Do you ever find yourself wondering whether it would be worth trying a bitless bridle?
Although riding with a bit is often required by the competitions and clubs a rider is involved in, there are times when trying something different could have real benefits beyond being fashionable.
With a good range of bitless options available these days, there will be something you can use when your horse or riding fits the following situations.
Mouth or Jaw Problems:
Some conditions make it difficult to carry a bit comfortably – for example, mouth or jaw injuries, or deformed facial structures; also parrot mouth, wry nose, low palette or a very small oral cavity. Tooth eruptions or damage, insect stings, growths and injuries to the lips, bars or tongue can also make it very uncomfortable for a bit to be worn.
A bitless bridle provides temporary or permanent relief for riding when these conditions allow. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to ride a horse that is recovering from major trauma, but when they are fit to do so, riding bitless makes it possible.
It’s important to find a bitless option that doesn’t impact any of the sensitive tissues of affected areas – for example a young horse with teeth erupting could possibly find the curb chain of a mechanical hackamore or a tight noseband painful.
Starting Young Horses and Basic Training with a Bitless Bridle:
Tradtionally, young horses were started in a cavesson (English) or in a rope halter/bosal hackamore (Western). Experienced horsemen of such earlier eras recognised the need to establish good communication without ‘ruining’ the horse’s mouth.
Thankfully, these traditions are continued by many ‘natural horsemanship’ devotees and classical dressage trainers.
For western riders, the bosal with its thicker, heavier reins is often used to teach the horse to ‘neck rein’. In the English world, it has been proven that starting a young horse in a bitless bridle allows them to learn easily without the distraction of the bit.
A bitless bridle also protects against serious pain or injury if things go wrong such as stepping on a rein if the rider comes off, or being jabbed in the mouth inadvertently when over-reacting to something.
Most horses who have had some ground training learn to respond to a bitless bridle as an extension of halter pressure that they’ve already become accustomed to. Early bitless training allows the horse to learn without painful distractions, and gives the rider a good measure of how effective their teaching is.
When and if a bit is added, the horse already knows how to respond to the rein, seat and leg aids; and so the horse can remain light and sensitive to it’s use.
Rest and Rehabilitation:
Many riders are now finding their performance horse responds well to a rest from the bit.
A bitless bridle gives physical relief from bit pressure in the corners of the mouth and on the bars, allowing them to heal from small lesions or cracks and splits.
When different headgear is used, horses can learn to carry themselves better, move more freely and regain confidence they may have lost if they’ve suffered some bad experiences with a bit.
Many ex-racehorses respond very well to a bitless bridle due to removing the association that a bit means: the demand to run fast.
Those with ‘dead’ mouths can learn to be more responsive when pressure comes from a different area. Excitable horses may calm down when painful and distracting pressure is removed and they are taught to re-focus on gentle rein signals coupled with body and leg aids.
Horses that are used by many different riders such as those in a riding school or trail-riding string can sometimes suffer in the hands of the inexperienced, and those who lack an independent seat.
By using non-leverage bitless head-gear, a horse can be protected from constant fearful grip, sudden jerks and inconsistent pressure on the mouth. A well-padded bitless option is preferable to mechanical hackamores and harsh rope or lariat-style options.
Consideration and Convenience:
Endurance, trail and ranch horses wearing a bridle for long periods, will particularly appreciate the ability to drink, eat on the go and relax without a bit in their mouths all day.
The convenience of a halter-style bitless bridle allows the rider to use just one piece of headgear for catching, tying, ground work and riding. Likewise the horse may appreciate going bitless, so using this option most of the time will improve their wellbeing, and the relationship.
Whatever your riding situation and experience, there will be times when choosing a bitless bridle will benefit both you and your horse.
Click here for more tips on bitless riding and training.