Friday, January 24, 2014

Bitless Bridles

I received an e-mail from a lady asking what my opinion were on Bitless Bridles, such as Dr Cook's Bitless bridle.   It seems she bought a older mare who had a previous severe cut on her tongue so riding in a bit on this horse wasn't an option for her. She has also tried a side pull - I'm assuming a version without the snaffle bit, but was looking for a better option for her horse. If anyone reading this has some experience with or opinions on Dr. Cooks Bitless Bridle, then please drop a comment in the comment box underneath  this post.

My reply was that I understood her reluctance to use a bit in her mare. I have a gelding in the same boat and I'll never put a bit in his mouth again. I am not against bit's, but for the most part I use a rawhide Hackamore, and sometimes a hackamore with a soft or hard rope bosal.   While there are thousands of really good horsemen out there who find use in all sorts of bits, from snaffles to spades, I don't think I'll ever get to the point to competently use any bit but other than a snaffle or broken bit with short shanks.  Better chance of keeping me honest that way I reckon.   
I actually prefer to start a horse on a hackamore as opposed to a snaffle bit. For me it makes more sense as it is much closer to the halter. The disadvantage with a hackamore/bosal is that the reins connect under the jaw so the pull on a direct rein is something you need to be patient with to let the horse understand and develop that lateral flexion. On a direct rein you are actually pulling the bosal into his nose on the opposite side of his head/face suggesting that the horse turn in the direction of the pull to gain a release from the pressure. Because the reins of a hackamore connect to (just above) the heel knot of the bosal under the jaw, sometimes the horse will tip his head (less desirable) rather than turn or rotate it at the poll, which is more desirable as it positions the horse in a more balanced position for a turn.

Dr. Cook advertises that his bitless bridle pushes rather than pulls, because the direct rein runs underneath the jaw and connects to the opposite cheek. Well, the way I see it, it is still a pull, like the Bosal or a side pull. A possible advantage with the Bitless Bridle is that the pull is higher up on the cheek and may tend to turn the head as opposed to tipping the nose which positions the horse for a better turn.

At right is a picture of the Bitless Bridle. The reins are connected to the ring on straps that run underneath the jaw.  These straps run through a fixed ring on the side of the nose band. 

When pressure is applied to that rein, it tightens the strap running underneath the jaw, running up the opposite cheek and then over the poll.  In theory this provides a clear signal, but again I haven't ridden using this Bitless Bridle, but I don't think I would have a big problem having any of my horses' accept it as they have been ridden in bosals and understand lateral flexion when asked through a direct rein. that's  However, I'm interested in comments from those who have ridden the Bitless Bridle.   

It is interesting to go to Dr. Cook's website, again it's here, and read about the Bitless Bridle.  I don't agree which his assertion that bits and bosals operate off of pain.  They certainly can when misused.   But I think there is a difference between pain and pressure.     

I do have a question, maybe a concern, about Dr. Cooks Bitless Bridle. When using a bit or a hackamore, the horse has the option of lateral or vertical flexion to move away from the pressure.   I think that's the point as that's how we get our horses to bend or flex in reaction to that cue.   When using the Bitless Bridle and pressure is applied with the reins, it is transmitted to the whole head. When the rider is using both reins to apply pressure, such as for a stop, back or to get the horse to collect,...I wonder if some horses would feel trapped or locked down as they cannot move to get a release and are more dependent upon the rider to provide the release, which may not happen in a timely fashion.

I think that if a horse works well in a side pull, then the transition to a Bitless Bridle, should go okay, as long as the horse is eased into it. It will be a different pressure than the horse is used to, so I might start real soft, reward her smallest effort and build from there.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Feeder Solutions for Horses

Karla wrote to ask about Horse feeders: "I just finished reading a Western Horseman article about preventing colic. My horse throws her hay around no matter what kind of feeder I use. I have used hanging feeders and large rubber buckets. They (Western Horseman article) suggested mats so the hay will be off the ground when they do throw it around. Do you have a suggestion on where to find large mats? How do you feed your horses? Thanks, Karla."

