There are now 100’s of bitless bridles on the market, with various types and multi bridles, how do you know which one to select for your horse?
You might turn to social media and pose the question, you’re sure to get over 100 replies with different bridles for different reasons, does this give you more of a clue or perhaps it makes the task even more daunting?
That’s what I thought when I was first looking at modern bitless bridles. Up until then I’d only ever used a rope halter and a bosal and those seemed to work okay for my horse but I wanted to learn more, how they worked differently and why some bridles didn’t work for us.
The answer is quite vast in itself so I have broken it down to anatomy, type and training. The truth is there isn’t just one bridle that will suit every combination, however there are some which will suit a majority of horses, but not the riders. Why do I say that? Because if you’re simply looking to switch out your bitted bridle for a bitless one the you’re less likely to experience all of the same benefits as if you were looking at this from a re-training a psychology & bio-mechanical perspective. My interest in bitless has led me down both of these paths and with good reason.
From a psychological point of view, the bit / bitted bridle can carry negative associations for your horse. It’s like looking at a spider if you have a fear of them, some horses will do anything to avoid the bridle but there are others who seem okay. So we learn it’s subjective to the horse’s previous experience of being ridden and if they have experienced any pain or trauma from an incorrectly fitted bitted bridle. The undesired behaviour(s) of the horse experienced by the rider could come from anatomical / biomechanical reasons. The horse is uncomfortable, possibly is in pain or has experienced past trauma that could be unknown to the rider. These reactions can come in many forms, such as evading contact, bolting, rearing, head shaking to name a few. But it is only if this pain is related to poor bridle fit or the bit, that the behaviour will change when it is removed, and not always straight away as there can be a memory of discomfort/pain.
It’s important to remember that swapping out the bitted bridle for a bitless bridle without looking for further cause may not change the situation and in fact if the rider is worried about the bridle, it may cause the situation to become worse as the reactions of the rider can become fear based. The rider may then say that bitless doesn’t work for their horse, because the horse bolted or performed undesired behaviours. Even if they performed these with a bit, it affects the rider less because they feel safer riding with the bit due to what they are told from friends, professionals – that bitless is “dangerous” and they will have “no control”. But the only thing dangerous here is a rider with strong fear trying to transition blindly without the knowledge they need to empower their decision making process. You wouldn’t ask someone with a fear of flying to fly a plane? The second turbulence hit would they be able to make a decision? No! That is why psychology of the rider is important, as is the psychology of the horse. Both must be addressed and both are equally important.
When we make the transition to bitless with knowledge, support and confidence the possibilities of what we can experience leaves so many riders overjoyed and they share this every day on their posts within groups. It always makes my day to hear about a horse and rider being more comfortable and happy in their training and overall partnership. There are many anatomical and psychological reasons for switching to bitless and I will share more in my free webinar which you are invited to later in this article.
On many levels, a well fitted, appropriate bitless bridle has the possibility of reducing tension in the horse’s head which will relate back through the body. This ease in tension could improve both the emotional balance of the horse and physical range of motion. I write COULD, because this is not certain, there are too many variables involved such as the riding style, previous training, knowledge of the rider. It is often said it is the hands of the rider which is most important and YES, we must take this in to strong consideration. However if we are talking about a piece of ill fitting tack or a device which is causing discomfort, the hands of the rider cannot improve upon this, only not worsen it. If we can reduce the discomfort, indeed strive to make the horse as fully comfortable as possible, then surely this is the ultimate goal. This is what CAN be done through listening to the horse with bitless (or perhaps even bridleless) riding.
Fitting & Assessing for a Bitless Bridle
There are a few elements that differ with the bitless bridle, depending on the TYPE of bitless bridle being used. The noseband must always certainly be positioned in an area that is the lease likely to cause any harm (as important as the bit placement is in the mouth). This is because almost all (very few exceptions) bitless bridles use some form of contact on the nose, different types will exert pressure / contact on other areas of the head and this is where anatomy becomes important.
Because the experience of each horse is subjective, I’ve developed an assessment process which will give us an indication of likely issues with different types of bitless bridles and give good indicators to possible issues which can be followed up by the correct professional should the rider choose to do this. Find out more about assessment.
This is why all of those recommendations through people who have never met you or your horse are fairly pointless. If it helps you to look at more bridles and trial bridle after bridle until you find the one that works best, then they can be useful, but how likely is it that you will purchase umpteen bridles just to try? How do you know if that bridle that gives you a better result than the bit, is actually still not the best you could achieve?
The fitting of the rest of the bridle does not differ much from that of an ordinary bridle, but how much are horse owners taught about this? There are multiple areas on the head which can impact the horse mechanically, psychologically (discomfort via nervous system) etc. The new extended book Bitless & Bridleless goes in to this in far more detail. By learning more about bridle fit and how this can impact our horses positively and negatively we are in a much better position to make decisions when we are fitting the bridle to our horses. Both the guide and the new book include a chapter on measuring for bridle fitting.
The Benefits of Bitless
This is an area in which there is much more research to be done, but if it interests you I have a FREE webinar which will be discussing this and other topics around transitioning to bitless. If you are a happy hacker, trainer, therapist or competitor this will benefit all equestrians. I am fortunate to be joined by the rider in these photographs, professional event rider Niamh O’Carroll who I have had the pleasure to work with this past 2 years will be sharing how bitless has benefited her horses in training and competition.
Freebie Alert! I will be giving away 3 signed copies of the Bitless Masterclass DVD, so if you would like to be in with a chance to receive a copy please do join in – limited spaces!