I put the hackamore idea on the backburner, although I still thought about it every once in awhile, particularly when I was ordering a new bridle from Taylored Tack. At the time (which was about 6 months ago), I decided not to even think about ordering anything remotely related to a hackamore because I just didn't think Nimo was ready to make the switch.
And then a couple of months later, I was at the Dover Saddlery store looking for a new bit. Swapping the bit from my dressage bridle to my trail bridle was getting annoying and I wanted to get a second bit so I had one for each bridle. I had every intention of getting the exact same bit I already had, which was an eggbutt Myler snaffle with the MB-02 mouthpiece. It was the first and only bit I'd ever used with Nimo, and I prided myself on my responsible choice to get a bit that was made to fit a horse's mouth better than many on the market. I admit to nearly complete ignorance about how bits really worked and I honestly believed that because I was using this simple snaffle that had a shaped mouthpiece to provide tongue relief, I really didn't need to know anything else.
As it turned out, the Dover store didn't have my eggbutt snaffle. They had D-ring snaffles. I hate D-ring snaffles. I can't really explain why; it doesn't make much sense. The only thing I can think of is that the D-rings always seem so big. And yet, I don't hate full cheek snaffles, which probably have at least as much of a cheek piece as the Myler D-rings. I also hate loose ring snaffles. Again, I think it's the size of the ring. The eggbutt just seems so much more civilized. Anyway, I digress. So there I was in the Dover store just mad because they didn't have an eggbutt snaffle and I noticed these Myler pamphlets that described different levels of bits. And being a curious sort, I opened one of the pamphlets up and read it.
There wasn't a huge amount of information in the pamphlet, but it was enough to make me think that maybe I should be buying Nimo a different bit. Maybe a LEVEL 2 bit. I mean, he was 12 years old and he did actually seem capable of doing some legitimate stuff in the dressage arena (this was before our dressage show in September...). So, I ended up buying a Myler Low Port Dee Snaffle with Hooks (the MB-04 mouthpiece). For those of you unfamiliar with Myler bits, here's what the Dover catalog has to say about this particular bit: "It's designed for horses with basic training established and uses more bar than tongue pressure. Independent side movement allows the rider to isolate one side of the bit for bending, balancing or lifting a shoulder. It features a low port that offers tongue relief and optional hooks for leverage." I mean, it sounds awesome, right? I imagined I'd be able to do all sorts of fancy things with this bit.
OK, so at this point, you're probably wondering why I bought a D-ring snaffle when I just said I hated D-ring snaffles. You might also be wondering when the heck I'm going to get to the bitless part. I'll answer the first question shortly. You'll have to wait a bit (ha, ha!) for me to get to the second - this is a journey after all:)
The reason I got the D-ring snaffle was because that was the only cheekpiece the tack store had for the Myler bits (except for the combination bits, and I wasn't ready to experiment with that yet), and I was too impatient to go home, look through the catalog and be overwhelmed by choices that would paralyze me. Some things are best purchased when you can hold them in your hands and be convinced by the flashy marketing:)
Anyway, I immediately put the bit on my dressage bridle and ventured forth into the arena. I wasn't sure what to expect, though. I'd never used a different bit on Nimo and while there were definitely similarities between the old bit and the new bit, I really had no idea how he'd react. As it turned out, he didn't really care. So after wandering aimlessly around the arena for a few minutes, I figured I'd put the bit to the test by taking him out in the woods for a ride around the farm. No problemo. The new bit was absolutely not on Nimo's radar.
So, it was back to the arena over the next few days and a lesson that weekend. What I found before my lesson was that Nimo seemed to like the bit a lot. He stopped trying to rip the reins out of my hands at random moments (something that I knew he did and was kind of annoyed by, but had become so commonplace that I think I stopped really thinking of it as a problem) and he seemed to be more responsive to rein aids. Then, at my lesson, before I'd had a chance to tell my instructor that I'd gotten a new bit, she exclaimed over how really, truly "on the bit" Nimo was. While I'm not going to say that miracles occurred, Nimo was definitely a better, easier ride with the new bit. And I discovered how much I missed that new bit during our ill-fated dressage show in September because the new bit is not currently "legal" under USEF rules.
