Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Whole Bitless Better, revisited

A little over a year ago, I posted about how I decided to switch from using a bit for Nimo to using a hackamore (Zilco's flower hackamore, to be more specific).  In that post, I referred to the Behavior Profiling Questionnaire that is published by Dr. Cook, the patent holder for The Bitless Bridle.  The link to the questionnaire is broken on the U.S. page, but you can still pull it up on the UK version of the page at this link:  I went through the questionnaire on October 4, 2014 and wrote my responses, and my plan was to revisit the survey in about a year to see if I noticed any changes.  One thing I realized when I did the survey the first time is that answering the questions results in a little bit of an eye-opening experience with regard to how well my horse moves and behaves.  It's a good thing overall, but some of the questions were a bit hard to answer.

So, I'm actually going through the survey (and my old responses) right now as I post and responding to the questions, with notes about changes one way or the other.  The one thing I'll mention, which I'm sure Dr. Cook would believe is relevant, is that I haven't tried Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle yet.  I've been using Zilco's flower hackamore exclusively until a couple of months ago, when I purchased a slightly different kind of hackamore (I'll try to post about it tomorrow) that I use for dressage schooling.  Anyway, there are a lot of questions, so I recommend getting a good beverage before continuing!:)  And I've abbreviated the questions for space considerations, so you might want to read the actual questionnaire if this really interests you.

Management Problems Prior to Riding

1. Difficult to catch?  No.  Nimo has never been difficult to catch and he still isn't.  On days when we're trailering out, he does like to make me struggle through the mud to come get him, but he never moves away, and he typically comes when called.

2. Difficult to bridle?  A little.  When I used a bit in the bridle, Nimo would hold his head fairly high while I put the bit in his mouth (with no resistance) and then lower his head so I could finish putting the headstall over his ears.  With the hackamore, he doesn't lower his head anymore.  So, in a way, he's actually more difficult to bridle with the hackamore.

3. Difficult to unbridle?  No.  Nimo was easy to unbridle with the bit and he is the same with the hackamore.

4. Standoffish in stall or unfriendly?  No.  Nimo has never been anything but friendly in his stall.

5. Headshy, esp. for hosing or clipping?  Yes.  Nimo has always been reluctant to have his head hosed off and his ears clipped.  He tolerates both as long as I don't surprise him, but his behavior is the same both with the bit and with the hackamore.

6. Difficult to clean sheath?  No.  Nimo has always behaved well for sheath cleaning without tranquilizers.  No change between when he wore a bit and after wearing the hackamore.

7. Difficult to load in a trailer?  No.  I've never even really trained Nimo to load.  He just always has, from when he was a yearling to now.  He will get a little weird about it every so often and I need to use a lunge line to load him, but that idiosyncracy has been around for years, and based on the last few weeks where he started self-loading (without even being asked) when we haul another horse, I suspect he's trying to tell me he wants to be driven on to the trailer rather than walked on, but I'll explore that another time...

Problems That Make Riding Itself More Complicated, Difficult, or Dangerous

8. Difficult to mount?  Not really.  The questionnaire notes that moving off prematurely could be considered a difficulty, and Nimo does do that, but he started doing it when we started doing more trail riding, so I'm linking it to that rather than the bit.  I could definitely work on it with him to improve it, but it isn't getting worse, and it's not that big of a deal to me, so I'm leaving it alone for now.

9. Bucking or bounding, particularly in transition from trot to canter?  Nimo used to do a lot of bucking and he still likes to throw in the occasional crow-hop.  The intensity and frequency of the bucking is vastly reduced from his younger years and now it appears to be linked more to his back (e.g. I haven't warmed up enough) rather than part of a response to a spook.  However, I don't think any changes are related to the switch to the hackamore because he's been improving in this area gradually over years.

