Paying attention to your horses’ comfort is a key element in procuring optimum performance and building a relationship that can lead to longevity, contentment, trust and respect.
Just as heavy-handed techniques aren’t likely to form a positive, long-term bond, heavy or harsh tack may not be a prime choice for those who have their horses’ best interests at heart.
Obviously, we don’t suggest you toss a pillow atop your horse in lieu of a saddle or attempt to steer him with a soft satiny ribbon. Common sense still has to come into play. However; the smartest choices are likely to yield the best results if you’re in this for the long haul.
For trainers who aren’t interested in a partnership or riders who fully believe that they have to “dominate” their equine students in order to get the type of performance they’re after, this advice is meaningless.
For the rest of us though, being mindful of various means to accommodate our horses’ needs without compromising our own safety and goals can lead to highly rewarding and positive developments.
One of the best ways to get the best performance out of your horse is to make sure you acquire a saddle that fits well, is reasonably lightweight yet supportive and that allows him to move out naturally, without restriction.
Depending on your discipline (dressage, endurance, trail or pleasure riding – including western pleasure and equitation), a treeless saddle may be the perfect option. Barefoot saddles are my personal favorite. They’re extremely well made, offer support panels that distribute rider weight effectively and deliver exceptional comfort for both horse and rider.
Experiment with different bits to find one that your horse approves of. It’s a common fallacy to think a poorly behaved horse “needs” a stronger bit. Twisted wires, lengthy shanks and odd contraptions that introduce multiple pressure points are often forced into the mouths of horses who actually need gentler contact, more time and infinitely more patience. A poorly behaved horse is more often than not a confused horse. It’s possible that it’s a confused horse who’s also in pain. Harsh bits are the last thing you need.
If your horse isn’t dealing well with any bit, try a hackamore. Bitless bridles are another piece of tack that may serve you well. Never is the adage “less is more” more accurate than in the world of horsemanship.
The girth is another item that we need to pay close attention to. Finding one that is well padded, wide, has some give and fits properly can significantly effect your horse’s attitude.
Most importantly, learn to listen to your horse. Spend time with her and seek to understand her personality and individual needs. Horses, like people, are individuals. Common and sweeping generalizations aren’t helpful in the long-range development of your equestrian partnerships.
Once you learn to love, appreciate and work with (rather than against) the unique strengths of your equines, you’ll be well on the way to experiencing exceptional joy and growing with them in ways that will offer outstanding benefits for horse and human alike.
Utilizing tack that is gentle on and comfortable for the horse is just one of the ways we can help to foster a healthy and mutually rewarding long-term relationship.