and she even walks and trots the patterns with out a fuss! I rode her bare back last Sunday and we did large, probably about 60 meters, circle and she was on a loose rein! I haven’t ridden her with a lose rein with out her taking off in SO long it was amazing! Than we had practice on Tuesday and she walked into the gate no problem and I stopped her, turned her around and walked out with like no pressure on the reins at all! :) I'm so happy with her results. We have a show tomorrow so ill have some videos on youtube from that. :) Thanks that would be so cool!

Oh, I am so glad she is doing well! It really makes me feel good that I can help you develop a better relationship with your horse. It does my heart good to hear all the positive steps you two have made. I look forward to hearing more from you and seeing footage of the show! Are you entering her in any other classes?

To start toward the bareback/bridleless riding, I will give you some "homework" to start doing with her.

Do a lot of bareback riding.

While you are riding in the arena, I want you to leave the reins very loose, start by relaxing your body, concentrate on her movement, and feel her muscles.

As you begin to make the turn at the end, shift your hips slightly into the turn, don't lean your body, rotate your lower body slightly. This should press your opposite leg slightly into her side.

So, if you are making a turn to the left lets say, shift your right hip FOWARD, not up or down. Try to keep your upper body fairly straight. THINK turn; use your body to turn her.

If you need to, slightly lift the reins and signal the turn, try not to rely on them. You will not get a sharp turn at first; don't sweat it, as long as you get some movement in the direction you ask for. It won't happen immediately.

You want to avoid making major movements with your body; it should be a subtle shift in your lower body. Keep the inside leg in light contact with her, concentrate on that outside leg and getting her to move AWAY from it.

If she speeds up, simply lift the reins, suck in your stomach, roll your butt under slightly and say "easy" or "slow". As soon as she slows, start over, relax your body and walk in a straight line for awhile before asking for a turn again. Be patient and relaxed.

If you need any clarification on this, let me know. It is hard to put into words what comes naturally to me. I tried to explain as best I can.

Another thing is spend time with her other than just riding. Grooming is a great bonding activity, horses are social animals, and the key to having a good relationship with your horse is to become as familiar with their behavior as you can. Just spending time with her "hanging out" while she eats, grooming her, petting her, will improve your relationship. Just be sure that she remains respectful of you and your space. Keep in mind that to them, we are scary predators. I suggest going to your local library or purchasing the Monty Roberts' books The Man Who Listens to Horses and Shy Boy. These books helped me immensely in understanding the equine psyche, and how to communicate with them in a manner they understand.

I am really very happy for
you! Keep in touch and let me know when the videos are posted!!

:) We won barrels at the show and speed dash and we got a lot of 2nds and 3rds! I was SO happy! My friend Courtney was there and she wins barrels every where and we beat her and I was so shocked and Ladie just like handed her heart over to me! It was amazing! And we ran our fastest times EVER at the show! We ran a 12.2 in pole weaving and a 15.4 in jumping figure 8 and a 9.2 in key race (the patterns are big so it’s hard to run the low numbers except for pole weaving) and a 17.4 in barrels! I heard from a bunch of people that we had the fastest time of the day! I was so happy! Here is our barrel video it was the only one I got taped (here is the link)- and I did halter and we got 5th! she did REALLY good she was just like a pleasure horse with her head low and everything, we would of gotten 3rd (the judge said) but I forgot to walk the first part of the pattern and when we pivoted I hit the cone, but that was still really good :D I was going show her in pleasure and horsemanship too but I brought my 4 year old and did that with her instead. ok, I was going to take her out today and work with her but its raining so I cant :( but I have riding practice tomorrow so I’ll work on that there and its also pleasure instead of games so she will like that a lot, ummmm I get what your explaining :) I can’t wait to work with her :D ill search for the book soon too

