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  1. #1
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    Default Spinoff: bits, bridles, gaping mouths

    The other thread about the OP whose horse is rooting at the bit got me thinking about bitting, bridles, and gaping mouths in the dressage world.

    When I stopped to think about the question and issue more in-depth, I thought of the horses I've seen with "contact issues" and a lot of them are in dressage.

    Why is that?

    Why is it that nosebands exist to clamp shut a horse's mouth in dressage, yet in hunters a horse easily keeps his mouth shut and in western nosebands aren't even used?

    Why is "contact" prized when in order to get it it seems to create tension more than relaxation? Why do other disciplines favor a lighter contact than dressage? Surely horses of other disciplines perform just as many skills as a dressage horse (especially if you consider that the majority of AAs doing dressage are under 2nd level and a well-schooled hunter could do that as well).

    Of course I'm speaking in generalities here, but I am speaking also from the experience of riding my horses with different levels of contact and finding they prefer a lighter and softer contact than what I've been instructed in my own training and what I've seen of others as well.

    Is it because of the types of horses that are popular these days and that people sit the trot before they should or are over-mounted so end up hanging on and calling it contact, or ???

    Before I rode dressage I always wondered about that (I had a friend who was an eventer and she couldn't explain to me why she used a flash), then I kind of just accepted it, and now I'm scratching my head.
    My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  2. #2
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    Default

    Bad riding. Bad training. Inconsiderate humans looking for a "quick result".

    Just my opinion


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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by kmmoran View Post
    Bad riding. Bad training. Inconsiderate humans looking for a "quick result".

    Just my opinion
    Agreed. And it's not just dressage.


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  4. #4
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    Actually, the ideal contact in dressage for a horse that is ridden well off the seat is very light. Many other disciplines, to say nothing of legions of dressage riders, do not really ride the horse off their seat. It is "hands and legs and nobody home in between."

    A correctly ridden horse will do a halt transition off seat alone, with the rein held just taught enough to prevent a loop. A correctly ridden horse can do canter pirouettes with a loop in the reins, held in one hand. A heavy contact is not required, but rather putting the horse on the back and seat.


    The video below is my friend riding her 4yo homebred on her 12th ride under saddle.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSbbdisy-Po

    Does the contact look heavy to you? Do you see any problems such as you describe?
    Correctly ridden, it is **right there.**

    (BTW, she doesn't ride five horses a day. She works at a bank, has a retired broodmare and a trail QH, and waited five years for this horse to gestate and grow up before she had something to ride again.)

    Now when you look at horses that have been under saddle for years, and they display resistances, tension, or are heavy to ride around, remember that the above could have been possible from the very beginning if the horse had been ridden correctly.
    Furthermore, if you can find someone who will ride the horse correctly, it will eventually go like that video.

    Hold that picture in your head as a standard and consider whether it is the overall discipline that is coming up short, or its pilots.

    If a trainer you are working with is not able to ride a horse at the very least like a greenie with 12 rides under saddle, without the use of bits/gadgets/etc, ask yourself: is "better" actually possible?



  5. #5
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    Default

    Oh, I DO have a standard in my head, but the problem is that it doesn't look like what I see when I look around at many people. I am not saying that no other discipline is without fault, because they all are. This specific topic just came up and got me to thinking.

    Yes, there is a standard of what I'd like to see (which includes no crank or other restrictive nosebands), but why isn't it out there? Why is it next to impossible to buy a dressage bridle without a flash attachments? What is missing in the teaching that causes this to be seen so much?

    Is it because people are in a hurry to get out and show?

    Is it because trainers don't teach timing of aids and proper release?

    Is it because people are over-mounted?

    Is it because of different training theories?

    I will say "yes" to all of the above, at least in what I've seen in a few different regions.

    But why is it acceptable?

    Why is there a standard of "contact" implying a certain heaviness in the hand that is considered proper dressage contact where it seems that others want light contact? I know there was a big discussion about "German" vs. "French" training a few months ago - is that where it stems from?
    My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran



  6. #6
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    You obviously haven't been around many local hunter shows Plenty of TIGHT noseband there, just without a flash (although many school in flashes and take them off for shows). You say a 'well schooled hunter' can easily do low level dressage. Well... sure. But, just like dressage, there are more low level hunters with bad training than fancy fancy, well schooled ones. You just trade off issues. The badly ridden/trained dressage horse may be more likely to gape it's mouth because of bad contact, but the badly ridden/trained hunter is more likely to be stiff as a board with NO give through it's neck or body.