I was so excited about this new bit that I bought a book, called The Level Best for Your Horse, to read more about bits from the Myler company. I realized that maybe I'd been doing my horse a terrible disservice by not being more knowledgeable about what I was putting in his mouth. And then I read the section on Bit Resistance and Tongue Pressure. In this section, the authors (the Myler brothers) say that after analyzing a lot of different types of bits that use a lot of different types of pressure, they concluded: "excessive tongue pressure is the source of most bit resistance...To understand the importance of tongue pressure, try this simple test: stick your finger in your mouth and press down on your tongue. Hold that tongue pressure and start running. How far did you get before you had to swallow? Swallowing is a reflexive action -- your body does it involuntarily, as does your horse's body. The tongue is a muscle, attached to muscles in the horse's neck and consequently in his back. Inhibiting its ability to swallow impedes the performance of that entire group of muscles. As you found when you restricted your own tongue, you must be able to elevate your tongue and swallow in order to continue moving forward. Anything that interferes with your ability to swallow also interferes with your ability to move forward."
Well, I think that section did a lot more for me than the Myler brothers intended. It was like a slap in the face as I realized that I was asking my horse to perform not only dressage movements but soon 30 plus miles on the trail with something in his mouth that was impeding his ability to swallow. He needed every advantage I could give him, and the thought of him trying to swallow with constant bit pressure was too much for me. But what was I supposed to do? It was literally a month out from from the Fort Valley ride and I had read enough endurance books to know that changing a major piece of tack right before a ride could have disastrous consequences. But I couldn't stop thinking about the bit in Nimo's mouth and how awful it must be for him to give his best physical effort without being able to swallow properly.
I started doing some reading and I found quite a bit of compelling information about why bits should be used with care or not even used at all. Most of the research I read is listed on the Bitless Bridle website. I didn't even have to read the full text of the articles to get the gist of Dr. Cook's perspective. Waterlogged lungs, asphyxia, bleeding from the nostrils, and serious behavioral issues are all identified as related to the use of bits in horses. Some of the information is speculative, but some of it does appear to be based on reasonable research. However, because Dr. Cook also sells a bitless bridle, I felt like there was a conflict of interest in what I was reading, so I searched for some other sources of information. That lead me to Dr. Gerd Heuschmann's books, Tug of War: Classical Versus "Modern" Dressage and Balancing Act: The Horse in Sport - An Irreconcilable Conflict? Dr. Heuschmann does not advocate for riding horses without bits; in fact, he lumps bitless riders into a group of unacceptably extreme natural horsemanship nutcases. I got the impression from reading his books that if you aren't a dressage master with the foundations of your training in "classical dressage," you probably shouldn't be riding because you just aren't capable. That begs the question of how you get to be capable, which is presumably riding with one of these lauded masters. And of course, we all know how easy it is to find a capable dressage trainer that meshes with you and your horse, is affordable, and is within a day's driving distance... (if you missed it, that was heavy sarcasm) Anyway, he does write something interesting in the Tug of War book. Here's an excerpt:
"The length of the lever that the rider has available for his rein influence extends from the poll to the bars of the mouth. A pull on the reins in order to bend the neck acts on the bars of the mouth. The connecting line between poll and bars is between 11.8 and 15.7 inches (depending on the length of the horse's head). This creates a lever ratio of approximately 1:7 to 1:10.
"To simplify matters, calculating with 1:10 yields 66 pounds of force (lbf) on each rein, which creates a pull of 132 lbf on each bar of the mouth. If the mouth of the horse doesn't yield to this pressure, a force of up to 1,323 lbf occurs on the occipital bone--approximately 10 times the amount acting on the bars! Now, how can a horse's back swing if it has been fixed by hundreds of pounds of pulling action via the back's ligament and muscle system, as explained to you earlier? How can this horse possible allow its rider to sit comfortably with such tension? And, how can its back--and legs--remain healthy?" (see p. 104)
I think those are good questions and they might explain a lot of the physical issues that performance horses have. And I think those statistics probably apply, with respect to the occipital bone, even if you are riding with a bitless bridle. Anyway, they made me really question the physics of what is going on when I ride. If I could find a way to communicate without putting pressure on the bars of Nimo's mouth and find a way to lesson the pressure I'm putting on his head in general, I would be doing a Good Thing.
