Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bit to bitless: Kourtesy of Kal

After a long few days of haying and riding all sorts of horses (yes after I fell off I got right back up of course!) we have another guest blogger bit to bitless story. I love hearing these stories, it makes me realize I may be one step closer to that dream of mine; that bitless will become the norm.

Today we have Lauren from the blog Kourtesy of Kal telling her wonderful story of bit to bitless.

Remember if you have a bitless story to tell please e-mail it to me and you can be one of our guest bloggers too! E-mail me at


I started taking riding lessons when I was 10, at a rundown stable with
rundown, ill-trained schoolies. Even at 10 years old, all the whips, the
spurs, the kicking, the yanking, the just didn't seem
right to me. Of course, all the people at the barns told me it was
right, and normal. It was the way to ride horses. Get them before they
get you. Show them who is boss. It still didn't sit right with me, no
matter what those "professionals" told me. So I ended up moving barns a
lot through the four or so years I took riding lessons.

Around the time I was 12, I came across Monty Roberts. Here was man who
didn't need to kick or yank or beat. His horses were his willing
partners instead of unhappy slaves. I went to see a clinic of his, and
my mind was blown. It was incredible to watch, and from then on, I vowed
I would always treat horses with respect and fair treatment, regardless
of what people told me.

When I was 14, during the summer of 2002, my parents and I made the
decision to buy my first horse. After a couple deals fell through, my
parents heard of a thoroughbred mare for sale not far from where we
lived. We took the drive up to see her. I'm pretty sure it was an
instant "she's the one." I didn't even ride her the first time I saw
her, but I wanted her. A fiery chestnut with a tiny little star, and
huge doe eyes. Her name was Chilli, and she was perfect. After a couple
of test rides, she was mine. We ended up boarding her at the place we
bought her from, since we didn't have our own farm at the time.

Chilli, the first time I rode her. I think the picture speaks for itself.

It was not very long after that, that we discovered Chilli was no quite
as perfect as we had been led to believe. An ex race horse, her owner
had never retrained her. Just hopped on, raced around the ring, and
galloped over jumps. She used a bit and heavy hands to keep Chilli under
some semblance of control. Even without touching the reins, Chilli would
chomp at the bit. If you picked up the reins, her head would come up,
her back would hollow, and she'd try to race away. Jumping involved
pointing Chilli at a jump, and she would run to it and fling herself
over as quickly as possible. Her old owner told us this was because she
loved to run.

In reality, Chilli had a back injury. One which no one ever addressed.
One which no one gave her the time off to heal. One which eventually did
become chronic. At the time, it was decided to give Chilli some time
off. Six months of no riding. My first horse, and I wasn't even able to
ride her. During that time off though, I learned the most about my
horse. I went up every day to groom her and walk her around. Chilli
began to trust me, and I began to trust her. And it was because of her
fragile trust in me that I couldn't bear to think of hurting her.And I
knew how much the bit hurt her.

So, I began to research for alternative methods to bits. And I quickly
came across Dr Cook's bitless bridle. They were bitless and painlesss,
and the solution. I ordered one right away. And when Chilli was ready to
come back to work, I put her in the bridle. Gone was the chomping and
rushing and anxiety. Chilli immediately relaxed in the bridle. It didn't
solve all of her problems; Chilli had large, gaping holes in her
training, but, the bitless allowed me to build on her trust, rather than
take it away. And in that, I was able to retrain my ex race horse.

Retraining Chilli wasn't the biggest hurdle for me though. The biggest
hurdle was what happened when I started riding bitless in a barn full of
bitted horses. I was immediately excluded from the barn group. Boarders
made fun of me, the BO had people spy on me and report back to her. I
was accused of abusing my horse. I was accused of ruining my horse. I
was told I couldn't ride. I was told I shouldn't own a horse. And no,
this didn't come from kids, this came from adults. I was only 14, and
finally starting to live my dream of owning a horse, and the barn, which
should have been my second home, became a horror show. I dreaded going,
but I forced myself to go almost every day. Because Chilli didn't think
I was doing anything wrong. Because I could see, even then, how much the
bitless made her happy.

So I suffered through the abuse of my fellow boarders. And, when I
finally felt Chilli was ready, I entered her in one of the barn's summer
shows. Not only did we beat the barn's best riders and horses, but we
placed in a hunter class, something I was told Chilli could never do.
The BO's father apologized to me. No one else did. So I took my ribbons,
and I took my horse, and we left.
Chilli and I in one of the over fences classes. Relaxed and happy mare.

And that should have been my happy ending, but in honest truth, it only
got worse at the second barn. It was a dressage barn primarily, and the
horses were bitted in monstrous contraptions. When I refused to do the
same to my horse, the abuse started again. One lady told me that I was
"killing" my horse by riding her bitless. The boarders would watch me
ride, and criticize everything I did. The BO was an older lady, and she
very much believed the horses were "out to get her". And because she
didn't like me, she took out her anger on my horse. Chilli lost 200lbs
in about 2 months from the BO refusing to feed her more than a flake of
hay a day. Chilli's entire personality changed. She went wild. The BO
couldn't handle her. She'd pace, and crib, and fuss. Every time we came
to see her, she'd whinny and nicker at us with such desperation, it
broke my heart. In the final weeks before we left, I went to the barn
every day to make sure she was given hay and water, and turned out.

