All posts by wcwdressage

How do I know if I’m using the right bit?

BILL– As I related in DRESSAGE Unscrambled, many years ago Major Lindgren was giving a lecture on bits at the National Instructors Seminar. He had a graphic up on the board of all sorts of curb bits, and he asked the group how they would choose one over another. I was on the staff with him, and after the group remained painfully silent, I raised my hand and in my best Gunther Toody fashion interrupted, “Ooh ooh, I know!”
Somewhat bemused and exasperated he said to me, “OK. Why?”
“It depends on the weather,” I said.
He cocked his head, waiting for the rest of it…
“Because,” I finished, “In a storm, any port will do! “

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Disabuse me of this . . .

 (“Riding him until he sweats?”)                                           

Presumably there is a line. Societal norms change over time and the line is redrawn in a different place. Is Justice Potter Stewart correct? Who gets to decide? Do we get to decide for ourselves or is there an entity which should decide for us?

Help me decide.
Spanking your child? Abuse?
Scolding your child loudly? What about with harsh and unkind words?
Allowing a pre-adolescent child to ride public transportation unchaperoned?
Leaving your 11-year-old to mind your six-year-old while you run to the store to pick up a prescription. Abuse? What if it’s to buy a six pack? Or to stop at the tavern and drink your brew there?
What if it’s knowing your neighbor is living out any of those scenarios while you remain silent?
Is having a pet an abuse? Keeping it on a chain? Keeping it on the leash when you go out for a walk?
Is keeping a horse an abuse? What if he lives in a stall and has no turn out? What about clipping him so he has to wear a blanket? Or not putting the blanket on him after you’ve clipped him?
Is trimming the whiskers on his muzzle an abuse? Or the hair inside his ears?
What about riding him? How about bareback with only a halter and lead rope but galloping until his sides heave?
What about riding him until he sweats?
Riding him in a dropped noseband?
Lunging him in a bitting rig?
Riding him without any of those appliances or contrivances but allowing him to be high headed, hollow, and stiff in his back?
Is it less abusive if you are a helpless beginner trying to learn than if you have spent a lot of money for a fancy horse on which to be helpless?
Is it more abusive if you are seen to be doing it at a show than if you are equally incompetent but in your own backyard?
And finally, what about structuring every minute of your child’s time so that he or she is never alone, always engaged in a supervised activity whether competitive or educational?
And if you are a dressage judge, what are your responsibilities?

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What am I allowed to do with my hands?

BILL– I’m assuming I should confine my answer to dressage-related activities. Even so, my answer would be different if we are talking about in the show ring, best case scenarios when you’re schooling, or some of the exigencies which arise when confronted with impenetrable inherited tangles.
Let’s begin by agreeing that it is OK to use your hands. However, at all cost avoid random, habitual niggling. Anything you do with your hand must be on purpose and carry a message. And generally speaking it should be as a modifier to a primary aid which began with your seat or legs. Nor should it be used in a backward direction (other than when you are in survival mode). Non-allowing – yes. Pulling – no! Often when you think pulling is the solution, a greater push to that same non-allowing is a better choice.
Remember, your hands have some things to say, but in the context of the rest of your arms. Your elbows must remain elastic, and your forearms must be soft. “Your forearms belong to the horse!” Imagine that the reins continue through your hands and up through your hollow forearms to connect into your elbows and back. At the same time, as I wrote in DRESSAGE Unscrambled quoting Rosemary Springer, “Quiet hands are not dead hands.” An inert, non-communicating hand just allows your horse to lean on it.
Another issue is hands which stay too wide apart. I’ve been known to say, “Don’t push the wheelbarrow. Imagine you’re strangling the barn cat.” Not so much in the show ring but sometimes with a greener horse, it’s OK to open a rein but hardly ever both at once. But immediately after you use it, put it back where belongs. Don’t keep it wide.
As for those extreme cases, if I have to describe to you what to do, you probably aren’t ready to be doing. Keep in mind that your hands may need to be corrective, but try, try, try not to let them become punitive.

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