I used to ride my sometimes high-headed gelding with a martingale and a gentle enough bit, but it did have cheekpieces. I rode bareback sometimes, but for the most part, I schooled him in full tack. These days, however, my life is different. Our family's 19-year-old Paint mare, Sugar, is not really in training. She just exists to please. My young daughter rides Sugar the most, and her preferred mode is with a bitless Dr. Cook bridle and no tack. Very low-key.
So I was happy to see that German horse trainers Andrea and Markus Eschbach, endorse my daughter's choices. They often ride without tack. They list some familiar reasons for their decisions--Dr. Cook's research on the damage bits can cause, the absolute joy and unity felt when riding bareback--and some newer ones, too. The Eschbachs respond to pretty much every question you've wondered if you've seen this type of riding before--like "Where is the emergency brake?" (Interval braking, well-trained horse, and the simple fact that bitted and saddled horses don't really have an emergency brake, either.)
The whole book has a very accessible, down-to-earth tone--there is even a page on how to contact the authors--and while you can tell it has been translated from the German, it reads smoothly and with all consciousness about English idioms. The Eschbachs eschew much of the salesmanship that some clinicians can't seem to avoid; they don't want you to buy their particular neck loop, they just want to tell you how and why to use one.
Although the Eschbachs include a caveat at the book's beginning about how you should wear a helmet even though they don't, it's a little unnerving to see the photos of them riding helmetless at full gallop. After reading their writing, however, you understand the premium they place on naturalness. (Still, wear a helmet.) Their main point is how much your riding affects your life. "We actually believe that 'Riding Free' not only applies to your horse," they write, "but also to you. Free yourself from the constraints, burdens, and stresses of your daily routine and concentrate only on the partner that is carrying you."
Sometimes, I have to admit, I have looked at my daughter and thought the whole scene, while adorable, was also a little haphazard. Shouldn't she have a cute saddle pad and set of anti-grazing reins and a grab strap on her polished English saddle, like the other kids?
Now, thanks to the Eschbachs, I know better.
The Smart Woman's Guide To Midlife Horses
Melinda Folse also writes to liberate riders from a confining mindset. Her book, The Smart Women's Guide To Midlife Horses, is the perfect gift for your friend who has just decided to fulfill that childhood dream and start riding. It's written with humor--Folse recalls when she tried to ask some questions about feed, and all she could think was "'What the hell is Calf-Manna?'" As far as selecting a shoer: "You'd be surprised at the regular abuse I've witnessed as my horsey friends put up with surly, grunting, ondescending farriers. It doesn't have to be that way, girlfriends!"
The book is peppered with real-life stories of midlife women riders, like that of an ex-Pony Clubber who, at midlife, adopted an ex- racehorse. Another woman taught herself natural horsemanship from Clinton Anderson DVDs, and transformed a recalcitrant stallion.
Folse's topics range from the very basic--she includes an exercise for imagining your perfect horse as you shop--to the more hard-core, such as fencing. But the book doesn't lose its focus on its audience: smart midlife women who are seeking to find pleasure--and plenty of fun--with their horses.
Both books are from Trafalgar Square Books (print and Kindle/e-book).