I guess Max’s story is a little different. He doesn’t have a history of abuse or mistreatment; in fact, quite the opposite. I purchased Max direct from his breeder when he was three years old, having found him on a breed website. I travelled to the stud to meet him, and thought he was a great little horse, and although green, was lovely to ride. His breeder took me on a tour of the stud, I was able to see all the horses, how they were raised, and it was very easy to see that it was a very well run stud. The horses were beautifully cared for, and very much loved. I was lucky enough to buy Max, and so he travelled home with us a few weeks later.
Our problems at home started with an ill-fitting saddle. Even though I had had it fitted to Max, it wasn’t right, and unfortunately I didn’t realize what the problem was. Max put up with it for a couple of rides, until he decided that being ridden was uncomfortable (fair enough), and decided the best way to fix the situation was to buck me off. Which he did, several times. And this led to the biggest problem – every time I came off I held on to the reins, which gave Max a massive jab in the mouth from the bit, reinforcing that this was all a very painful, uncomfortable process. So there I was, with my beautiful new horse that I couldn’t even ride.
In addition to the saddle issue, I didn’t really understand about good horsemanship. Sure, I have always treated my horses kindly and with respect, and given them lots of love and affection, but I had no idea about confident and consistent handling techniques, or how to communicate with my horses and demonstrate leadership using language that they could understand. Poor Max, being a young horse who had been removed from the only home he had ever known, was craving direction, communication and leadership, and I wasn’t giving that to him.
A friend recommended Carlos, and so I took Max over to Whispering Acres. I knew straight away that I had found the right person to help me. Carlos explained about confident and consistent handling, and we started right at the basics with some groundwork. We built on that with several months of regular lessons, and I booked Max in for some saddle work. Max had been so traumatized by the pinching saddle and painful bit that he needed Carlos’ expert help to get going under saddle again. Over those months I learnt about bitless riding, and also learnt about how much pain and suffering bits can cause. I had always thought bitless riding was a bit weird, and didn’t understand how you could stop, or ride properly without one.
After watching Carlos start Max under saddle again, and see how beautifully he could communicate with Max without a bit, I was convinced that this was how I wanted to ride. Max stayed with Carlos for four weeks of saddle work, and I was amazed to see how he progressed from a tense horse expecting pain in either his back or mouth, to a willing, happy little fellow who looked like he was thoroughly enjoying being ridden. I had my first ride at Whispering Acres while Max was still there, and I was very nervous, but Carlos was incredibly understanding, and gave me lots of encouragement which really helped.
So Max came home, and we have been having lots of fun ever since EXCEPT for when I decided to put him back in a bit a few months ago. I didn’t want to, but was becoming frustrated because I couldn’t compete in my chosen field (dressage). I felt that if I ever wanted to do anything but trail ride I needed to get him back in a bit. I told Carlos, and in his usual, non-judgmental manner, he wished me well.
I bought what I considered the kindest bit I could, and it took me two weeks to work up to bridling Max with it. When I did, I nearly cried, he gave me a look of absolute betrayal – I will never forget the look in his eyes that day. I had a few rides, but I wasn’t comfortable, and neither was Max. I could tell that he hated the bit, he was tense, and even though he didn’t put a foot wrong and tried his hardest for me, he was trying to tell me he was uncomfortable. He became more and more mouthy, started pulling against the bit, leaning, and tossing his head. He had never done any of those things in the NoBit bridle. He was doing everything he could to tell me he wasn’t happy. The final straw for me came when Max began to refuse to allow me to bridle him. He clenched his teeth, raised his head, and the only way I could bridle him was to wrap some bread around the bit, so he would open his mouth.
Max tried to tell me in every way he could that he didn’t want to be ridden with a bit. So I listened to him. After four weeks of using the bit, I saddled him up one day, raised the NoBit bridle to his head, he looked at it, looked at me, and then lowered his head for me to put it on. He sighed, licked his lips, and all the tension disappeared. He couldn’t make it any plainer than that. We went off for a lovely relaxed ride, we were both happy, and so that was the end of my bitted experiment. I emailed Carlos and told him my story, I threw my bits in the bin, and will never every use one on Max again. I cannot thank Carlos enough for what he has done for Max and me, and I will be eternally grateful for his kindness and wisdom, and thankful that I have had the opportunity to learn from someone who is truly a gifted advocate for our horses.
Michelle and Max