‘You don’t know what you don’t know’, this a wonderful expression. Sometimes we do things that hurt others because we simply don’t know. I did things that hurt horses for many years because I didn’t know. I believed what everyone told me, my teachers, my mentors, and felt that if I improved my horse skills enough everything would fall into place. I used bits, spurs and whips, and I loved my horses. I really loved them, and believed I was giving them the best life. I worked hard to achieve my equine goals and expected the same of my horses. They did as I asked and I assumed that was because they were happy. If someone had told me I was hurting my horses I would have been insulted. My horses had the best of everything and I would never intentionally do anything to hurt them. Bits are a pain based method of horse control, to accept this, one has to accept that they’ve been hurting their horses. No-one wants to see that they’ve been causing pain to their horses at the exact same time that they feel the most pleasure, when riding. It just doesn’t fit; the brain rejects such an idea. And horse people love their horses, it’s their passion, their obsession, they would never hurt them. A huge sense of guilt comes with the thought that you've been hurting your horses. As we recall the hundreds of hours of pain we have inflicted on our loved ones we want to block it out and deny it. If we do realise we’ve been causing pain, we can then choose to stop doing it. Then we have to forgive ourselves. We must forgive ourselves because we didn’t know. We didn’t do it deliberately. Using a metal rod inside a horses’ mouth is so normal in this world. My lightbulb moment came after riding in a cross-under bitless bridle for a few weeks. I wasn’t convinced it was the way to go; it was something new I wanted to try out. I’d been using it on a few horses and was also using bits. I still wasn’t thinking of the horse and how it was for them, I was thinking about how effective the bitless bridle might be to get the horses to do as I asked. I was interested in results. This is normal in the horse world. I was riding my main dressage horse in the bitless bridle. I’d been having lessons on him with my German dressage instructor for over a year. He was doing well but he never achieved full softness through his neck in the canter, he always held some tightness. One day I was riding in the bitless and popped him into a canter. It was my first canter in the bitless and I had no idea what would happen. He cantered effortlessly with the most relaxed neck I’d ever seen, fully collected, light in my hand and as soft as butter. All of a sudden I realised what the bit had been doing to him. I’d been getting harsher and harsher bits in an effort to ‘fix’ the problem. Then with the bitless he just did it! I started crying, with tears racing down my cheeks we cantered around and around with me saying “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know”. In that moment I understood. And the guilt was enormous, the things I’d done, the bits I’d used, the pain I’d caused, and all for nothing. I made the decision to stop using bits. Then I began the work of forgiving myself. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. If you’re sitting on the fence at the moment, but are scared to step over, I encourage you to do it. Remember you didn’t know, you didn’t really understand, and forgive yourself.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc. Happy Horses Bitless Lismore, NSW, Australia Ph: 0401 249 263 Email: email@example.com Web: www.happyhorsesbitless.com Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles