There has been debate in the social media world of equestrian lately, regarding the use of certain rider aids like draw reigns, harsh bits, and even spurs. The “blood rule” has been discussed heavily, as more and more top riders are disqualified for leaving bad spur marks on their horses. I figured that I would give my two cents on these issues.
First, I would like to preface this post with my own experiences. Years ago, I was all for rider aids. It is what I knew. Riders wore spurs, schooled in draw reigns, and if the horses were not responding well through the bridle they upped the bit. It wasn’t mean or abusive, after all horses are such large animals they barely felt these things. At least, that is what so many people said. I have given horses spur rubs. But I was not being cruel, I was simply teaching the horse to listen to my leg. When I rode with draw reigns, I was simply teaching the horse to give to the bridle.
I first began to see a problem with these training methods when I was working for farms, and doing a lot of catch riding. I was riding many different horses all the time, and I realized that the horses that were ridden in draw reigns frequently did not know how to work into the bridle without draw reigns. They never really learned to, they were simply forced into it. So, I became a little wary of draw reigns. I still used them, but I was very soft with them; and if I had control over how much I used them on a horse I would not use them very often. When riding other people’s horses, I did not always have much of a say in their training.
However, it was not until I owned a horse that did not tolerate draw reigns, spurs, or even slightly abrasive bits that my opinion really began to change. I had to figure out how to teach Chance to move off of my leg and give to the bridle with just my legs, and a happy mouth bit. Even in a happy mouth, my feel always had to be soft. But I managed to teach him what he needed to learn. It is possible to not use many rider aids, it just takes more time.
I believe that is the root of the problems with the competitive equestrian world these days. Too many people are unwilling to take the time to train a horse properly, so they use aids or drugs (or oftentimes both) to get a horse to do what they need it to do now.
Training a horse takes time. A lot of time, in many cases. There are no true shortcuts. The shortcuts so many take are dangerous and abusive.
I am not saying that no one should ride in spurs, use draw reigns, or even heavy bits. I am just saying that we should always ask ourselves why we feel we need these things. They really are not necessary. I also feel that if they are used, it should be by experienced riders that have good control over their bodies – and extensive knowledge about what they are doing. I cringe whenever I see a young kid wearing long spurs on a little pony! I know that I used spurs and draw reigns before I should have, and those poor horses paid the price. The sad thing is that I had no idea that I was being unfair to the horses I rode, it was simply what I knew.
I think it is time though that we stop just doing what everyone around us is doing, and start doing what is right for our horses. It is our love for horses that got us into this sport/lifestyle, is it not? I think their well-being should always come first. No matter what.