But I didn't stop with Heuschmann's books. I kept going...and part of me wishes I hadn't. There are two books that I almost hesitate to mention, simply because I cannot bear to re-read them right now to provide you with citations or to do some independent confirmation of the information. One book is Equestrian Sport: Secrets of the "Art" by Alexander Nevzorov. In it, the author presents a study he put together on the kind of force that can be applied by a bit if the rider jerks the horse's mouth and, assuming his results are even remotely accurate, it is not pretty (I think it might have been about 300 pounds per square inch on the bars of the mouth). The author also wrote The Horse Crucified and Risen. I don't recommend reading either of these books unless you are prepared for an emotional onslaught and have a support network in place. The author is not particularly gifted in terms of writing (although that might be partly because of the translation from Russian) and he is arrogant and chauvinistic at best, but the content is so compelling and thought-provoking that I couldn't stop reading. The fact that he basically pummels his readers with a very one-sided view of history and human interactions with horses does not diminish the importance of the information he does present. One of the reviewers on Amazon said something along the lines of there being a Before and After in terms of reading these books and I think that is true. There are nightmare-inducing images burned into my brain now that I can't get rid of and that I desperately wish I could. As I read these books, I alternated between wanting to annihilate the entire human race and shooting myself so I could stop turning the page and reading about one more horror. If you are a horse-lover and you want to continue your happy life with your horse, don't read these books unless you are prepared to spend some time soul-searching. Someday I may be able to write about my thoughts, but I'm still pretty raw right now.
The research that I was doing convinced me that at least trying some kind of bitless bridle would be a good idea and sooner would be better than later. And if I decided to continue riding in a bit, I needed to think through exactly how I was riding, because the information I'd read gave me a cause for concern. I don't have awesome, soft, consistent hands. They aren't bad, but I'm not going to sugar-coat the fact that Nimo has probably gotten slammed in the mouth because I made a mistake. I don't use the bit as punishment, but I still struggle with making sure my contact is consistent, and to be honest, the idea of contact was making me uncomfortable now because I wondered about how even light pressure was acting on the bars of Nimo's mouth.
Prior to doing my research, I was already aware of four different types of hackamores just through life experience or seeing someone use one.
- The mechanical hackamore. I've seen two versions of mechanical hackamores. One version is a noseband connected to metal shanks (often quite long) and a chin strap/chain. It seems to work by creating pressure on the nose and chin and possibly the poll, depending on how it is adjusted and how the hackamore is designed. I've ridden in one (a long time ago) and I found the action to be potentially quite severe. Another version is the s-hack, where there is still a noseband attached
to metal shanks and a curb strap, but the shanks are shorter and angled
well back toward the horse, which I think has the effect of lessening
the severity of the hackamore. These types of hackamores appear to be
commonly used by endurance riders. You can read a review of one by Ashley at Go Pony to get a little better idea of how they look. The s-hack was the type of hackamore I was leaning toward at this point, although I was concerned a little about the potential for "nutcracker" action if I used it too forcefully.
- The bosal. The bosal is typically a pretty sturdy noseband made out of rawhide that has a large knot under the horse's jaw where the reins connect. It is used almost exclusively in the western world, I think. I didn't really consider a bosal as an option just because it doesn't seem like a tool that can provide much finesse in terms of aids.
- The cross-under/over bridle. I think the most well-known model of this type of hackamore is The Bitless Bridle by Dr. Cook. This is how the website describes the action of the bridle: "The
Bitless Bridle distributes its gentle pressure to far less sensitive
tissues and distributes even this amount of pressure over a wide area.
It does this through two loops, one over the poll and one over the nose.
Essentially, it gives the rider an inoffensive and benevolent method of
communication by applying a nudge to one half of the head (for
steering) or a hug to the whole of the head (for stopping)." I've also seen versions of this bridle on various endurance tack websites. There's obviously been a lot of research done on this bridle, but there were three reasons I didn't really consider it at this point: 1) There are a lot of straps on this thing. I didn't want to be messing with a cumbersome headstall; 2) Dr. Cook states that the noseband/chin strap portion of the headstall should be adjusted pretty snugly, so that one finger can fit between the chin strap and the horse's nose - that is tighter than the USEF's position that a cavesson noseband should be adjusted no tighter than so that 2 fingers can fit between the noseband and the horse's nose, and I worried the tightness would interfere with eating and drinking; 3) The noseband rests pretty low on the horse's nose and I was concerned that the adjustment process would be finicky - too low and there is no structural support or too high and the bridle loses its effectiveness.
- The sidepull. The sidepull appears to work simply by pulling on the reins to create direct pressure on the horse's nose. I've also seen this type of hackamore used by endurance riders and it appears pretty widely available on endurance tack websites. My only concern about using this type of hackamore was that it just seemed like riding in a halter. I was looking for something with a little more to it.
