Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Bitless, treeless, barefoot

At last I have been able to ride Dee this week. We had a session in the arena and she was very well behaved and responsive. I am looking forward to riding regularly again now, and also to having more contact with Red again.

I have been interested in reading White Horse Pilgrim’s comments about bitless bridles and treeless saddles. I enjoy his blog and respect and value his expertise gained from long experience (much longer experience than mine I must say). However we do differ in our opinions about these two issues. I have had good results with both my horses with bitless bridles. Dee was a riding school horse and so probably suffered at the hands of inexperienced and inept riders, hence it is perhaps not surprising that she responded well to being free of the bit. She is a strong personality however and rather spooky, so it is worth comment that she is easier to control without a bit and no longer tries to take control. I think she is just so much more relaxed without a bit, that she listens more to me and doesn't panic so easily.

Red is a different personality – quite docile and very safe, but stubborn and willful at times. He will try it on with inexperienced riders – he once took ’ö-Dzin into a hedge – but we have not found there to be less possibility of taking control with the cross-under style bitless bridle than there was when he was in a bit. The cross-under (Dr Cook style) bridle does need a slightly different approach. Firstly it is necessary to ride with less contact than is usually taught in English style riding, and if the rider needs to assert control with the reins, a pull on alternate reins is more effective than on both at the same time. It is also essential that the bridle is correctly fitted fairly low on the face,

I have a friend who happily rides her excitable part Arab mare in one of these bridles – in fact it was she who first introduced me to the Dr Cook style bridle. I was using an English hackamore before then.

With regard to treeless saddles, I cannot pretend to have any expertise in this area. I love my treeless saddles and my horses are comfortable and well in them. But they are not working a great deal or being ridden long and hard, so I am not a good sample by which to judge the saddles’ performance. When I was researching treeless saddles prior to trying one, I discovered an account that said trees were first introduced into saddles in order to have somewhere to hang stirrups. Stirrups enabled less-than-expert riders to become effective warriors in the saddle so that the Mongolians could increase the size of their armies for mounted combat. This would suggest that the introduction of a tree was for the benefit of the rider, not the horse. I have no idea whether this is true or not. However I have a friend in Finland who runs a riding stables of 30 horses. Their horses are ridden in felt pads – what we might call bareback pads in the UK. They have always been worked in these soft felt saddles with no ill effect – and these are small horses carrying adults of all sizes.

On a different subject, I finding it interesting that although White Horse Pilgrim clearly is not convinced about bitless and treeless, he is an advocate of barefoot horses. At my yard I have received no negative feedback about my horses being in treeless saddles and bitless bridles, but quite a lot about Red being barefoot. A number of people do not think I will be able to continue with this indefinitely and keep Red sound. He has been barefoot now for 10 months and has never been lame. His feet are tough and in good shape. One thing that is most noticeable about bare feet (Dee is barefoot also on her hind feet) is that the hooves stay clean – mud and stones do not get stuck in the feet so that they hardly need picking out, whereas Dee often has quite clogged front shod feet with stones wedged in that can be difficult to remove. I'm sure the fact that barefoot hooves naturally stay cleaner must be to the horse’s benefit.

I expect the debate about these different approaches will continue ad infinitum. I would be delighted to hear other people’s comments or experience of the bitless, treeless and barefoot approaches.


Cilla said...

i just had to add a comment to your wonderful thought provoking post!
i totally agree on your barefoot observations. my heavy cob mare is barefoot on her rear hooves and they keep far cleaner than the shoed fronts!
i have ridden treeless for 3 years and would not go back to a treed saddle. i have now got a bareback pad and once i can manage to find a graceful, easy way to get on i will probably be using that a lot i think!
as i follow the Parelli programme i have been using a rope halter for over six months with much better, easier, kinder control and communication that whatever bit i tried before.
my mare is an ex riding school horse and has had a lot of baggage. we are working through this now thanks to being more 'natural'.
i love your blog. its great to have a glimpse of a different lifestyle to mine in glorious Wales. long may you continue.

cilla xxx

Nor’dzin said...

Thank you for your appreciative comments. I hope you get on well with your bareback pad.

Jen said...

I've come here by way of Cilla's blog site and agree I have loved riding completely barefoot, never noticed any lameness issues with the one horse I owned previously, nor the horses I ride now, all of whom are "shoeless". :) Happily, the bareback pads work well here, as well, and the rope hackamores, helping me to stay out of the precious beasts' mouths until I, myself, become a better rider with lighter hands and better balance. The only issue I have ever heard with a treeless saddle is on a LOOOONG trail ride out, one woman I read found her horse was lame and it was from rubbing directly on the vertebrae where her balance point was. She used an adjustable air pad (theraflex)and has since had no other problems. I have heard many people near me in the States rave about their treeless saddles, so it seems horses the world over appreciate the freedom. :) Cheers from the Midwest!

Lasell Jaretzki Bartlett said...

Nor’dzin, hi. We have six horses and they are all barefoot. One came to us shod and the first thing we did was pull his shoes and let him adjust to his changed feet. The condition and hardness of their feet change from season to season, basically the wetter the conditions, the softer the feet. I do have a pair of easy boot bares in case I really want to boogie on the gravel roads and the horse's feet are softer. But actually, I have not yet used them!

I own a treeless saddle and rode exclusively in it for a few years. The fiddling I did was extensive for getting proper padding in order to keep the saddle off the horse's spine. I still ride in it at times, but more often ride in a treed saddle, either my custom western or my adjustable gullet dressage.

I love the feeling of riding in a treeless except on my very wide Percheron cross mare. Too much stretch for my hips without a rise from the saddle! LOL

I rode exclusively without a bit for a few years as well. It was primarily motivated by my not trusting to react with pulling in the reins when I got startled. At this point I want my horses to understand what I want from a halter or from a bit and bridle. I mostly ride with a bit but do my best to keep in mind 1) it can cause pain easily, and 2) I want to be communicating to my horse's mind so my horse can do what I ask.

Some days I choose a saddle based on how much weight I want to be lifting. Treeless is by far my lightest saddle. It sounds like you are making thoughtful choices for Dee and Red, and that is the key in my opinion.

Victoria Cummings said...

My horses have been barefoot for about five years now, and we all seem to prefer it. If you need shoes on rough terrain, you might look into some Old Mac boots. A lot of endurance riders love them. I'm still riding with a bit, but only a snaffle. And I've been wanting a treeless saddle for Siete since she's so round and hard to fit and they are so light. If I did a lot of riding, I'd stick to one with a tree since I do think it easier on the horse to keep the weight off its spine. A really good pad is essential either way. You'll make sound decisions I'm sure because you always have your horses' best interest in mind.