10. Rearing?  Nope, and I'm very thankful for that:)

11. Above the bit (e.g. head in the air, hollow-backed)?  Ummm, yeah.  This question surprised me a little because pretty much all horses move above the bit most of the time unless they are in specific training.  I think being above the bit has a lot to do with the training level of the horse, and not just what is (or isn't) in his mouth.  So, yes, Nimo moves above the bit quite a bit.  When we're doing dressage schooling, he moves more on-the-bit, but when he is out conditioning on the trail, I would never ask him for a specific frame other than balanced, which he is the vast majority of the time.  Even in the arena, he is allowed to move his head and neck to a place that is comfortable for him.  My goal is to worry far more about how well he is moving overall rather than focusing on head-set.  It's possible this question was meant to target more of a dangerous type of balance issue, which I do see a lot of in Arabs out on the endurance trails, where they get moving at speed and stick out their noses almost parallel to the ground, making them difficult to control, but I don't really know.

12. Behind the bit (e.g. overflexed or overbent)?  No.  Nimo has occasionally gone behind the bit during his training, but it's not very common and I can't say that I've noticed a difference in frequency or degree since using the hackamore.

13. Grabs the bit?  Never.

14. Hairtrigger response to aids, hypersensitive?  Ha!  Nope, never.  He has gotten more responsive over time, but the biggest influence on his responsiveness was using Jane Savoie's method of teaching aids, which involves deliberately sensitizing the horse to the aids in a clear way.

15. Atrial fibrillation?  I'd never heard of it before this questionnaire, and I found this site to be helpful in explaining it.  I guess I can't say for sure that it has never happened, but none of the vets have ever picked up on it at vet checks during endurance rides.  Of course, I switched to a hackamore just before our first ride, so I don't have a basis for comparison.

16. Lack of finesse in control, general unhappiness when exercised?  Nimo has always had a pretty good work ethic, although when all we did was relentlessly school in the arena with an exacting trainer, he definitely was less happy.  However, I changed that situation years before I started using a hackamore.  I will say, he does seem more motivated out on the trail, but I suspect that is due more to the time we've been working on it than on what his bridle is.

17. Lazy, dull, needs spurs?  The answer to this question was an unequivocal yes for a very long time.  I used to ride with both a whip and spurs until the last couple of years.  Now I ride with a whip only, and I need to use it much less than I used to.  I honestly don't know if the change is due to the hackamore or just the synergy of cross-training with dressage and conditioning on the trails.  If I had to guess, I would say it is more likely the latter, because if weather or my schedule precludes me from getting out on the trails for a couple of weeks (as it has recently), I will notice that he isn't quite as forward in the arena.

18. Unfocused, fidgety at work?  No, as I mentioned for #16, Nimo does have a good work ethic.  As long as I'm focused and paying attention, so is he.

19. Excessive sweating, hot and restless?  No.  Nimo is kind of the opposite, actually:)

20. Lack of progress or slow progress in response to training?  No.  Nimo is typically a quick learner, especially if I can provide challenges for him and keep him in regular work.

21. During endurance rides, refusal, reluctance or difficulty in eating or drinking adequately because of the physical presence/pain of the bit?  Ding, ding, ding!  Without question, using a hackamore made a dramatic difference in how much Nimo eats and drinks on the trail.  If for no other reason, this is why I continue to use a hackamore out on the trail.

22. Ear pinning at exercise, threatens other horses that come alongside?  Very rarely.  Nimo has pinned his ears and threatened a few horses over the years when we've been out on the trail and they get in his space.  He is almost always great about other horses in close quarters, but every once in a while, there is one that he just doesn't like or for whatever reason, he can't tolerate being right next to him or touching him.  That has been consistent for years, so I can't attribute it to a bit or hackamore.

23. Noisy flapping of lower lip at work?  No - I'm not even sure what that looks/sounds like...

24. Loss of appetite or inability to eat/drink as a result of bit-induced injury (e.g. abrasion, laceration of lips/gums)?  No - and I have to think that if this is going on, the rider/trainer takes a lot of the blame because I can't even imagine how a person would do that kind of damage.

25. Backing up to avoid the bit?  Nope.  In fact, Nimo struggles to back both under saddle on in-hand.  I think he has concerns about where his feet are going and he'd rather avoid backing unless absolutely necessary (i.e. a bear attack), but we're working on it.

26. Refusal to stand still, fidgeting?  Not unless he's being passed by horses on a ride:)  Nimo is perfectly happy to stand still as long as he knows he doesn't have to be somewhere else!