That’s great!! I'm so proud of you two! I want you to work with her on becoming more supple, this will be beneficial to your barrel runs, To do this, get in the arena and begin walking her in a large circle with light contact on the reins. Begin asking her to curve her body around your leg as you circle. As you make a large circle, lets say to the left, get her on the bit and carrying herself, ask gently with your left rein to tip her head in to the inside of the circle, you should just be able to see her eye, you don’t want a big bend. Keep your outside leg steady and squeeze with the inside leg. Imagine that you are trying to curve her around that inside leg, making a sort of parenthesis ")" shape with her spine. Support her with the outside rein, keeping light contact to prevent her from dropping her shoulder to the inside of the circle. After she begins to flex laterally readily, begin to work on vertical flexion. To do this, lower your hands slightly, use your fingers to gently wiggle the bit in her mouth, don't saw, just massage her mouth with the bit. Using your legs, squeeze gently, imagine that you are pushing her forward into your hands. You want to increase her flexibility and strength over her topline rather than her underline. Don't allow her to lug on the bit and make you carry her by the reins, if she begins to lean too heavily, pick her head up and give a brief sharper wiggle. This should be done in a snaffle bit, if she does not respond to a smooth mouth, you may try a fat single twisted wire, not a skinny one, for awhile to get her to lighten, then go back to the smooth mouth. Practice this every time you ride as a warm-up exercise. This will greatly increase her flexibility and allow her to flow around the barrels much more smoothly. If you need the tie down for competition, then use it then, but in practice try leaving it off or VERY loose.
I have attached a few pictures for you. The first is a drawing of a horse that is on the bit and going with a balanced frame. The second is a western horse who is cantering beautifully on the bit. The last one, the pinto, is what is called BEHIND the bit. You want to avoid this, see how stiff and resistant he looks? You want your horse to look like the first two. The 101 Arena Exercises book has a great many exercises to help increase flexibility.

Keep up the good work!!

Thanks :).Ok, I’ve been riding her in English for the past couple times I’ve ridden her and she’s doing great! She has a little trouble with the lateral flexion because she always wants to spin in a circle but she’s getting better at it and she’s flexing vertically almost on her own. I think the people before her use to flex her vertically allot or she just does it with light rein its kind of weird. At practice I rode her bare back and practiced bridles (with the bridle) she’s doing really well. She comes from a canter to a walk and from a walk to a trot or walk to a canter or a trot to a canter better than anything else but her turning and slowing from the trot and stopping needs a bunch more work.

FANTASTIC!! I am so glad to hear it! I think you will find that you will have a much easier time running patterns and will make better times. Just keep persevering with her and keep me updated! Send me some pictures; I would love to see you two together.

I haven’t been on here for a while because I got grounded from all the electronic stuff for fighting with my sister and then I was gone the past 2 weeks visiting family in WI. Ladie is flexing to the side and vertically REALLY well and I haven’t had the chance to try bridle less yet but she’s doing really good with the slowing down from the canter to a walk.I’ve stopped practicing the speed event patterns for the most part (I’ve been practicing key race every once in a while because IM no good at it, my feet always fly out and I knock allot.) and just been working on the flat with her on building muscle and stamina since our county fair is the 25-26 and she was off on a huge pasture for 2 weeks but we will get right back into strict training.I’ve also stopped using barrels bits on her, she hates them. the bit I am using now is broken in the mouth and has 2 inches of shank below the mouth piece and 1 inch above the mouth piece and she really likes this bit and she’s responding with less pressure on the mouth and with more leg and is neck reining REALLY well with it so I will stick with this bit and the d-ring snaffle. I want to try a kimberwick bit on her, what do you think? I’ve started training my pleasure horse to go bridle less and he is advancing so much faster than ladie. I'm riding him with just a rope around his neck now and he stops REALLY good and turns okay, they could be a little quicker and sharper but has still doing really good! I haven’t tried to lope him yet because he just got his shoes off and is really rough so I’m going to wait till he gets his shoes back on and smoothes out before I canter him :)

Wow! I am so impressed by your progress! I am so glad to hear all the good news. You will have to let me know how you do at the fair. As for the Kimberwicke, they are ok, I prefer the solid low port mouth over a broken one, and it is less likely to gouge them in the roof of the mouth. It also gives them some tongue relief.

That's great about your pleasure horse! Isn't amazing what you can accomplish?

I think you are doing great, keep in touch!

On Tuesday at practice I had a personal lesson with my assistant instructor and she had me doing some work were I would arch Lady’s body around my leg like you said how to do before, so I worked on that with her for about an hour and she kept telling me how to fix my mistakes and keeping me in-line so I kept every thing constant and I worked it around the barrels and she’s turning better and keeping her pace ALOT more consistent! I was so happy! I let my friend Kari ride Ladie through the barrels (I have a video of it on my youtube account) and they did really good.
I MIGHT be going to an AQHA show on Saturday and doing free team penning and sorting with Ladie and if I have the money barrels and pole bending too. I would really like the team penning and sorting stuff because it’s still fast paced and I have to be very in control of ladie and she like chasing the cows too.Ok I will I can’t wait till fair! I hope I keep every thing standing in the games so we will hopefully make it to the state show again :), I will have to try to find one, I want to start doing quite a bit of English riding with her. I LOVE what I can accomplish! It’s so amazing! I hardly even have to pull on the reins any more and that would be good for the pleasure stuff because I don’t have to do very big movements :)Thanks :) I will!

