I thought I’d share with you what I’m learning about natural horse care. Earlier this year, I had a few riding lessons and the mouthpiece was made from metal (usually stainless steel). I wondered to what extent the horse fretted about having a nasty piece of cold metal in its mouth. There is a school of thought that the metal bit gives the rider better control of the horse.

But over the last few months, I’ve come to the view that the bit does not allow for good communication between you and your horse. And I also think that a horse can feel pain with the use of a bit. A lot of people break-in a horse, then get on it and start riding. But what you really need to do is spend time schooling your horse and getting it to understand what you are asking it to do. This requires a form of communication the horse will respond to positively and I’ve found the rope halter provides this.

If you use a rope halter with a very long lead rope (12’), and use pressure/release signals, you can train your horse very effectively. Rosie can now “reverse” or back on command and come forward towards me and stop at a suitable distance from me when she feels the subtle pressure on the lead rope. Because the lead rope attached to the halter is long, the horse feels at liberty rather than being pulled here and there. The halters I’m now using have been custom-made for my horses and are one long piece of UV-resistant rope. The halter is soft and comfortable and the rope is strong, yet soft enough to be flexible (and because it’s so long, it can double as a lunging line). There are no metal buckles to break either.

The real bonus is that I’m finding the rope halter gives better contact with and control of your horse. The knots in the halter can be used as specific pressure points and, by using the lead rope, you guide and direct your horse through these pressure points. It’s important to ensure that the halter is made specifically for your horse and that you never let your horse loose into the paddock with the halter on (you never know how the horse could become entangled).

Natural horsemanship is a way of working with horses based on mutual respect and understanding their instincts and herd behaviour. Since horses weren’t born with bits in their mouths, it makes no sense to me to use them. Rosie used to throw her head up when the bit approached her mouth, whereas she willing accepts her rope halter.

You can train your horse to be ridden simply using the rope halter and attached long rope as reins. Last week, I watched someone riding in this manner – both horse and rider were relaxed and enjoying the experience. I’ve also read Dr Robert Cook and Dr Hiltrud Strasser’s book Metal in the Mouth. This book certainly convinced me that going bitless is better and soon I’ll be riding with just a rope halter and rope reins.

Check out this video. Up to 1.59 it’s all pretty awful. Still shots of horses suffering with bits in the mouth. Then the video shows (from 2.45) horses being ridden or schooled with just the rope halter. The contrast is amazing: when you look closely at the horse’s faces in the shots with rope halters, you can see calmness.

Then check out this video to see the high level of mastery a human (and horse) can achieve through training a horse without nasty bits, spurs, whips etc. It’s breathtaking.

Karma posing in her custom-made black rope halter.

A rope halter is much easier to put on and you secure it with a D-shaped knot. Normally, I tuck the loose bit under.

The rope halter and rope is a set - one long piece of rope.

Muff also has his own rope halter and can now "reverse" and come forward on command.

Rosie's halter is a rather fetching black & white number.

Rosie's rope halter & 12' line - handmade from UV-resistant yachting braid.

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