Friday, April 30, 2010
In a post titled 'Yep…that’s broke' FHOTD writes, "But putting the equivalent of an emergency brake in his mouth truly isn’t the answer. It works…for a while. And then he gets pissed and sore and starts running through it….Um, if you are THAT out of control, YOU ARE NOT READY TO JUMP!" Accompanying the article is a photo of a woman competing in jump class with a heavy bit and the horse flinging it's head in the air. The assumption of the article is that this is unnecessary and the horse can be retrained when she states, "I’ll tell you right now, there isn’t any way in the world that both you and your horse won’t get better at whatever it is you do by spending time with less artillery in his mouth." My answer to this is yes and no.
The determining factor is the level the horse is competing at as it dictates how the horse is trained, the amount of time spent in training, and the type of personality selected for training. In Grand Prix and up usually a more aggressive and hotter personality is selected for the advantages it gives to enhance the competitive edge. Often, upper level horses are shown in all types of contraptions to try to get the horse under control quickly during competition. There are horses shown in the hackamore and harsh bit combination. The reason for this isn't because the trainers and rider are incompetent or unknowledgeable, but that the horse is being trained "go for it". In most upper level competitions you could take a similar photograph of a horse flinging it's head etc. and it would not be considered an example of incompetence.
The above photo is of Eric Lamaze and Hickstead who recently won gold for Canada in the Olympics. Hickstead is wearing a strong bit, noseband, and martingale frequently found in show jumping. Hickstead, like many show jumping horses, avoids the bit by opening his mouth and tossing his head. He is by nature and training a difficult horse to slow down. At the upper levels there are no simple answers to running through the bit.
Similar situations can be found in racing and polo. A race horse is never trained to relax and have a quiet mind because it interferes with the horse's performance. Equally, polo presents the same training issues as racing and show jumping. Polo ponies wear a variety of noseband and bit combination in an attempt to control the horse and martingales are the norm. Why do polo players and upper level riders get a break for using such equipment?
A trainer of upper level horses would avoid training that would teach the horse to relax and be quiet as it would reinforce behavioural traits that are undesirable for competition. So, it depends on what your long term goals are. If you wish to have an all-around-horse then by all means train the horse to have two mind sets. The first is the quiet, in-hand mindset that is trained through classical dressage and the second is a 'go for it" mindset for competition. The earlier in the horse's life the training begins the better.
As for the woman featured on FHOTD, I'm sure she doesn't appreciate her picture plastered all over the web with an accompanying article suggesting incompetence. In truth, it's impossible to tell from the picture what is happening. The photo could be taken during an unusual hot mood for the horse or a shy where it is not a typical representation of the riders skill and the horse's training. When discussing quiet mind set training the author needs to consider all levels of competition and similar equipment used in polo. If the author suggests that this type of training is the only answer then she also needs to address how she would get horses like Hickstead over a course with a winning performance while solving the running through the bit problem. This scenario is complicated and has no easy answers.