Behind the Bit

“Headset” is an extinct word in my vocabulary.

Thankfully, most horse show judges these days aren’t fooled by the horse with his nose tucked in. They look past the head to the whole picture, evaluating  balance, roundness and suppleness .

I often describe the horse as in a box, a shape or frame. The rider sends him forward from her legs  (the back of the box) into her hands (the front of the box). The horse rounds his top line and softens to the bit and the energy springs upward rather than running forward.  However, when the front of the box is rigid, or inconsistent, the horse learns to 

  1. lean on it  (the heavy horse)
  2.  fight it (rooting the reins out of the rider’s hands)
  3. or avoid it (behind the bit).

Once a horse discovers how to escape a rider’s noisy or inconsistent hands, he may auto-hide behind the bit, even with a rider of educated hands.  Opting to avoid the front of the box altogether is an example of “avoidance conditioning” in horse science terminology.  He’s found an escape route that works and behind-the-bit becomes his default whether or not the threat is still present.

It’s like cringing and shrinking back in the dentist chair after he’s pricked you once or twice with that sharp little tool. Hard to relax.

“Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice shame on me”. So the saying goes. So many folks protect themselves from further hurt by avoiding confrontation, love or risk.

I’ve found that behind-the-bit horses can be remodeled by encouraging the horse to accept my hands. With flowing, elastic arms, I follow his neck out, as my legs send him forward. I follow every little stretching inclination with a fluid, arm….time after time… until he finds …it’s safe.

We’ve all been hurt and embarrassed in life. Avoidance conditioning says “never again!”

Forgiving hurts. Learning from mistakes. Failing yet rising again to the next challenge.

 “Have no fear; for you will not be dismayed or without hope: you will not be put to shame, for the shame of your earlier days will go out of your memory…” Isaiah 54:4 The Bible