27. Impossible to exercise by ponying because of pain from a bitted bridle while being led?  I can't say for sure because I've never ponied Nimo.  And if I did, I'd probably do it in a halter.  However, from the ground, I haven't noticed any difference between being led in a bitted bridle versus a bitless bridle.

28. During arena or paddock exercise, repeatedly tries to head for the barn when passing the gate?  I've never had that problem.  In fact, I work with the arena gate open unless it has to be closed because someone else is riding or that's the way the arena works (the indoor I take lessons at needs to have the door closed, for example).  Nimo certainly knows where the gate is, but I consider it a serious training issue to have to wrestle around the gate, so I've always ridden with gates open and I always stop the ride at different places in the arena that are nowhere near the gate.

29. Multiple wrinkles around corner of mouth and nostrils, working or at rest?  I assume this is a tension-type of question?  I've never really seen a horse with what I'm envisioning as these kinds of wrinkles and Nimo's mouth and nose always seem smooth.

30. Uncooperative, regarding rider as a nag, not a "team-player?"  So this question doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  Maybe it's just looking for the rider's perception, but I've never really thought of riding as a "team" sport.  I think it's highly possible that Nimo thinks of me as a "nag" but he doesn't act like it and he works well for me.  That has not really changed in the last year.

31. Anxious expression in eye (e.g. you can see the whites of the eye)?  Not unless we're being chased by bears:)

32. Crossing the jaw?  Say what?  Horses can do that?  I'm going with a resounding "no" on this one.

33. Fracture of the peak of the nasal bone or the lower jaw as a result of overusing a mechanical hackamore?  Wow.  That has never happened to Nimo, although I've never ridden him in a mechanical hackamore, nor did it happen to the one horse I did ride in a fairly severe mechanical hackamore when I was eleven and he used to run away with me.  I can't imagine the force necessary to break a horse's nose or jaw, and I never want to know.

Facial Neuralgia

34. Head-shaking, head-tossing, nose-flipping (mainly during exercise and the summer)?  Not unless we're being bombarded by gnats or horse-flies.  I have seen the behavior in a couple of other horses and it seemed that in at least one case, one of those extended nose-length fly masks was the solution.  I can see how an ill-fitting bit or bridle could cause the problem, though.  And I do know a lady who has a horse diagnosed with the head-shaking disease.  She has repeatedly mentioned that she thinks the bit aggravates the horse, yet she continues to ride in a bit...

35. Vertical head-shaking when at rest in the field or stall?  Nope.

36. Wriggling or flipping the upper lip, partial closure of the nostril when at work?  Uh, no.  I'm not sure how a horse even does that.

37. Rubbing muzzle during exercise or at rest?  I'm going to say yes on this one.  Nimo does it occasionally, particularly if we've had a hot, difficult ride, or a long ride.  That behavior has remained about the same in intensity and duration so I can't say that a bit or lack of one has influenced it.

38. Dropping nose to the ground or even rubbing it on the ground during exercise?  Nimo has always been a big fan of long and low work in the arena because it requires less balance.  That said, as his training level has increased, his desire to carry his head as low as possible has decreased.  My answer to this question a year ago was a definite yes.  Today, I would say that while the desire to carry his head low is still there, it is much less.  Whether that is due to an advancement of his training or the hackamore, I couldn't say, though.

39. Rubbing nose on ground when stationary?  Nope.

40. Sneezing and snorting?  This is an interesting one.  I wrote last year about a particular dressage lesson with a bit where Nimo just started forcefully snorting over and over.  I still remember it.  Since then, I have noticed that when our lesson work gets quite extreme (which is actually not that often), Nimo will start to snort forcefully, although never to the degree of that lesson over a year ago.  I would generally consider more relaxed snorting to be a sign of tension release and I actually look for it during our warm up.  I often won't move on to trotting until Nimo has gently snorted a few times.  So, I'm going with a yes on this question, but I can't link the response to a bit or no bit with any certainty.