It wasn't long before I stumbled on something called The Horse's Hoof, probably because of either an ad or a friend's "Like" on Facebook. If you haven't seen it, The Horse's Hoof is a quarterly e-magazine about barefoot hoof care and trimming and the website also hosts a membership forum with additional hoof trimming resources and a forum. I ended up subscribing to the magazine (which is worth taking a look at if you do your own trimming) and then I explored the website a little more. (There are a bunch of interesting articles that are worth reading.)
That was when I discovered this story and this additional information about riding bitless. Eureka! This lady (who was one of the owners of The Horse's Hoof) trained in dressage and rode out on the trail and she had found a bitless option that seemed to work as well as a bit. That was exactly what I needed. The problem was that I discovered that her preferred bitless option, called the LG-Zaum Bitless Bridle, was no longer sold by The Horse's Hoof online store due to some kind of issue with the manufacturer. As far as I know, this is the only place you can order it in the U.S.: http://shop.nwnhc.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=95. It's not cheap and I was worried that if I ordered it, this company would tell me they were having trouble keeping it in stock too.
|LG Zaum: http://shop.nwnhc.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=95|
|Orbitless Bridle: http://www.orbitlessbridle.co.uk/|
Finally, the current issue of The Horse's Hoof came out and it had an update on the bitless option that this lady was using. She'd tried Zilco's Flower Hackamore and pronounced it comparable to the LG Zaum. The Zilco hackamore is available from a bunch of different reputable companies in the U.S. for between $40 and $45. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. I ordered mine from Riding Warehouse because I needed a couple of other things and I had enough stuff (but not too much) that I could get $5 two-day shipping.
|Zilco Flower Hackamore: http://www.ridingwarehouse.com/Zilco_Flower_Hackamore/descpage-ZFH.html|
So that's how I ended up at the Phelps Wildlife Management Area, planning to do a conditioning ride by myself, with a new bitless thing on my horse's head. A little over a year after I sort of thought that maybe I should eventually, in a few years, try to ride Nimo out on the trails with no bit in his mouth and here I was thinking that it was a good idea to try going bitless for the first time out in the middle of nowhere by myself. (I was definitely channeling my inner Funder!)
As luck would have it, I parked in a little-used parking lot because the one I usually parked in was jam-packed with trailers. I know that doesn't sound lucky, but it is. As I was saddling Nimo, a lady on a horse came up to me and asked if I would like a riding buddy. I guess she lived across the street from the park and had been complaining to her husband about not having anybody to ride with that weekend. His response was, "Well, why don't you go over and ride with that lady in the parking lot? She looks like she's by herself and could use some company." Yay! Now I had someone to ride with who could either call 911 or at least help me catch my horse if he freaked out and dumped me in the middle of 4,000 acres. As a bonus, she was very familiar with the trails at the park, which was so helpful because they aren't marked and I've spent innumerable hours aimlessly wandering around trying to put together routes with a decent distance for conditioning.
Here's what happened. Nimo was absolutely, totally, 100% fine. At no time did he act like there was anything weird going on. He just accepted the hackamore like it was his normal bit. I think we ended up riding 8 or 9 miles, with a fair amount of trotting, over a variety of terrain. He spooked a little at some logs, which was normal, and I had no trouble keeping him under control or steering. It may be that having a buddy helped, but there was no drama at all.
|Nimo wearing the flower hackamore|
I did have to play around with the fit a little bit and there is no real guidance from Zilco on how to adjust this hackamore. Here is where I ended up for the Fort Valley ride: I moved the halter noseband up so that it was just below the bony point of Nimo's cheek (so a little above where it is in the picture above) and I tried to keep the flower of the hackamore in the middle of the bony point of the cheed and Nimo's mouth (again, I moved it just a smidge above where it is in the picture). I wanted to be sure the noseband was firmly in the territory of bone and not cartilage and that it was below the halter noseband. In terms of the tightness of the noseband, my goal was to keep it loose enough that Nimo could eat and drink comfortably but tight enough so that it didn't move around on his face if I pulled on one side of the hackamore. I ended up with a good eight flat fingers worth of space. So I could insert both my hands (fingers only) flat in between the noseband and Nimo's face. I think I could have adjusted it a little more snugly, but that was where I felt comfortable at the time.
