There are many reasons why you might want to try it. Here are some helpful points to think about if you’re interested in bitless riding.
You might want to try bitless because:
– Your horse doesn’t like the bit – Many horses don’t like bits, possibly because in the past a rider was too hard on their mouth. Horses that don’t like bits do things such as champ at the bit, open their mouth, stick their tongue out, toss their head, or ride behind the bit to try and avoid it. Part of gaining the horse’s trust again could be to ride bitless for a while.
– You are learning a new riding skill – Having quiet hands is important for riding, and even more so with a bit. For example, if you are learning to jump or do sitting trot your hands might bounce and tug the horse’s mouth. This can cause the horse to jump badly, avoid contact, and dislike the bit.
– You want to let your horse eat – It is easier for a horse to munch some grass while on the trail or as a reward during training sessions.
– Your horse can’t have anything in its mouth – Although rare, some horses have a mouth injury or issue where a bit would hurt them.
Are bitless bridles safe?
Despite popular belief, bits don’t give you extra control. A bitless bridle can actually help a horse feel more relaxed, because nothing is inside its mouth, making some “hot” horses calmer and safer to ride.
Teaching Your Horse to Go Bitless
It’s important to teach your horse how to listen to the new bitless bridle from the ground before you ride. Most horses understand the bitless bridle quickly and easily, so it is usually a very easy switch. Make sure you do all these exercises from both sides.
1) Fit the bitless bridle to the horse: Generally they should fit the same as a bitted bridle, but follow the recommendations from the manufacterer or seller. 2) Lead your horse around the ring: a) Use the reins to turn your horse left and right. Each time you pull the rein, pull softly and then release the pressure when the horse turns. b) Practice stopping the horse by pulling back softly and releasing the pressure when the horse stops. You can jog beside your horse while he trots, and then try pulling back to stop. It is important that the horse is stopping because they feel you pull back on the reins – not just because you stop. Make sure you pull back first, and then stop your feet as your horse stops. c) Try backing the horse up by gently lifting the reins and then pulling back. Ask for one step at a time; as the horse steps back, release the pressure (this tells your horse he did the right thing). d) Put your horse in a lateral bend. Stand by the saddle position and then pull the rein towards you to tip the horse’s nose to the side. After the horse bends to the side you can lift the rein towards the horse’s withers. Your horse will probably try to walk in a circle the first few times you do this, so make sure you keep the tension in the rein, and walk with your horse as he turns, staying beside the saddle. The moment the horse stops moving, release the rein a little, and then try gently pulling again to ask the horse to turn his nose. The goal is to get the horse to bend his neck right around so that his nose touches the stirrup. Once the horse is bending his neck and standing still, release the rein. 3) Ride with both bridles: If your horse is used to a bit, you may want to ride the first few times bitless with both bridles on your horse. Put the bitless bridle on, and then put the bridle with the bit on over top. Have a set of reins for both bridles. When you ride, try to only use the reins for the bitless bridle, but if your horse gets really confused you can pick up the reins attached to the bit to help him understand.
Which bitless bridle is right for you?
There are many different types of bitless bridles – these are some of the most common types:
Rawhide Sidepull: The top part of the noseband is rawhide, and there are rings at the sides to attach reins. Pros: works very well for loose-rein riding, similar to a halter with pressure on the top part of the nose so horses tend to understand it easily. The rawhide is rough enough that should the horse try to pull the reins from you, you can pull back, making it uncomfortable enough that the horse will find it difficult to ignore you. This is especially great for kids. Cons: Because the rawhide isn’t comfortable for a horse to lean on, sidepulls don’t usually work well for riding in contact/collection – a smoother nosepiece works better for that. You can make the nose piece softer with a cover (like a halter fuzzy).
Rope Halter Hackamore: Looks like a rope halter with reins. Some types have reins that attach to the bottom of the nose piece (like a bosal), and others have rings at the sides for reins. Pros: If you use a rope halter to play with your horse on the ground, then the pressure and signals will be very familiar to him. You can use the rope halter both for groundwork and when riding. The rope can be comfortable enough for your horse to ride in contact. Cons: Some horses may lean against the rope halter and find it easy to ignore you – especially if you don’t have the arm strength or technique to prevent the horse from leaning.
Standard Hackamore: This is the hackamore used by some professionals in the grand prix jumping ring. Pros: This type of hackamore connects to any regular bridle and puts pressure on the nose, with a chain or leather piece under the horse’s chin. They have leverage and can be very strong, so they work for horses that tend to pull. You can use either a leather piece or chain under the chin depending on how much pressure you want. Cons: Some horses find it too strong and might not want to have contact or collection in it.
Head-hugger or Crossunder Bridle: There are different types, such as the Dr. Cook or Nurtural bridle, but the key feature is that they cross under the chin and pulling on both reins tightens the bridle around the horse’s head. Pros: They are soft enough to ride in collection/contact. Cons: Some horses don’t like how the bridle tightens around their head, while others can ignore you in these bridles because the design makes it comfortable for the horse to lean.
Bosal: This is typically a Western bitless bridle that works very similarly to a rope hackamore with reins attached to the bottom. Pros: It attaches to a regular headstall. Usually made with smooth rawhide, they work well on sensitive horses or for riders that tend to be busy with their hands, but can still be firm enough to get a horse’s attention. Cons: They are designed to be ridden on a loose rein – when you lift the reins the horse feels the bosal lift – so they aren’t meant for riding with contact. They require special reins to attach to the bosal. Some people find steering with reins attached under the horse’s chin more challenging than reins attached at the side of horse’s nose.
Choosing the right bitless bridle for your horse could take some time and involve trying a few types. While you want the bridle to be comfortable, in the event your horse gets really strong or distracted you need to get his or her attention quickly. This is why horses that tend to get strong or kids might do best using the side pull or standard hackamore, because you can apply a lot of pressure with little effort if necessary. Of course, solid training and preparation beforehand is the key.