I used to ride with a snaffle bit in my horse’s mouth. I used it because it was the only way I knew how to turn her, to stop her, and in general, control her. I used virtually no leg aids, and relied on my reins completely in order to communicate with my horse.
I also had a horse that had no grasp of slowing down – she would race home faster than the speed of light any chance she got, and if she didn’t get the chance, she would proceed to prance the entire way home, making my ride much less than enjoyable. Any time my Dad would come for rides with me, wanting to take in the gorgeous view of the lake we got from the bluffs, my horse would try to kill me by dancing, rearing, circling, and doing basically anything else she could think of in order to force me to let her run. The bit did essentially nothing – her mouth would be gaping as I tried to slow her to a manageable speed.
The last year I rode that same horse, it was without anything on her head at all. She went anywhere with just a rope hackamore on, and in the arena she did anything you asked by just using your legs, seat, and occasionally a stick to guide her in the right direction. Of course, she still liked to go fast, but there were no more fights with her out on the trail to get her to stand still.
Why the drastic change? Well, there are certainly a few factors.
One definite reason is changing from the snaffle bit to a bosal style hackamore. (This switch might be opposite of what you might think – if you have a horse that won’t stop, wouldn’t you put a stronger, harsher bit in their mouth? I’ll explain my logic here in a minute.)
An even more important factor for the change in my horse was the change in my attitude and methodology towards her. Instead of forcing her to stop, turn, etc. with the bit, I put a hackamore on (keep in mind I started doing this in an enclosed area – start small and work your way up!). I would ask her to flex her neck, and at first, she wouldn’t. But with a little consistency and even more persistency, she eventually figured out that she wasn’t being forced to do anything – which made her less reluctant to actually do the things I was asking her to do.
So you see – that is why I didn’t put a stronger, harsher bit in her mouth. She wasn’t misbehaving because I didn’t have enough control of her physically – it was because I didn’t have enough control of her mentally. I also developed techniques that helped me ask her, rather than tell (for example, if she starts getting too fast, I’d tip her nose to one side to get her attention instead of pulling straight back on both reins).
Dixie is now my retired pet. She suffered from a hernia a couple of years ago, and I haven’t ridden her since. However, she still enjoys her pets and treats, and I’m sure she appreciates that she now gets to accept what happens to her, and not submit to what happens to her.
Have you ridden with a bosal? What were your results?