The other thing about adjustment that I want to note is that there are some options in terms of how the noseband, chin strap, headstall, and reins are positioned relative to each other. Different configurations can create different amounts of leverage as well as differing amounts of pressure on the chin and poll. Because there are some similarities between the Zilco flower hackamore and the Orbitless Bridle, I used the Orbitless guide for adjustment, which is located here: http://www.orbitlessbridle.co.uk/orbit.html#configurations. The setting I used for Nimo is quite similar to the second option described on the Orbitless website, which gives the action that you'd get from a sidepull, with the addition of minor leverage from the position of the reins. When I pull on the reins, the chin strap tightens ever so slightly, but I don't think that there is any poll pressure. However, I plan to experiment a little to find the adjustment that Nimo seems to like the best.
Anyway, I started the Fort Valley ride worrying about anything and everything except the hackamore. You may remember that the first 9 or 10 miles of the Fort Valley ride were brutal in terms of Nimo acting like a nutcase and believing he could keep up with a bunch of Arabs. The pulling Nimo did was exhausting, and I've thought about whether I should have done what some riders do, which is to use a bit for the first loop and switch to the hackamore for the remaining loops. My conclusion is that Nimo would have acted like an idiot regardless of what was in his mouth and if he had been wearing a bit, all that pulling would have put a lot of pressure on the bars of his mouth and his tongue. I don't think that kind of damage would have been conducive for encouraging him to eat and drink and so I think starting with the hackamore was the right thing to do and will continue to be what I do. There is no question that he eats and drinks so much better with it and that is so, so important for him.
So great, the hackamore works for the trails, but what about dressage? Good question. Aside from one basic schooling session, I hadn't done any dressage work in it and I was curious too. After giving Nimo a week off from riding after the Fort Valley ride, I started with really basic work in the arena. The first day, all we did was an extended warm-up and cool-down, so just basic walk and trot in big circles, with a tiny bit of canter. The second session, I asked for a little bit more. And by the third session, I was working on circles, serpentines, leg-yields, transitions, shoulder-in at the trot, and more canter work.
Then, I had a lesson this past Saturday. I have to give my instructor credit. She didn't even blink an eye when I walked into the arena with Nimo wearing his endurance halter/bridle and the hackamore. I think a lot of dressage trainers would have balked at working with me and I know a trainer that I worked with for many years would have yelled at me and refused to teach me until I put a bit in my horse's mouth. There is an overriding belief in the dressage world that dressage cannot be done without a bit. To even suggest riding bitless is anathema in many circles. To be honest, I'm too new to the world of bitless to know what can and can't be done at higher levels, but I do believe that at least lower-level stuff can be done without a bit, just based on the limited work I've done with Nimo so far. As of right now, the Netherlands is the only country where bitless options are legal for competing and that is only at the levels below FEI. A few other countries are looking into it and I really believe that it won't be long before at least many countries allow bitless dressage. However, I think hell might freeze over before the FEI allows bitless dressage. Of course, that only reaffirms my suspicion that the FEI as an organization is composed of many, many people who have anything but the welfare of the horse under consideration.
Anyway, I explained to my instructor that I'd recently started using the hackamore with Nimo for our endurance work and that I really wanted to continue that work in the arena so that I could be sure that we had the most effective communication out on the trail. She was totally supportive. I think her support came easier for her because her mother is a distance rider who uses an s-hack and she has done work with jumpers in the past and my understanding is that hackamores aren't all that uncommon in the jumper world. I also think she's just a good trainer and believes that there is more to doing dressage than the bit.
And exactly what those other things are became apparent in my lesson. It's hard to know how Nimo would have done if we'd done the lesson in his regular, sort of newer, bit. We hadn't done much work since the show and our last lesson was almost 2 months ago, so it's entirely possible he and I would have been rusty anyway. But I like to think that riding in this hackamore uncovered a couple of issues that had been hiding. First, Nimo was just not reacting to my leg for bending exercises like he should have been. Our circles were wooden and our leg-yields were more like leg-drifts. So, we worked on my leg aids and voila! Beautiful, forward circles and lovely, engaged leg-yields. (If you are curious, to improve Nimo's response to my leg, we did quick transitions between all gaits as well as some uneven cavaletti at the trot with immediate canter after the last step of cavaletti.)
Second, I quickly found out that I can no longer use my third finger to "massage" my horse's jaw through the reins to get him into frame. There is no question that using that technique is a bit of a cheat. Ideally, you should be riding your horse back to front and the impulsion of his movement should push him through to your hand where he then yields to contact from the bridle and miraculously holds whatever frame is appropriate for your level because you are such a gifted rider. It's possible that this kind of thing has happened to me by accident, but I am definitely guilty of not riding back to front as well as I should. Well, with the hackamore, there is no cheating. If I rode Nimo properly and "on the aids," I got a nice contact and frame. If not, well, my failure would be obvious to a 4-year old.