41. Yawning when putting the bridle on or during or after exercise? Last year, I wrote that Nimo often yawns after I take his bridle off.  Now, I would say that he sometimes yawns when I take the bridle off.  I have never noticed any yawning when bridling or during riding, though.  Yawning, much like snorting, is something I would consider to be a sign of releasing tension.  So, I guess yawning after a hard work-out doesn't seem like such a terrible thing, but I can see that an ill-fitting bridle could cause stress that doesn't need to be caused.

42. Burping during exercise as a result of wind-sucking?  Nope.

43. Rapid and noisy blinking and/or hypersensitivity to light?  No.

44. Grazing on the fly, grabbing at trees, or biting at the rider's leg or his/her flank while at work?  Nimo hasn't ever done any of these behaviors in the context that I think they are meant.  He will grab bites of grass when we're out on the trail, but I actually encourage him to do that to a certain degree.  And he typically stops to eat.  He has never bitten at my legs or his flank, though.  My guess is that they might be signs of digestive distress unless your horse is an endurance horse:)

45. Particularly difficult on windy days, in bright sunlight, in the rain, or near trees?  No.  Nimo is actually pretty steady regardless of the weather, and he'll even work for me in a blizzard or a hurricane...

46. After exercise, tries to bit at shank of hackamore, rider's leg, or other horses?  Nope.

47. Watery eyes and nasal discharge after a head-tossing during exercise?  Nope.

48. Coughing at the start of exercise or during head-shaking?  No.

49. Horizontal or rotary head-shaking (like a dog with an ear infection)?  Never.

50. Twitching of the cheek muscle?  I have seen Nimo twitch his cheek muscle a few times during his life span.  I can't say that I've seen it recently, though.

Breathing Difficulties, Mostly Caused by Airway Obstruction

51. Open mouth, or "gaping" when wearing a bit?  Yes.  I do have a couple of photos, one from when Nimo was 4 at his breed inspection and another from last year's dressage competition, that show Nimo's mouth open while wearing a bit.  Of the pictures I have with Nimo wearing a hackamore, none show his mouth open.

52. Bit-induced poll flexion obstructs the airway at the throat?  I'm not sure about this one.  I've never had anyone mention it, but I have heard Nimo grunting during dressage lessons when flexed.  I don't believe he was hyperflexed in those cases and I thought the grunting was related to the work, but I really don't know for sure.  Nimo does seem to grunt less with the hackamore and the sound is a little different.

53. Tongue behind the bit, swallowing the tongue?  No.

54. Tongue over the bit?  No.

55. Thick-winded, "roaring" caused by displacement of the soft palate?  I don't think so (see # 52) because the grunting I mentioned above occurs quite rarely.

56. Dorsal displacement of the soft palate (e.g. gurgling, gagging, coughing)?  No.

57. Epiglottal entrapment?  In case you're like me and have no idea what this is, check out this link.  It seems to be more common for racehorses, and based on the clinical signs, I'm going with a No answer.

58. Throat obstruction leads to dynamic collapse of larynx and windpipe, and structural deformity of the windpipe?  No, and that sounds awful.

59. Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage?  No.

60. Explosive coughing at exercise?  No.

61. Hiccups, thumps (e.g. from stress, insufficient drinking on a trail ride, diuresis)?  I would not have categorized hiccups and thumps in the same question, so maybe hiccups mean something else in England?  Anyway, thankfully, Nimo has not had any issue with thumps on our rides.  And, no hiccups either.

Problems Caused by Direct Physical Trauma to the Mouth

62. Sores, cuts, chafes, or loss of pigment at the corners of the mouth?  None.

63. Bruising of the bars, bleeding from the mouth?  No.

64. Loss of appetite after exercise due to a sore mouth?  No.

65. Dropping food from the mouth because it is sore?  No.

66. Ulcers inside of mouth due to sharp teeth?  No - in fact, Nimo is seen by a dentist quite regularly so I know the inside of his mouth is healthy.

67. Bone spurs on the bars of the mouth?  No.

68. Putting bit between his teeth?  No.

69. Compound fracture to the lower jaw as a result of the horse stepping on loose reins or a rider falling on them?  No.

70. Star fracture on the bars of the mouth followed by bone death and some other nasty-sounding crap?  No.

71a.  Amputation of tongue?  No.