Hey Karla, I read that good article from Western Horseman as well. Keeping hay off the ground, especially sandy ground, is one of the first step to reduce risk of colic. Horses can have up to 80 pounds of accumulative sand in their gut. And all horses are different so I reckon some do better than others picking hay off the ground and consuming less sand than others.  If you watch closely, you'll see a horse blow through his nose, probably clearing sand away (intentional or not) then picking up a piece of grass.  The problem with some feeders, like the one in the picture above, is that hay gets dropped to the ground out of the feeder by the wind, and we have a lot of wind in West Texas.   

A periodic Sand Clear (psyllium) and/or bran mash rountine is another measure you can consider to help in getting some sand out of the gut. When I throw hay for my horses I break it up so the horse's can't grab a large flake and fling it out of the feeder onto the ground. This also helps me find all sorts of garbage in the hay,....plastic bags, things like that.

Some may use large trailer flooring mats to feed off of, but these can be really heavy to pickup and clean off. You could always use a broom to sweep the mats before each feeding. If you decide to use mats, I would check out an auto parts store for truck bed mats. We have used a couple of these and they have lasted now for 10 years.

I have also tried or seen about all types of feeders being used,....large buckets, hanging feeders, free standing feeders, and even hay nets or bags. Can you imagine the pain in the butt on loading a hay net a couple of times a day? 

What I use now for feeders are large plastic boxes that look like milk crates. Called the Arca Systems Big-Box they are made by Daco Corporation - Arca Systems, phone 1-800-423-3221. I have them in two sizes, the bigger one (see picture above) is 48"L by 44"W by 29"H and weighs 95 lbs, and works great for feeding two horses.  The other Big-Box I'm using is the smaller version (see picture below) 42"L x28"W x 29"H which weighs 69 lbs, and is suitable as a one horse feeder. Both are easy to move around even in heavy sand and have slots to allow using a forklift.

I have these boxes under overhead cover, but it might be a good idea to drill a couple small holes to drain water and help sweep any dirt out every once in while, as well as drain excess water if you feed water soaked hay from time to time. One of the best things about using feeders on the ground is that this is more natural for the horse to eat this way.

Porta-Grazer.  Another feeder solution that someone recently told me about is the Porta-Grazer, which is basically a large bucket with a perforated insert that makes the horse pulls hay through holes with it's front teeth, reducing the amount of hay the horse can grab and drop or throw around. Makes them eat slower too.

From the Porta Grazer site: "Natural grazing slow feeder for hay and pellets. Lets your horse graze hay slowly tearing each bite with the incisors creating more even dental wear thus relieving TMJ problems. Great for the prevention, treatment and elimination of gastric ulcers, colic and many other problem stall vices and bad habits. As the pan rotates the holes lift the ends of the hay stems up so the horse can search, pull, tear while he is chewing and swallowing. This allows him to size each bite as he eats insuring that his food is thouroughly chewed and salivated as it is when grazing.That's grazing and no other product does this. No wasted hay. Travel safe and sanitary. Head down and dust free Also collects sand and dirt from the hay to be thrown away later."

Here is a short video on the Porta-Grazer:

In any event, good luck Karla in finding a feed solution.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Guts and Glory Ride for Veterans

Craig Cameron recently hosted a 100 mile horseback ride to raise awareness and funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Called the "Guts and Glory Ride for Veterans", this is a worthy cause to support. Craig Cameron, the riders who rode with him and all that supported it, included the horses, are Great Americans. If you didn't get to see it on RFD TV, you can watch the shorter video below. It probably was appropriate that the ride started out in freezing weather.

Supporting wounded veterans and the organizations that provide care and support is a great thing to do. Some of these guys I count among my friends. Men like Chuck Yerry who lost a leg in combat, replaced it with a prosthesis, then was back in the fight. Chuck just retired but spent all his free time in the last couple of years working to make the Special Operations Forces K9 memorial a reality. As Sergeant Major Yerry explained, "for each SOF K-9 lost in combat represented one or more American soldiers saved."

Yet another Veterans organization that supports wounded warriors is the Task Force Dagger Foundation. TF Dagger was the organizational name of the first Special Operations Forces, mainly Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group, who entered into Afghanistan one dark night just weeks after the Twin Towers attacks to organize the resistance against the Taliban and drive these Islamic terrorists out of that country. TF Dagger has been immortalized in several books, but probably no more recognizable than the photo of Green Berets on horseback moving to engage the Taliban. You know that horseback warriors in heaven were sitting up watching this one.

Please pass the word on these worthwhile organizations. Safe Journey.