“Believe in your horse, so your horse can believe in you.”
~~ Ray Hunt~~
We at Never Forgotten Ranch believe in the benefits to both horse and rider of what we call "Trust-Based Horsemanship." Trust-Based Horsemanship is our own take on the more well-known "natural horsemanship." So let's start there.....what exactly is "natural horsemanship?"
Natural horsemanship takes the rider into the world of the horse, focusing on the horse's natural instincts and behaviors. Natural horsemen and horsewomen do not use pain and fear to control the horse, but rather learn how to communicate with the horse, creating a partnership where the horse and human understand and trust one another, work together in harmony, and can create a safe and joyous connection. We do not "break" horses. Who would really want to do that? We teach them, and they teach us. And it is beautiful.
Trust-based horsemanship has grown out of our belief that no one, horse or human, will perform their best for someone who does not trust them. We all want those around us to believe in us, to be our support system as we figure things out and learn how to succeed. Horses are no different.
Learning to trust your horse starts with perspective. Your first instinct may be to say that your "difficult" horse is crazy, acting up, or doesn't respect you and needs to learn who is boss. But what if your horse is not crazy, but just scared and doesn't know what to do? What if he is trying with everything he has, and wants to do right, but just doesn't understand? Do you trust that he is trying? Do you trust that he doesn't want to disappoint you? Do you trust that he is communicating with you, but you just aren't yet speaking the same language? Do you believe in your horse, and in yourself?
Now we all want our horses to do what we ask. But we need to take that to a deeper level and care even more about WHY the horse is doing what we've asked. Is the horse calm and confident, understanding your requests and happily following along for an adventure with his trusting partner? Or is he responding out of fear, knowing that if he doesn't do exactly the right thing then you are going to attack him with angry words and flying hands, or the bit is going to be yanked and the spurs are going to be jabbed in his sides? Is your horse blindly responding because he is "broken" after years of forceful "training" using a toolbox full of fear and pain? Or is your horse saying, "Sure, pal, let's head on over that bridge together?" We hope they are all saying the latter!
As Antoine de Pluvinel stated so long ago, "You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid." There have never been more true words.
Bitless Riding as a Key to Trust
We're going to start this section by letting you all know from the get-go that every one of us here at Never Forgotten Ranch rode horses with bits for most of our lives. It is what we all, like most every horseperson out there, were taught to do. So for most of our lives, bits were just a natural part of the process of getting the horse ready for a ride. We never thought twice about it. Then one rainy day, while scanning through YouTube videos of some of our favorite trainers, we (Never Forgotten Ranch's founders) came across someone new who caught our eyes. This guy was riding his horse, an amazingly gentle, alert, and responsive mustang, WITHOUT A BIT! Imagine that! We watched his videos, and then started researching online, where we learned that thousands of horsepeople, most of whom subscribe to the same horse-focused natural horsemanship that we do, are tossing the bit aside and finding a better connection with their horse. And that's where Never Forgotten Ranch's bitless journey began!
Since that day, we have not put a bit in a horse's mouth. And what we have learned has been remarkable! More than a few so-called "problem" horses have come to us, we've tossed a bitless bridle on them, and ridden them without any issue. Just take a quick look below through one of the many peer-reviewed studies published by the renowned veterinarian, Dr. W. Robert Cook, who has spent has 60+ year career studying the equine head and neck, with a particular focus on the physiological and behavioral effects of the bit. Study after study shows that numerous problem behaviors are consistently eliminated by removing the bit. Now I'm not saying that going bitless is the ultimate cure-all to every issue that every rider has ever had with his or her horse. That would be absurd. But it sure is a good start!
So let's face it. Bits hurt. Even just laying there idle, without being yanked around by the reins, that heavy metal bit is resting on sharp bone covered with sensitive tissues (see below). Most horsepeople are aware that pain and discomfort are often the cause of problem behaviors, and is often the first thing we check when not getting the desired response out of our horse. We have their backs adjusted, their legs and hooves x-rayed, and spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars investigating potential physical causes of unwanted behavior. Then we toss the bit back in and go at it again. Ugh. Why? Again, just read the links below and watch the videos to see firsthand what that bit is doing inside the mouth of our beloved equines, and then decide for yourself if the bit is really something you are comfortable placing in your horse's mouth.
Pain has been used as a way to "control" horses since humans first began riding them around 3500 BC. In fact, long before the first metal bits were forged during the Bronze Age, the earliest bits were fashioned out of rough, twisted rawhide, and placed in the mouth for the sole purpose of causing enough pain to force an often wild horse to submit, or "break." Having been used consistently for thousands of years as a standard piece of horse-riding equipment, horsepeople around the world became blind to the object's original intended purpose. We just didn't question it! Until recent years, that is, as more and more studies have been published forcing us to ask ourselves whether or not the device is really ethical or humane. We at Never Forgotten Ranch believe it is not.
Again, please take a few moments to watch the videos below for excellent visual depictions of the damage the bit causes to the horse's mouth. The more we know, the more we question, and the more open we keep our minds, the better relationship we can all build with our horses.
Below are links to several articles and studies showing the effects of the bit on the horse, the contradictory results and dangerous consequences of pain-based control on both horse and rider, and the consistently positive behavioral responses of horses who are transitioned from bitted to bitless.
published by HorseTalk, New Zealand
"Behavioral Assessment of Pain in 66 Horses, With and Without a Bit," by Dr.'s W.R. Cook & M. Kibler
At Never Forgotten Ranch, we strongly believe that the increased positive performance seen in horses as they are changed from bitted to bitless, as shown in in the studies above as well as in countless experiences within our own program and in those of other equestrians in our community, is a direct response to not only the sudden lack of pain, but also the newly-developed sense of trust from the rider. The horse knows that we are NOT forcing pain upon him to elicit a response, as we trust that we have the full ability to learn to communicate together as two creatures seeking the same goal of understanding. As such, bitless riding is and will remain a key component of Trust-Based Horsemanship, residing at the core of Never Forgotten Ranch's equine rehabilitation and training programs.
Now let's watch some fun videos that show you what really is possible when you
TRUST yourself and your horse!