71b. Front third of tongue turns purple and back of tongue swells due to double bridle or tongue-tie?  Dear God, no!

Other Problems Affecting the Mouth in Particular

72. Hates the bit, chomping, chewing, fussy, busy mouth?  No, although typically softly "chewing the bit is considered a good thing in dressage.  After reading this questionnaire, I kind of wonder about that, though.  Nimo typically had a fairly quiet mouth with a bit and he continues to with the hackamore.

73. Tongue-lolling, sticking tongue out during exercise?  No.

74. Pulling on the bit, hard-mouthed, especially when headed toward home?  Well, my biggest problem with this was after I switched Nimo to a hackamore.  On our first endurance ride, he was an absolute dragon for the first 9 miles and the pulling was astronomical.  That was pretty much a one-time situation, though.  He has settled quite a bit since then, although he can still be strong on a ride.  In my mind it is a training issue that we are gradually resolving as we get more experience.

75. Salivates excessively at exercise, drooling and slobbering?  Not really.  Nimo rarely had a lot of lather at his mouth during our rides with a bit, and I always thought that meant I wasn't doing something right.  As it turns out, maybe all that drool that dressage riders and trainers are often so proud of isn't as good as they thought.  That said, I have seen small amounts of froth occasionally when I ride with the hackamore, but I wouldn't consider it excessive.  Excessive to me means the dressage horses that you sometimes see (usually at higher levels) whose spit is flinging everywhere and all over their legs and chest.  So, I'm going to say maybe a little change here, but not a lot.

Problems That Interfere, Especially with a Horse's Stride

76. Stiff-necked, lock-jawed, reluctant to flex at the poll?  Totally Nimo both with a bit and without it.  He carries a ton of tension in his poll and jaw and has for a very long time.  I do both Masterson Method massage as well as exercises under saddle and they help, but we still have a ways to go.

77. Short or choppy stride?  Sure, sometimes.  Particularly when we're warming up, it will take Nimo a few minutes of trotting to stretch out and relax.  That has been the same both with a bit and a hackamore.

78. Incoordination (e.g.. looks like EPM)?  I would say that a horse that looks that uncoordinated should not be ridden, but I actually know someone who at least for several years rode a horse like that under instruction from a former trainer of mine.  I can't say what was going on there, but it was not a good situation.  Luckily, while Nimo is not always the most graceful, he does manage not to fall down or move with that level of lack of coordination:)

79. Tilts head or refuses to keep head facing line of travel?  I've actually had Nimo do this both in the arena and out on the trail with a bit and with a hackamore on a fairly regular basis.  I think it is related to a lack of balance in the arena and a fear of bears out on the trail.  I think it occurs with less frequency now, but I suspect that is more due to training than from switching to a hackamore.

80. Stumbling, accompanied by sluggishness or lack of desire to work?  Not really.  Nimo can be a little lazy about picking up his feet, particularly in the arena, but work over cavaletti and tiny fences has really helped.

81. Lacking in confidence, not forward, refuses jumps, lacking hind-end impulsion?  A year ago, I wrote a resounding yes to this question.  Today, I see a huge improvement.  We definitely have more work to do, but Nimo's confidence is so much better now.  He will lead on trails, he's forward, even in the arena, and the only jump he's refused was really too big for him.  I can's say the change is due to the hackamore, though.  I think the more miles we get on the trail, the more confident he gets.

82. Heavy on the forehand, leaning on the bit, low-headed?  I wrote yes a year ago, and I still remember how heavy in my hands Nimo was.  When I switched to the hackamore, he  actually got heavier for awhile, but over time, he got lighter and lighter, and it is now rare for him to lean into the bridle.  It's anyone's guess, though, as to whether that is due to more training or the hackamore.

83. Difficult to steer in one or both directions or to travel straight?  Nimo can be lop-sided.  For example, today, he was stiff to the right in the trot and stiff to the left in the canter during my lesson.  He does have a tendency to lean on one or the other shoulder and that really hasn't changed after switching to the hackamore.