    Bad riding exists in ALL disciplines. If you compare a well schooled hunter to a poorly trained/ridden dressage horse, of course hunters will seem more kind/forgiving. But compare a well schooled dressage horse to a poorly ridden/trained hunter, and suddenly dressage seems like the kinder more correct discipline.
    Quote Originally Posted by pinecone View Post
    I can't decide if I should saddle up the drama llama, dust off the clue bat, or get out my soapbox.


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  7. #7
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    I am not sure what you mean by "heavy". A well schooled horse working on a movement he is proficient at should not be heavy, but should not "light as feather" either. As he works on something more difficult, it is normal and expected the contact will temporarily be heavier as he struggles with self carriage in the new form and relies on humans more but as he and develop proper strength, the contact will lighten.

    I think of this like ballroom dance, or pair ice skating. Each partner has to offer sufficient feel but should not be heavy like a log either. Have you danced with a professional? They are not light by any stretch, but they are not heavy either. It is a much nicer feeling than dancing with some floppy teenage boy.


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  8. #8
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    ALL EXCELLENT POINTS TO PONDER!!!

    Yearssss ago when officiers competed there were no nosebands, and open mouth showed their technique (or the problems with it).

    In initially nosebands (for the military) served the purpose of having a halter to tie the horse.

    In the srs a drop noseband was paired with a full cheek to prevent the crossing of the jaw (which some green horses can do). But even before than, horses were initially ridden in the caveson (with draw reins for lateral flexibility), and then the horse went to a curb alone.

    NEVER were nosebands to clamp shut a horse's mouth during training. And flashes only came to being when auctions decided to change from drops (which were misunderstood by people from other less educated countries came to buy). And then the game was on. MAKE the horse take the bit and flex longitudinally first.

    "Why is "contact" prized when in order to get it it seems to create tension more than relaxation?" Contact (from bit acceptance to being 'on the bit' should follow a progression from light lateral flexibility. Horses are expected to show their full gaits before they are capable of it. So showy gaits created from tension (precipitous flexion) and over tempo are being rewarded. What the judges reward, others will follow.

    "Why do other disciplines favor a lighter contact than dressage? " Self carriage and lightness in hand should be in goal of every rider (NO continously torqued curbs should ever happen). It is not the type of horse, it is that half halts to change balance are not clear for the horse (come up/open/remain active) and cessation of the aids. And if in self carriage they should go on the weight of the rein and also easily seek fdo when allowed. We act, they react by changing balance, and we allow that to continue. But if the horse are ridden lowered/closed the horse cannot come to that. For SURE, EVERYTHING we do on the horse should be explained, not taken for granted because someone say it. We must learn how much the effect of our aids change the horse, but we must also observe what we do and refine it. That makes EVERYTHING us RESPONSIBLE for what the horse does, and not blaming th horse. A heavy load which requires as much mind and forethought as it does experience and REFINING timing.
    I.D.E.A. yoda


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  9. #9
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    You guys know me: I'm the one on the Western Dressage threads bitching about the sine qua non of Dressage being contact.

    IMO, the big problem is that it takes some good riding to be able to touch and micromanage a horse's mouth all the time. If you don't have that physical skill built on a lot of saddle time, you'll make riding unpleasant for him.

    I do think that other disciplines like the hunters kinda sorta do the horse a favor by not asking the rider to have constant/so much contact. There is a margin for rider error.

    We talk a lot about big mouth problems here-- gaping and such. I'd have to see the horse and rider to figure out why that is happening. IRL, I don't see glaring issues around me (that I can't easily ascribe to an uneducated horse or unskilled rider). I also haven't spent a lot of time looking for *the* bit/noseband that fixes it. Maybe that's just because I haven't looked.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat



  10. #10
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    OP, to answer your question: One of the reasons I think contact is "prized" is because it assumes that the rider has all the feel and skill he needs.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by ideayoda View Post
    ALL EXCELLENT POINTS TO PONDER!!!

    Yearssss ago when officiers competed there were no nosebands, and open mouth showed their technique (or the problems with it).

    In initially nosebands (for the military) served the purpose of having a halter to tie the horse.

    In the srs a drop noseband was paired with a full cheek to prevent the crossing of the jaw (which some green horses can do). But even before than, horses were initially ridden in the caveson (with draw reins for lateral flexibility), and then the horse went to a curb alone.

    NEVER were nosebands to clamp shut a horse's mouth during training. And flashes only came to being when auctions decided to change from drops (which were misunderstood by people from other less educated countries came to buy). And then the game was on. MAKE the horse take the bit and flex longitudinally first.

    "Why is "contact" prized when in order to get it it seems to create tension more than relaxation?" Contact (from bit acceptance to being 'on the bit' should follow a progression from light lateral flexibility. Horses are expected to show their full gaits before they are capable of it. So showy gaits created from tension (precipitous flexion) and over tempo are being rewarded. What the judges reward, others will follow.

