Ted is a 10 year old ex-racehorse. I have owned him now for about 18 months.
I have been riding for about 5 years, starting off on a trusty cob - Hercules. When Hercules became un-rideable due to an old injury I was given a 27 year old 17.3 hunter. I gave Glenn an extra 2 years of retirement until it became clear he was uncomfortable when being ridden. So the search started.
With very little knowledge on breeds of horses I eventually came across Ted. There was something about him that caught my eye, so after a couple of short rides it was a done deal and off home with him.
It soon became clear that he was not the dopey, calm horse that I first saw. He was very sharp and refused to go out by himself. Even in company he would be a challenge. I did one fun ride with him and he was so bad that I pulled him out for the safety of myself and other riders.
Ted has displayed all of the following: head shaking, napping, spooking, refusing to go out by himself, grinding the bit, snatching the reins and more worryingly putting his head down when cantering.
I asked various professionals for advice. I had his back, teeth and everything checked. I was advised to try various different bits. I even changed bridles. I had him on numerous calmers and settled on valerian, given just prior to tacking up. One instructors method of ‘controlling‘ him was to tighten up his flash and hold his head down with a standing martingale. I wasn’t impressed by this method and she got the boot and I went to reading books.
By this time Ted was being ridden in a standing martingale with a Dutch Gag and neck rein. I learnt early on that he responded very well to the neck rein. So I would use this to half halt and to stop him plus my voice.
It soon became clear to me that although some of the gadgets worked it wasn’t the solution. He was much better if I used the neck rein and my voice and that lead me to think that all his problems revolved around his poll and mouth.
I had bought a Micklem Multi bridle a few months earlier and although I tried it with a bit at the time it didn’t make any difference. So that had me thinking, it was out with the Micklem but this time bitless.
So one Monday morning it was decision time. The bridle was set up on the medium setting and fitted. We went out for a walk in company for about 5 miles on main roads and back roads and Ted was very settled and more surprisingly easier to ride.
I had a game plan, so on the Tuesday we went out again but this time we did walk and trot. As he was still being good on the Wednesday I took him around a cross country course. The week before in a bit he was strong and quite un-steerable. This time without a bit he was a lot easier, he was listening to me, we did small jumps with ease and he stopped when I asked. A totally different horse to ride.
So Saturday was to be the final day in our trial at going bitless. Crazy maybe, but it had to be done and involved a hack down to the local gallops. I went in company - Ted’s best mate - and when they get together on the gallops they like to race each other. The past week had given me confidence in the ability to control and stop Ted in any situation. Well we set off and as usual it resulted in a race. Ted clocked 35 mph around the course and he felt so good and relaxed, he slowed and stopped when asked. Even the people I was with couldn’t believe that I had taken him around without a bit in his mouth and what a transformation in his behaviour.
Since that day we haven’t looked back. The transformation has been amazing. People who know Ted comment on how he has changed. No more head tossing or anxiety attacks. He's much more settled, easier to stop and a joy to ride. We are going from strength to strength and setting ourselves new challenges each day and each week. When tacking up he doesn’t hold his head up to avoid the bridle. As soon as the bitless bridle goes on he relaxes and I’m sure he now enjoys going out as much as I do.
We recently did our second ever fun ride, the first in a bit was a total nightmare. This one, as the photo shows, was absolute heaven.
I will never go back to using a bit and won’t participate in any discipline that demands a bit is used.
If you are thinking of going bitless, my advice would be to have a plan in place, start slowly and in a safe place. If your preparation is good then the transformation will be easy and you will have a more contented horse and a more enjoyable riding experience.
Peter and Ted
You can find out more about Peter and Ted's progress on their Facebook page here.