84. Fatigue or airway obstruction at speed that leads to a fall and broken leg?  Definitely no.  And we never go anywhere "at speed" unless Nimo thinks we are being chased by a bear, in which case I wholly support his decision.

85. Breakdowns (from premature fatigue triggered by bit-induced shortness of breath)?  No.

86. Jigging, prancing, rushing when required to walk?  It depends.  When on a long rein, Nimo walks quite well.  On contact, though, he often will initially jack his head up, shorten his stride, and become incredibly crooked.  I attribute this response to poor instruction during his earlier years and my current instructor is helping me work Nimo out of what was essentially a habit.  He's getting better, but it is a fairly recent occurrence and unlikely to be correlated with the use of the hackamore.

87. Refusal or inability to rein-back.  Inability to back in a straight line?  Yep.  This has been a problem for a long time.  It still is.  Again, I think it is due to not working on it for so long, although Nimo is also very cautious about where he puts his feet, so that is a factor too.  We are working on it in small doses now, but any improvement is unlikely due to the hackamore.

88. Tail clamping?  I honestly don't know.  In pictures I have of Nimo riding, his tail seems relaxed, but I'm not sure I would notice if it was clamped.

89. Excessive poll flexion results in the horse not seeing well and "running blind?"  No.

90. Pig-rooting, head-diving, snatching reins out of rider's hands?  Last year, I gave a big yes answer.  Now, I would say it is rare.  However, Nimo has intermittently had that behavior his whole riding life, and it worsens when I don't ride much and gets better when I ride consistently.  Last year, I was focused on endurance and wasn't doing a lot of dressage schooling.  Whereas, now my riding is more weighted toward dressage schooling.  So, I can't rule out the hackamore as an influence, but experience tells me the more likely reason is more regular schooling sessions.

91. Tying-up?  No.

92. Tail-swishing or wringing, particularly when asked to canter or rein-back?  I don't know.  I don't feel like there is, but I'm not sure I would know if there was.

93. Refusal or reluctance to change leads or to lead on one particular leg?  Last year I wrote that Nimo had difficulty picking up the left lead.  Based on today's lesson, he is still having some difficulty with that lead, but I think Nimo tends to swap sides fairly regularly in terms of which lead is more difficult, which is actually a good thing.  So, it may just be coincidence that his left lead is more difficult now.  It is something that I will pay more attention to, though.

94. Dragging toes of hind feet?  Last year I answered yes, and I would say that Nimo does still have a bit of difficulty picking up his hind feet and really articulating his hocks.  As I mentioned above, though, work over cavaletti seems to have helped quite a bit.

95. Reluctance to maintain canter, including sudden stopping at canter?  Yes last year and yes now.  Canter has always been incredibly difficult for Nimo and while he has made leaps and bounds of improvement, he has a long way to go!

96. Running into or close to objects to dislodge the rider?  Thankfully, no.  Even with all of our issues, Nimo has never tried to rub me off:)

97.  Back problems?  Not to my knowledge.  I work hard to keep his saddles fitted and so far, so good!

98. Crooked traveling, hind hoof prints tracking 10-18" off of front hoof prints?  You know, Nimo does travel a bit crooked (he tends to move in a slight haunches-in in the arena), but nothing like 10-18".  I don't think the crookedness has changed much in the past year, though.

99a.  Head-tossing that causes bone spur formation on back of skull and intermittent "hopping" during work?  No.

99b. Development of ewe-neck and inappropriate muscling from high head carriage?  Nope.

100. False collection producing cramps in jaw, neck, shoulder, back, and haunches?  No.

Causes of Sudden Death

101. Rearing over backwards and breaking its skull or neck?  No.

102. Severe episode of pulmonary bleeding causing fatal asphyxia?  No.

103. Bit-induced partial asphyxia leads to death through injury?  No.

104. Bit induced partial asphyxia leads to fatigue and breakdown and then euthanasia?  No.

Effect of All of the Above on Rider

105. Self-evaluation of riding skills as "poor?"  Oh, so, so many times!  But much less now, I think.  In fact, I even commented after my lesson today that it went so fast, I was surprised we were done.  I had definitely had a work-out, but no more gasping for air, no more vision going black, no more calf cramps.  Enough has improved over the past year or so that riding is not as hard for me as it used to be and I no longer am down on myself if things don't go right.  I doubt the hackamore caused that change in feeling, but I do think the more I educate myself and the more confident Nimo and I become out on the trail, the better I feel about my riding.