    "Why do other disciplines favor a lighter contact than dressage? " Self carriage and lightness in hand should be in goal of every rider (NO continously torqued curbs should ever happen). It is not the type of horse, it is that half halts to change balance are not clear for the horse (come up/open/remain active) and cessation of the aids. And if in self carriage they should go on the weight of the rein and also easily seek fdo when allowed. We act, they react by changing balance, and we allow that to continue. But if the horse are ridden lowered/closed the horse cannot come to that. For SURE, EVERYTHING we do on the horse should be explained, not taken for granted because someone say it. We must learn how much the effect of our aids change the horse, but we must also observe what we do and refine it. That makes EVERYTHING us RESPONSIBLE for what the horse does, and not blaming th horse. A heavy load which requires as much mind and forethought as it does experience and REFINING timing.
    Thank you for that very thoughtful response.

    I bolded above what I wonder about as a cause - horses doing more than they are ready for, balance-wise, so the tension is created and heaviness begins as they try to balance themselves.

    And in speaking of timing, I agree about that, too. Only recently did I learn a sequence of timing that has made a big difference in my horse. It seems so basic and fundamental that it leaves me scratching my head that in 30+ years of riding it was never described to me before. I've ridden on the east coast and west coast, in show barns and with people who describe themselves as "classical." Not once did anyone ever explain something so basic to me (and coming from a non-dressage, non-show-oriented source). I know I am not alone in missing this vital information.

    Yes, again, I know there is good and bad riding in all disciplines. But in dressage a common theme is "contact" and so I guess that's what my question is about. And I have heard it explained, both from trainers and here on COTH, that a dressage contact is "different" and that dressage riders want "more" (heavier, I've even heard) and my question is why??? Why not go for lightness? Why just accept that "heavier" is the way it is and that's what is wanted?

    Really, this is a serious question and I'm looking for answers other than "but other disciplines have bad riding, too" or "you just haven't ridden with the right people" or whatever else doesn't explain the root problem.
    My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran



  12. #12
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    mvp, I was replying to ideayoda while you were posting. Good points about why it is prized - to show the feel and skill of the rider. And again a good point about why hunters doing a favor to the horse by not asking the rider to take contact. So perhaps dressage as a discipline (if you're going to go out and show) is asking more of the horses AND riders than they are ready for because it is really so nuanced to be in a horse's mouth and have contact and communicate delicately and precisely?
    My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    mvp, I was replying to ideayoda while you were posting. Good points about why it is prized - to show the feel and skill of the rider. And again a good point about why hunters doing a favor to the horse by not asking the rider to take contact. So perhaps dressage as a discipline (if you're going to go out and show) is asking more of the horses AND riders than they are ready for because it is really so nuanced to be in a horse's mouth and have contact and communicate delicately and precisely?
    Not really.

    To correctly ride and train a horse, even at the earliest level, you need to know how to ride with a correct contact.

    If you skip it "until people are ready" what does that do?

    Unfortunately people will have to sit on the 20m circle until they can do transitions in and out of all the gaits without stirrups and control the pace/transitions without reins, and someone will have to hold the rein and explain feel to them.

    The whole problem IS that people are skipping this. Perhaps if more emphasis was placed on getting it right instead of moving on regardless more horses would get a lot better rides.


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  14. #14
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    [QUOTE=Pocket Pony;6976074]mvp, I was replying to ideayoda while you were posting. Good points about why it is prized - to show the feel and skill of the rider. /QUOTE]

    No, not to *show* the skill of the rider, rather, having someone hold the horse's mouth simply presumes that the rider can do that well. Lower level tests assume almost nothing about the rider, including his limited skill. That creates a tough situation for the horse who has to show his best gaits, relaxation and submission to his rider.... whether or not the rider warrants those.
    The armchair saddler
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  15. #15
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    I don't think other disciplines require acceptance of the bit at the same level as dressags, and therefore you will see more problems in dressage than elsewhere.


    My horse had moments of bit acceptance, but only now is he finally overcoming his past and truly learning to accept the bit without ducking or coming above it, and allowing honest contact. It took HUGE improvement in my seat and riding to get it to happen, and he will still duck if I allow him to suck behind my leg. When he is figuring something out he chews, and for him chewing is not the soft ideal but an opening and closing of his mouth - and he does this in his pen with no bit as well. When he is softly in the contact and going well, using his body properly, his mouth is also still.

