Bits

I was watching a discussion on another group - a cute video of a girl riding a cow (I have a lot to say about that video but not for this discussion). Everyone was talking about how back in the day, when horses were only for the rich people rode all sorts of other animals, cows, llamas, camels and so on. But they were discussing how they never used bits with those animals, so how and why did we develop this tool for horses?

I recently studied a book on bits (The Complete Book of Bits & Bitting by Elwyn Hartley Edwards ), including a wonderful section on history - where I learned the honest past of this tool. Origionally horses were the poor-mans laborer, they couldn't work as hard as cattle or donkeys - they were too hot and not as strong. Most livestock were handled with nose-rings to control them, whips and spikes to urge them forward. Horses were no exception to this - until humans took to riding horses for transportation they began to adapt the tool. See nose rings worked for crude stopping and steering when leading, but not for controlling them from their back or from a cart. So they put the metal in their mouth instead. It started with simple metal rods, rings, leather braided straps, or even ropes through the mouth. This worked well enough until horses stepped up to become tools of war. Their speed and precision, plus their physical strength made them ideal for mounted archery, carrying armored warriors, and pulling large weapons. At this point the level of control needed escalated - so joints, pressure points, spikes and leverage were added to bits - along with complex ways of tying their mouth shut. As humans evolved through war horses continued to be a valuable tool - eventually carrying gunmen and pulling canons, carrying ammunition.

It's not until recently that horses have taken a step away from tools of war and labor. But we carried on these traditions in the form of modern horse sports which have been designed to mimic these war-like environments, Dressage is the mastery of the precision needed of a war horse. Jumping and cross country are for the athletic ability to run through battle fields. Not to mention the Western sports mimicking the need for horses and their classic styles of "breaking" wild horses (rodeos and wild horse races) to be used by humans in an agricultural respect. So when the tools were designed at the dawn of man-kind, we have not evolved past this - we continue to relive the past even past it's necessity, by reliving it in the form of sports. So the tools have remained the same due to tradition and while our education and our needs have changed dramatically from our crude barbarian horseback warriors, our tools and ideas of what makes a good horse-human partnership has not.

It's time for change. It's time for our horse-human-partnership to catch up to our modern knowledge and needs - to progress past these prehistoric, man over beast, forms of control. Technology has taken the burden off of our horse's backs. We have the time, knowledge and ability to do better - it's time we do it.

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