106. Development of frustration with apparent inability to master art of equitation?  The old me said yes.  The new me is grateful for a wonderful instructor who is positive and supportive instead of being negative and nit-picking.  I think that has make a huge difference.

107. A burgeoning annoyance bordering on anger with the horse?  Again, the old me said yes.  But now, I rarely get annoyed with Nimo (except when he coats himself with mud like he did today).  I have a much healthier attitude about riding.

108. An increasing reluctance to exercise horse (e.g. making excuses)?  I admit that I still do lack motivation sometimes, but it is less because of my doubts about my abilities and more because, you know, I have a million things to do that compete with each other for priority.  Overall, though, this is a problem I had well before I even thought about endurance riding and I suspect it plagues most riders from time to time.

109. Loss of harmony between horse and rider?  Last year I wrote that Nimo and I struggle to be in sync all the time.  Now, I would say we have mostly good moments.  There are times when things don't work out, but those good moments are more frequent than ever.

110. Riding ceases to give the rider (or horse) pleasure?  Not anymore.  There was a time many years ago when I thought I might have to sell Nimo because I hated riding him, but changing barns and trainers and taking control of my learning helped fix that problem well before the bit to hackamore switch.

111. Loss of confidence, fear of riding, wanting to give up riding altogether?  Last year, I was particularly afraid of falling off.  Guess what?  I fell off twice this year, and I lived.  Neither time was pleasant, but the first time especially took care of my fear.  I fell hard and I fell on my head, and I was still OK.  While I wish I could have done without the falls, maybe there was a reason for them in the Grand Scheme of Things:)

112. Decision to sell a horse and buy a different one that seems more suitable?  No, although I do have plans to buy two more...:)

113. Economic embarrassment at doomed attempts to treat problems by means other than the removal of their cause?  I'm not really sure what this means?  If it means that I buy a lot of crap for my horse, then I do have to answer yes.  But I don't really suffer any embarrassment from my purchases:)

114. Personal injury?  OK, yes.  But see #111 - I'm not sure it is as bad as it sounds...

Whew!  We made it!  Or maybe just I did:)  If you made it too, thanks for sticking with me! That was a vast amount of questions.  And to be honest, after going through them all again, I can still only attribute one positive change with absolute certainty to the hackamore and that is Nimo's improved eating and drinking on the trail.  That is the initial reason I wanted to try the hackamore and it is a great reason to keep using it.  The other changes may be due in part to the hackamore, but I suspect most of them are related more to my continued growth as a horsewoman and Nimo's continued improvement and confidence out on the trails.  I like knowing that I'm educating myself and trying new things to make Nimo's life better.  I do believe that the bit in my hands is probably not the best thing.  I don't have the world's quietest hands or the best position and I think a hackamore is probably better for someone like me. 

While I can't rule out using a bit again, I will say that Nimo is the deciding factor.  I once tried to put his old bit in his mouth a few months ago because I'd forgotten my hackamore at home.  Nimo HATED it!  He didn't want to open his mouth and he fussed the whole ride.  So that was enough for me.  I don't need a questionnaire to tell me that I need to use a hackamore.  I know every rider and every horse has different preferences and experiences, so as before, it isn't my intention to convince you to stop using a bit if you currently ride with one.  I do think the questionnaire is thought-provoking, but as you saw, switching to a hackamore didn't solve all my/Nimo's problems.  Now, maybe if I used Dr. Cook's bridle, I would see a greater improvement, so my next step is to do just that.  Use Dr. Cook's bridle.  My hope is to be able to try it for several months and compare it with what I currently use and see what Nimo prefers and whether we see additional improvement.