    I wish lower level tests looked less for a steady head in the correct position and more for use of the horse's hind end and rider's seat. If a young horse is not forced into a position it well may move its head, but to me that's acceptable as the horse learns to balance itself.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
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  16. #16
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    I think problems are seen more often in dressage because we seek a different kind of contact. What does that mean though, really? I think the appropriate contact is whatever the rider asks for intentionally. That is achieved with greater or lesser degrees of success. And the rub comes when riders ask for things inadvertently. I disagree with the notion that any noseband can clamp a horse's shut effectively. If you consider the structure of a horse's mouth, it is obvious they can stick their tongue out any time they wish. Whenever you see a gaping mouth or tongue sticking out, it is a sign of discomfort (though not necessarily with the bit or even in the mouth).

    All of my snaffle bridles have flashes. IMO the usefulness of a flash is to help keep the bit stable in a young horse's mouth. Other than that, they don't do too much.
    See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


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  17. #17
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    This is why I school without a nose band I want to KNOW if my hands are causing problems. Clearly the solution is for me to get my sh*t together and not cover it up my strapping my horse's mouth shut.

    But of course, I made the mistake of posting a picture on Facebook, only to get a barrage of comments that 'no self respecting English rider would ride without a nose band!'
    Pisgah: 2000 AHHA (Holsteiner x TB) Mare (lower level eventing, with a focus on dressage)

    Darcy: 7? year old Border Collie x Rottweiler? Drama Queen extraordinaire, rescued from the pound in Jan 2010


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  18. #18
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    I think you are perhaps misinterpreting "contact" as a stand-alone relationship between rider's hand and horse's mouth... instead of as one essential component of the circle-of-aids.
    Proud COTH lurker since 2001.


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  19. #19
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    I learned to ride Forward Seat (hunt seat) over 40 years ago. We were expected to keep contact with the horse's mouth if we were beyond the elementary stage of riding. The nosebands always had 2 fingers of space or more, and we were yelled at if our horses gaped at all. I have had ONE lunging lesson my whole life.

    Now, with pretty severe MS, bad balance problems, hand tremors and incoordination, I can still ride horses on contact, not just regular horses but previously abused Arabians, in a snaffle and no noseband (I cut off the chin strap of my Micklem bridles.) One mare is especially sensitive, ever ready to invert when the rider's hands are not good enough for her (previously ridden in a standing martingle). I get an inversion from her two or three times a year and I do not use a martingle.

    How do I do it? Lots and lots of two-point to stabilize my legs, concentrating on LIGHT contact, timing my aids correctly, and releasing my aids PROMPTLY. All the horses I ride prefer me using the bit than any of the 6 bitless systems I've used, they are light and responsive 90% of the time.

    But of course this will be discounted because I do not compete in dressage.

    Sorry, but if I can do it as handicapped as I am why can't dressage riders? When I started riding I was always told that dressage riders had the lightest hands. I do not see that nowadays. If I had ridden back then the way I see dressage riders compete today I would have been yanked off the horse and told in no uncertain terms to improve or quit riding. The "half-halts" I see today look an awful lot like jerking the horse's mouth HARD to me. My ears are still blistered 35years later when I tried something like that at North Forks with Kay Russell. IT WAS NOT ALLOWED.

    Sorry for my vehemence. This is a pet peeve of mine (and my riding teacher.)


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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackie Cochran View Post
    How do I do it? Lots and lots of two-point to stabilize my legs...
    IMO, this is a totally different ball of wax than dressage. Stabilizing using your legs and stabilizing using just your seat for balance are very different. For me, perhaps because I started as a hunter, stabilizing using my legs is vastly easier than keeping a soft, draping leg and relying on my seat and core alone to maintain my balance.

    The kind of contact required for moving up the levels in dressage is a flowing, forward-thinking moving-with-the-horse contact so you have a perfectly consistent, light connection with the horse's mouth even as the location of said mouth changes relative to where the rider's core is. So as the horse's neck telescopes at the walk and canter, you have to maintain the exact same contact as you move. I think this is a lot trickier than the type of hands expected in some disciplines, which stay relatively stationary with a looser rein.

    My contact isn't perfect, but I think it's decent. I've been told it is good. I do think starting as a hunter helped me understand the feeling of moving my hands with the horse, primarily as a consequence of some of the jumping instruction I got. I also got drilled into me from an early age to protect the mouth, so if I lose my balance I don't seek the mouth to steady myself -- instead, I do as above and rely on my legs (also not good for dressage, though). I also benefited from eighteen bazillion lunge lessons, primarily overseas.

    Personally, I think that people are out there trying their darndest but SO many people in the US don't have access to or the ability to afford good instruction, good schoolhorses, or both. I don't think, in my experience, that people are unwilling to learn, or in a rush to show, or think they are too good for lunge lessons. I think people want to do right -- they simply don't have the access to all the ingredients they need. JMO.



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