Defending the indefensible **UPDATED**

My mare’s headstall–ridden like this from the first moment I had her.

Recently, on that epitome of good sense and reasoning known as Facebook, I happened across a post from a ‘friend’ (these days, a very vacuous definition if ever there was one) describing events during a weekend at Aintree with Buck Brannaman. Without wishing to decry much of Brannaman’s work, a lot of which was influenced by Ray Hunt who in turn followed the work of the brothers Dorrance, it did sadden me to see that he was using a bit. His philosophy of working with the horse’s nature and understanding how it thinks and communicates to develop a responsive relationship does not exactly tie in with the use of a bit. This simple factor took Brannaman down several rungs in my estimation of him.

Further comment from the ‘friend’ confirmed that Brannaman considers that there are certain activities one cannot do without use of a bit…I won’t speculate simply because I don’t know what they are; nevertheless, considering a bit always causes discomfort to the sensitive tissues of the horse’s mouth, it must be accepted that whatever the activity, it is being controlled by painful coercion.

Then the wife/partner arrives on the scene and starts the usual argument that it is not the bit but rather the hands that count. It isn’t. No matter how light your hands, a bit is uncomfortable to the horse in three ways: 

  • it rubs against the sensitive roof of the mouth, the sensitive bars that are covered with a very fine layer of gum tissue and–depending upon adjustment–the corners of the mouth without a hand touching the reins 
  • it breaks the seal at the commissure of the mouth causing breathing problems–a horse cannot breathe with its mouth open
  • the horse goes into a psychological dilemma because although it needs to breathe, with something in its mouth, it feels obliged to chew and swallow–although it can’t because there is little to chew and nothing to swallow
    • this leads to another problem that the horse only creates saliva when it has something in its mouth, leading to that wonderful idea that the horse is ‘accepting the bit’. The same mechanism increases production of stomach acid leading potentially to stomach ulcers; it is estimated that 80% of horses suffers stomach ulcers…

So our lady friend moves onto the next tack: go to a Brannaman clinic and have it out with him if you dare… Apparently, the fact that someone is renowned, makes it all fine and dandy. That would also mean that if the French ‘CSO’ rider Penelope Leprovost kicks her horse and yanks at its mouth, then that’s fine…

Then she moves in to attack again: apparently I am a hypocrite (#practicewhatyoupreach) because I appear in photos on Facebook riding with a bit. I don’t deny having ridden horses with a bit–and I’m not proud of having done so–but the last time is so long ago I have forgotten. When asked which photos, I was accused of having taken them down quickly…well, I didn’t. In fact, just checking on this, it was a single occasion in 2013 when I rode out in the Netherlands; I was not happy about riding with a bit but there was no choice apart from not riding–a decision I almost made. And for the information of our lady friend, the photos are still on Facebook…

That is the very last occasion I have used a bit (against my own conscience) and since then I have refused to ride a bitted horse; furthermore I have never ridden my own horse with a bit and never will. 

It should also be noted, that in all the years I spent working at a riding school for the handicapped, I fought and fought against the seemingly innocent practices which in reality are so detrimental to the horse’s health. A riding school like most where they consider bitless to be dangerous; described as Western riding–’which we don’t do here’–they clearly had no clue as to what Western usually means: and so we are back to Buck Brannaman…



It has been mentioned on that bastion of social media that I am probably not in possession of all the facts–and this is undoubtedly true, I was not there. The use of the bit has been defended by the fact that Brannaman was teaching, carrying out a demonstration, with two unknown horses…this too might well be true and, knowing such events, I would not doubt it. Nevertheless, that in no way changes two things:

  1. Brannaman still found it necessary to ride these horses bitted. A demonstration would have been the ideal moment to show how it can be done bitless
  2. my ‘friend’ who was there specifically says that Brannaman stated that a bit is essential for certain activities.

But this is not the essential point of my post–to be called out for things I don’t deny doing but now reject, to be accused of covering up when there is nothing to cover up (the photos are still there), and especially by someone who apparently rides bitless too…