But first, I plan to tell you all about the new hackamore I've started using...tomorrow...after my fingers no longer want to wilt off of my hands:)


  1. My husband has been riding his mare in a dr Cooks for years now and loves it. I've been meaning to try it on Nilla as she despises bits. But we need to use a bit for dressage. I already use an S-hack for endurance.

    1. I've actually been thinking about switching to an s-hack for endurance too, Olivia. I don't like how snug the noseband has to be on the flower hackamore to make sure it is stable. I think the s-hack would make it even easier for Nimo to eat and drink.

  2. Fascinating, and anxious to see where this all goes. I have to confess I have become increasing interested in exploring riding without bits so very interested in this. So many of the elements in the questionnaire appear (to me) to have little to do with bit/no bit, or are at least greatly influenced by things not related to tack so very difficult to establish a cause-effect relationship... so interested to see where this all goes. Thanks for putting all of this out there.

    1. I agree, Jo, about many of the issues not necessarily being caused by bits. I do think an unhappy horse or a horse in pain because of a bit could exhibit those behaviors, but there really is an element of understanding your horse and not just answering some questions to figure out what is wrong. That said, I do like the questionnaire because it highlighted some things for me that I might not have normally thought about.

  3. I agree! Plus the series of questions is a great opportunity to get reflective about what you horse might be doing and why. I want to try to go the bitless route but as you mentioned in another post, there are so many options out there, it is almost overwhelming. Since we are going to be riding in the arena this winter, it will be a great time to start experimenting. I have to say I normally rely on a 1-rein stop out on the trail when things go absolutely crazy (eg, come around a blind corner and there is a bull moose standing about 5 feet away). So like most folks, I would be interested in something that has that capability. As always, soooooo much to learn. Thanks for letting me follow along with what you're doing.

  4. I find it fascinating that the questionaire asked about every possible horse-related issue one might have with the desired outcome to lead the questioner to trying the bitless bridle. Which I did and we hated it. Hated it.

    I have tried six different styles of snaffle bits, four different bitless options and four different shank bits. He is tolerant of the S-Hack, hates everything snaffle and likes the shank bits the best. I have finally found one that he likes above the rest. He does like to play with the copper rings, but that was something he was doing in the S-Hack and this bit gives him something to play with.

    As for some of the questions - Ashke foams in the S-Hack, lolls his tongue out, roots, sticks his head in the air, etc, even without the bit in his mouth. Shows to go ya that each horse is different and no one thing works for all of them.

    1. I agree, Karen. Every horse is different and I think it is up to each rider to explore options that make the most sense for the horse. I could see some horses being very sensitive on their noses and/or chins, which would make the use of at least some types of hackamores very difficult. I'm glad you stuck with it and found something Ashke likes:)

  5. I haven't tried the flower or wheel hack yet, but I think I've experimented with every other bitless option out there. Really didn't care for the Dr Cooks, though. I didn't like how it wouldn't release pressure, Mimi would basically run right through it, and the noseband has to be really tight for it to be semi-effective. The s-hack is my go-to for on trail, since it has the brakes/authority that I need.

    1. I have my doubts about Dr. Cook's bridle too, Ashley. I also don't like how snug the noseband has to be and I am concerned about release of pressure as well. That said, I feel like I want to try it so I can say one way or another how it works for Nimo. Of course, that is meaningless for everyone else, but I have learned that trying new things is good for us:)

    2. I love trying new things and am pretty much a tack manufacturer's dream come true with my collection of bits and various bitless offerings.

      One of my "catch rides," Liberty, is one I would like to try the flower/wheel on because she is still green, and a little overreactive to the multiple points of pressure and leverage of the s-hack, and super-soft in the face, so I think something like that may work well on her.

    3. If you try one of the wheel hackamores on Liberty, please blog about the results:)

  6. About #61, Thumps *is* actually the same as hiccups in humans, oddly enough.

    and #21, it sounds like a human clapping. The one lesson horse at my barn does it when she is tense at the canter. I've also seen horses do it when they are bored on cross ties.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Katharine. I did some more research on the hiccups (not that I didn't believe you, but I've only heard of thumps in the context of a horse at an endurance ride and I thought thumps was just a calcium/electrolyte deficiency). And of course, you're right:) I learned something:)