And we when we moved Chilli, we moved her home. There was no way I was
putting her in another boarding farm, so we built fences and shelters
and a barn, and Chilli came home. Almost instantly, Chilli went back to
her usual sweet, gentle self. And from there, we continued to ride
bitless. Now, at the age of 17, Chilli is semi-retired, due to her back
problems. But she still enjoys the occasional bitless hack around the
property. Looking back at everything that happened, I would do it all
again. Chilli is a happy, content, healthy horse. And her trust in me is
as strong as ever. And that is worth everything.

Chilli at home. Bitless and loving it.

Trotting Chilli. Again, relaxed. Don't mind Fred's head.
I came across the Nurtural bridle a couple years later, and have used it
on another OTTB, as well as an ex-reiner. I also started my
Percheron/Quarter horse cross in a Nurtural bridle. At 16.2HH, and
1300lbs, she is no small thoroughbred. I started her bareback, with a
bitless bridle. I have never had an issue with control. Actually, to be
honest, backing her was as easy as getting on an old, bombproof horse.
Absolutely no issues. And she is happy and accepting. With about 60
rides on her so far, she walks and trots around with her head down, neck
stretched, and back loose and relaxed. And she has done so since I first
backed her in the winter.

There are bits sitting in my barn, collecting dust. Not one of my horses
will ever have metal in their mouth again. Bitless is a simple,
alternative, better way for horses. And, thankfully, the rest of the
horse world is starting to understand that.

As far as going from one bitless bridle to another, I actually went to
Nurtural because my Dr Cook broke. While I was riding! I was riding an
OTTB at the time, and suddenly my left rein was flopping to the ground.
The strap holding the ring had snapped. I was able to stop the horse
without too much issue. And from there, I went to Nurtural since I
needed a new bridle quickly, and since they were only a couple hours
away from me, the shipping time was a lot faster.

As far as comparing the two, obviously Nurtural bridles are more durable
(I haven't broken a Nurtural yet :P). I don't like the twisting of the
cross under straps of the Dr Cook's bridle. Otherwise, I think they both
work great. I had my Dr Cook bridle repaired, and I still use it on my
mom's horse, the ex-reiner.

Sydney back in here. Theres another great post about Lauren and riding bitless on her blog here. Thanks for your guest blog post! I look forward to reading about your bitless adventures in the future.


Anonymous said...

What a great story, thank you so much for sharing this. I got choked up a couple of times as I read it.

To the guest blogger: Good for you for sticking by your horse despite all the cruelty and utter nonsense from people you suffered. Really making me think about getting a Natural Bridle!

Anonymous said...

Lovely story, thanks! People can be so stupid and cruel, particularly when it comes to other people doing something different. I guess at bottom they find the idea that there are other ways things could be done threatening.

Golden the Pony Girl said...

I can't believe people can be so cruel to each other. I am glad the writer persevered

Thanks for this wonderful series! I really enjoy reading about other peoples thoughts on bitless riding.

juliette said...

Sydney - Thank you so much for sharing these bit to bitless stories. Lauren and Chilli's journey is amazing in that Lauren stuck to her beliefs in the face of cruel treatment. Chilli's sweet relaxed posture in the later pictures tells the whole story. (Aside - I love Lauren's sense of humour - "Don't mind Fred's head").

What a great idea to tell the bitless tales, Sydney...and you are a tough rider...back in the saddle after your nasty deserve Kacy's "Tough Bra" award!

Sydney_bitless said...

I am glad you all love the bitless stories. Hopefully soon I will have a friend of mine tell her wonderful story. Shes a great lady with her first horse and an awesome message to convey to us all.

I know what it is like to be faced with controversy about bitless. Luckily I do not have to deal with boarders harassing me (unless its a barn I work at :P) Most people are accepting when they see what you can do.

Beth said...

Wow Lauren all I can say is you are an amazing person to stand up to all those adults when you were just a child. It really takes a lot of guts to do that as a kid.

lisa said...

Very nice story!

Jeni said...

Great Story. I'm sorry people can be ignorant though, thats rough to deal with as a teenager. I'm glad you stuck with your horse and your resolve.

Jen said...

Isn't it amazing how quick other folks are to criticize? Usually it's stuff they don't even understand. What really gets me is that 99 times out of 100 their horses are a mighty far cry from perfect themselves (um, hallooo...what's up with the superiority complex dude?? Are you kidding me? :o) I'm so thankful that we are able to keep our horses here at home with us - the idea of boarding just scares me to death.
Super story!

Kourtesy of Kal said...

Thanks for all the nice comments :). And thanks to Sydney for posting my story.

I'm finding now people are interested in hearing about bitless riding. They aren't so quick to criticize anymore, since it has become more mainstream. When people see me riding in the bridle, they usually come up and ask about it, and are interested in learning more about it.

Grey Horse Matters said...

It's always amazing to me how many horse people just can't imagine doing anything apart from the norm. Just because someone has done things one way their entire life doesn't mean they need to be cruel or worse yet not have an open mind about trying different approaches.

Great guest blog.

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