Working forwards. The witless are going bitless because they believe it a more natural way to control their horse and it, some how, will make up for their lack of riding skills. If I see one more video of orchestra conductor arms, and motorbike turn bodies, as being someone´s idea of what bitless riding is all about I will have to up my turmeric mixed with sudocrem and a big dollop of seaweed*.
Going bitless is not an excuse for lack of basic equestrian knowledge. Just because you, your child, your neighbour, is no longer yanking their horses teeth through the back of their head, does not make it right. Going bitless is not the answer to the unbalanced rider who hangs off the bit. Going bitless is not the solution for the rider who has no idea how to use their seat and legs. Those are all witless reasons. Along with the people who ride bareback as they believe it is more natural for the horse. Spherical objects. Natural is not being ridden at all. If you are going to ride bareback you need the same balance as you do for bitless (or any kind of riding), and the ability to move in harmony with your horse, not bounce around like a desperate housewife on washday on the spine of your horse. Even then, in my opinion, bareback should be limited to short spurts of time and not a full trek! But I digress.
The idea behind riding bitless is to remove the pain on tongue, mouth bars and poll that is often caused by a bit. I am not going into the science behind it here, but suffice to say the common scenario is; My horse runs away with me/my horse is too strong for me/my horse is being ridden by a child so I need to up the metal in it´s mouth. Then I notice it keeps it´s mouth open - how ugly! - so I´ll strap it shut with another piece of leather around it´s face. Then my horse starts tossing it´s head up in the air - damned nearly broke my nose! - so I´ll tie it down with a martingale to stop that. - Not one of these scenarios looks for the cause or reason, just battles with a solution. Not one of these scenarios address´s the riders ability, or lack of it. Removing the bit is only a part of the solution. The aids remain the same. So if a rider does not know the correct aids all may seem jolly to begin with. The horse is more relaxed, the head tossing stops, the mouth stays closed etc. But steering the horse around like a shopping cart will eventually cause untold unbalances (shoulders, hips, hooves) and produce new behavior issues due to the horse trying to be heard and, for sure, no one listening. You don´t have to be a stressage level pompandpalaver rider. You do have to know how to ride - correctly. To supply all the basic aids in order to ask of your horse what you will. It is so easy to learn to ride correctly. Oh, and badly fitted bitless bridles is for another day - I think we can assume I have covered badly used ones - but please also keep that, and the connotations, in mind!
Riding bitless is about having the correct bitless bridle (yes, there are many different styles and types) that suits your horse and knowing how to ride with the correct aids. I´d remind us all the classical riding rules derived from the French “Dans la mains” - “In the hand”. So there needs to first be a trail of various bridles until you find the correct one most suited to your horse and you must know how to ride correctly, with balance - posture, seat and legs and the teeniest of wrist movements from correctly collected reins and correctly positioned arms. It´s to say, riding without metal in your horses mouth is not an excuse to ride without conscience of what you (And your lack of balance and skills) are doing.
The totally abandoned hoof is the poor horse who has never been trimmed and lives in a space far too confined for his hoof to have worn correctly, naturally. This can range from the persian-slippered laminitic to the stiletto´d hoof of a horse that is quite regularly ridden, but the owner is unaware their paces are stunted and often painful - and the varying stages in between of prostitute heels (collapsed) or church bell flares. The TAH often also means imbalances despite never having been shod. Foals with box hooves are more often down to lack of movement, rather than birth/conformation fault, and though left to ´develop´ without the confines of a stable or metal, if they aren´t corrected those imbalances move down the bus, causing muscle misalignments, problems with hips, shoulders and backs as time moves forward. If your horse is not moving 25 to 35 kilometers a day, over varied terrain, the hoof is not receiving the stimulation it needs to correctly self-trim. If we then add the horse who was previously shod to the former scenario, the poor equid has even more issues to deal with and less chance of them resolving. Remember, just one year of shoeing causes changes to the hoof.
The farrier trimmed hoof often causes the most contention. The pasture trim recognised and performed by farriers leaves the toes long, the walls at an angle that can only cause further stretching of the toes and weakness to the heels. A farrier who then does this, but provides the marketing twist of giving your horse a bit of a bevel as he/she finishes and calling it a Mustang Roll is fooling you and him/herself. Same scenario, prettier finish! (Now big point must be made here, there are also many farriers now who do know what a barefoot trim is and will happily, correctly, execute it.) In the not so long term your horse will soon become foot sore and further problems will develop if you don´t recognise and make inroads to resolve this as soon as possible. These are often the people who then say barefoot doesn´t work and go back to shoeing their horse, along with the ones who have their hooves trimmed by the final category - the Google expert.
Now Google is a fanastic medium for many things. But would you find a Youtube video on brain surgery, watch it a couple of times then go out and perform it? Of course not. The vast majority of people who go out trimming hooves after watching a few DVD´s would never even consider hammering metal on to a horses hoof themselves - because they don´t have the experience. So it really beggars belief why they think they´re safe to take a knife and rasp to a live creature and trim. I have to say, from what I personally have seen, most of these people don´t ever hack away at hooves, but they often leave hooves unbalanced, or way too long (for fear of the unknown?), which by its very nature causes contractions and leaves party grounds for infections, if not worse.
So, I hope this helps explain that a Barefoot horse is not the same as an unshod horse. A barefoot horse is one that benefits from a complete paradigm - correct diet, adapted living conditions and exercise and a natural balanced trim according to the needs of the hoof.
*Turmeric et al. Another article, another day ;)