Of Horse

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Bits and Shoes and Whips, Oh My!
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Bits and Shoes and Whips, Oh My!

 So onto a much-argued topic in the horse world. We use them every day, but are we really sure what damage we are doing, and how can we swap things in our daily lives to help our horses live their life to the fullest. In this, I’ve put my personal opinions on these things, but obviously, everyone has their own opinions, and I have no doubt there will be both agreements and disagreements, but just bear in mind, that I am discussing both points and giving my own view.

 On the subject of bits, there is a huge controversy, I, myself ride both bitless and with a bit. On the whole, I can’t really say that I prefer either. Bits, in the wrong hands, can be devastating - tongues cut in two, mouths bleeding and torn… But is bitless really much better? Whilst bits put pressure either on the tongue, or the ‘bars’ of the mouth, they can do so gently. A bit is only as harsh as the hands that use it, and I’ll believe that until I die.

The gentlest snaffle can become a weapon in heavy hands, tearing the lips, hurting the tongue and causing a lot of pain in general, whilst even the harshest of bits can be used gently and as an accurate tool for higher level riders, for whom a snaffle just won’t suffice.  Bitless is just as bad, or as good if you want to think either way. Instead of putting pressure on the mouth, they instead put it on the delicate nose and poll areas. Can they do as much damage as a bit? Absolutely. Noses can be broken through leverage, injuries to the poll, and I believe even recently, there was an ear degloved by one as I scrolled through my multiple horse groups on FaceBook.  In my personal opinion? Use what suits yourself and your horse.

It’s all well and good for everyone to be screaming out for bitless, or bitted, or whatever they do, but it’s down to the individual themselves. Horses are, at the end of the day, perfectly capable of telling us when they are uncomfortable, in the forms of napping, bucking, refusing etc. I’ve met horses that absolutely excel bitless, whilst other horses panic when they don’t have a bit, seemingly unable to comprehend how to act without a bit. Like I said, cater to the individual, not the mobs.

Your horse needs a double bridle and a grackle to go out hacking? You use it.  On the lines of this, if somebody tries to pressure you into a harsher bit when your horse is perfectly happy with what they have, please tell them where to put their opinion, it doesn’t do when the so-called ‘online experts’ are telling everybody and their mother that their horse should have six bits in its mouth and the noseband tightened too much. Use your own initiative, and don’t just crank up the harshness as the first thing. Less is always more with horses (at least in the majority)

 Shoes are a very common part of our equestrian life, but are they as good as they say they are? The answer is again, it depends. From a factual point of view, shoes aren’t brilliant, the horse's hoof was made to expand and contract, to move with the ground and be flexible when walking whilst also gripping. In short, metal shoes can’t do that. They restrict the hooves ability to expand, but they do have their good sides.

Although horses were made to travel many hundreds of miles, grazing as they go, their feet aren’t adapted to the harsh surfaces that we put them on. Tarmac roads and gravel paths are difficult on even the toughest of hooves, and in this part, shoes can be extremely helpful. Some horses just can’t go without them, plagues by eternal lameness that seems to be cured by shoeing. On another note, if your barefoot horse needs just a little more support, there are hoof boots that can offer a grippy alternative, without the need for iron and nails. It just depends on your preference as well.  

Breed can factor massively, as well as the conditions that a horse lives in. Thoroughbreds are known for having bad feet, whilst native ponies such as Shetlands, Highlands and all in between often have hard tough feet, but that's not to say the opposite won’t be true! Plastic shoes also exist that can be glued on, but personally, I’m not a fan. I used to have braces when I was younger that were glued on, and still to this day (nearly ten years later) I still suffer issues from bacteria getting under the glue remnants, surely it would be the same with horses, especially since their feet come into contact with probably a lot more than my mouth does (Oh god I hope so!)

  Another thing we take for granted is whips. My opinion on whips is that they are good when used as a light aid to help the horse, but there are too many people who need to control and abuse with them. I carry one for an aid when I do ride, just because I feel more comfortable being able to give that little bit extra to the aids if I need it, never as a tool to harm or frighten. Sometimes even just waggling it out of the corner of the horse's eye can give the desired result.

Whilst hacking, it makes a brilliant tool as well, not for the horse, but for safety’s sake. In this day and age, you never know what’s going to happen. A schooling whip with fluorescent ribbons on the end can help give cars a reasonable distance to pass you, or if you ride where there are dog walkers, they can be an excellent deterrent for lively dogs running towards you (Although if that happens, and it’s not in a friendly way, I would not hesitate to keep my horse safe if the dog is dangerous, please report to your local dog warden, or to the BHS if you’re in the UK!).     

There are a great many things in the horse world that can cause a lot of suffering to these beautiful animals we keep. It is up to us to determine what would be better suited for our horses and make life as painless and enjoyable for them as possible. There is much selfishness in the horse world, and it would maybe do to think about what is comfortable, rather than what everybody else tells you to do so.


Photo courtesy of Flickr artist

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