Some other things I discovered. You have to use two hands together on the reins. If you let one rein go or even have significantly uneven contact, your horse might possibly either stop and look at you like you are an idiot or aimlessly wander around looking for direction from roosting pigeons. So, for circles, both hands move over slightly in the direction of travel. Same thing for shoulder-in. And the opposite for leg-yields. For example, if you want to do a leg-yield to the right, you move both hands just an inch or two to the left, keeping them the same distance apart as you would when riding straight. You also need leg aids. Like functional, clear leg aids. No fussing with the reins or massaging of the jaw will get you anywhere. Also, Nimo's canter improved virtually immediately even though we've done diddly-squat with it for weeks. I noticed the improvement the first time that I cantered him: he stopped being so high-headed and seemed much more willing to move into contact and maintain an even rhythm. My instructor noticed that during our lesson too.
All in all, I really like this hackamore. Nimo has responded quite well to it, including being willing to work on contact. In addition, I am already becoming a more effective rider because it seems to highlight any ineffectiveness in my leg and seat. Plus, Nimo eats and drinks on the trail so much better than with a bit. At this point, I have no intention of ever using a bit for our trail work again and I'm seriously considering not going back to the bit for our dressage work. That last consideration could be problematic for our budding dressage career, though. (After our last show, we really have nowhere to go but up!) As I mentioned before, bitless options of any kind are not legal for dressage competition. So that leaves me two options if I want to compete: I can switch to the bit for brief periods right before a show and compete in the bit or I can ride hors de concours, if allowed. Hors de concours is a French term meaning "out of the competition" or something like that. In dressage, it basically means you can show and your test will be scored, but you cannot be placed or receive points or awards or whatever for your test. I think it might be used more in cases where someone is trying out a new musical freestyle or maybe doing some kind of demo ride, but I think it is available to regular people too. Because I couldn't care less about getting a ribbon (as demonstrated by my repeated willingness to compete on a crazy animal), I like the second option. I'd still get a score, so I could gauge how well we compared to the standard and if we did well, maybe that would encourage more people to consider bitless options for their horses. On the other hand, I don't want to completely rule out using a bit if it seems like the best choice at a later date.
There is one other thing that I want to share with you that just didn't fit well into the narrative of the post, but is worth mentioning. There is a questionnaire designed by Dr. Cook as part of his research on the effectiveness of the Bitless Bridle. Here is the link: http://www.bitlessbridle.org.uk/docs/Bitless-Questionnaire.pdf. To read a little more about Dr. Cook's philosophy and the survey, click here. Even though I decided not to use the Bitless Bridle for our endurance work, I'm not ruling it out to try for our dressage work. I never want to be in the mode that I was before, where I stay away from trying new things just because what we have is working, particularly if there is a possibility it could improve Nimo's comfort. Anyway, Dr. Cook's research has investigated a lot of behavioral issues that horses have and he has linked many of them to the use of bits. I encourage you to take a look at the questions to see if your horse is demonstrating any behavioral issues that are linked to the use of a bit. There are some issues that Dr. Cook believes are 100% caused by bits and others that he believes could be caused by bits or something else. I answered the questions for Nimo before I put the flower hackamore on him with the intent of checking to see where he was after using the hackamore for awhile. Because this post is already so long, I don't want to go through the whole list, but I identified 35-40 behaviors on a list of 114 that Nimo was either a Yes or a Maybe on. Some of them were bit-only induced behaviors and others were not. What I'd like to do is a follow-up post that goes through the questionnaire for Nimo and then discusses what improvements, if any, were made by using the flower hackamore. Ideally, then I'd like to follow that up with a re-assessment after trying the Bitless Bridle to test Dr. Cook's claim that the Bitless Bridle is really the ultimate solution for a bridle.
I also want to note that I'm not really trying to convince anyone that bits are bad. I do think there is some compelling information available that indicates that using a bit during an extreme athletic endeavor or using a bit with a lot of force (like as a punishment) is not in the best interest of the horse. On the other hand, there are a lot of people with far more experience than me who claim that a bit is actually the best tool for communicating rein aids. This is definitely an area that I want to spend more time researching and exploring and I'd love to hear your comments about things you've read or tried that either worked or didn't.