This is fantastic. You are doing what I wish all of the people that try to justify the big nasty bits would try, just working with their horse! All it takes is time and patience and being willing to TRY it. It shouldn't take a piece of hardware to fix a horse's problems.

You really make my day when you email me and tell me how you are doing! I wish I could come see you ride and meet you and your horses in person. I would like to post your story on my blog. Is that OK with you? I may have to do some spellchecking and such but I will not change anything you have said. Maybe we can change some minds and make some horses' lives better in the process.

I agree, I was digging in my tack room today and I found a bad bit that I used on ladie a few times and I looked at it and I was like "wow I cant believe I put 'this' in my horses mouth" I’m trying to get my friends to work on it too, my friend Alyssa wont use anything but a snaffle and she likes not to pull on her horse at all. I wish you could come and meet my horses too! I feel that Ladie's and my bond has grown SO MUCH since i started riding her and trying to go bridless and stuff and its amazing. I went to a AQHA show on Saturday (it was a 2 day show in 1) and we did open and youth barrels "both days" and open and youth poles "both days" and I used a lot of leg and not as much rein pressure and she bended around everything really nice and the Saturday youth pole bending was the 4th time doing pole bending and we got first with a 21 and I was so so so shocked, I kept my hands down and sort of like "dropped" my hip and used my legs the whole time weaving through the poles and I just laid my reins against her neck. After the show was done, I rode her bare back in a rope halter and I just walked a bunch of figure 8s and with the rope off to one side and with LOTS of leg she was turning and I put my arms out to the side and I turn both left and right in a figure 8 with out using the reins!! :)I’ve got another show on Saturday and I might be using her for pleasure if I can’t bring my pleasure horse but I can’t wait! :) Yes! That would be fine with me to post this on your blog! I hope we do change minds; the horses' deserve it :)


  1. FIRST!

    HEy,wow, this kid wants to learn. Sounds like she 'gets it' now!

  2. The will to learn and the capacity for change will take her far — thanks as well to your no nonsense stance and subsequent kindness. Kudos.

  3. How awesome that she calmed down and listened to what you had to tell her. Sounds like she is really learning something. I am off to get that 101 book!!

  4. That is a fantastic story. Truely wonderful for everyone involved. This experience will be life changing for that gal and already is life changeing for that horse. Great job!

  5. Good for her! What an amazing story. Ladie is a lucky horse to have an owner who is eager and willing to work WITH her horse instead of against her!

  6. Good for this girl! Bits shmits...gotta use your legs. My mother beat into my head that when I ran my gelding at home, working on speed events, that A: I stayed the hell out of his face and B: he wasn't to leave the arena and go back to the barn until he would pleasure along on a long rein. Worked, too; he'd drop his head and tool along all day in his bit until the hackamore came out of the trailer. When they swung the gate, he might have gone into the pen sideways and hopping, but he stopped and walked out flat footed on a loose rein *EVERY* time, plodded back to his spot on rail in the warm up ring and went back to sleep until the next class.

  7. Ah, it's so refreshing to find an open mind willing to learn.
    Thanks for taking the time to talk with her.

  8. Bravo to both of you for taking the risks!

    You have an award waiting on my blog, come pick it up and congratulations!

  9. YAY - a good reminder that sometimes, you can offer help without getting your hand bitten off.

    That will be my lesson for the week.


  10. I am impressed by both of you. I tend to forget that changes can happen and people can learn. And that some people will take the time to help.

  11. What a wonderfully positive story! I'm with OldMorgans--in the midst of stupid horsepeople, it's so wonderful to remember that people CAN change. And just think: now she's telling her friends, and those friends will tell other friends, and so on and so forth.... Soon that whole area will have barrel racers that are bitless and in halters! :)

    Good on you for giving her good advice from the beginning. You just ignored her bickering and plunged right in. I have used that tactic a time or two myself, and it really works. Congratulations on changing a young mind, who will change many more!

  12. You have transformed a mere "rider" into a "horseman."

  13. This is great. Thankyou both for sharing this transformation. Hopefully she will share her new found knoweldge with others.

  14. What an interesting way to start a friendship! It was fun to read how it further developed. Thanks for sharing.