Bitless bridles have greatly grown in popularity over the years. Often seen as a sign that a horse is sensitive and well-trained, riding in a bitless bridle has other advantages, too.
Why go bitless?
Bitless bridles can provide relief and retraining help for horses who have been poorly trained or handled harshly by previous riders. Bitless riding can help horses regain confidence and relearn proper self-carriage. Bitless bridles are sometimes used in the initial training stages, and they can also be used for horses with physical mouth or head issues, such as tooth eruptions or sores on the lips or tongue. Riders may also select to take their horses bitless for the sake of convenience – bitless bridles are popular with frequent trail riders as they allow horses to drink and graze comfortably while on the trail.
Bosals – A bosal is a braided loop, generally made of leather which ends with a large knot, called a heel butt. Attached to a headstall, the bosal sits around the muzzle, and the heel butt, to which the reins are attached, falls just behind the jaw. The reins are part of a mecate, a braid of rough horsehair. As the rider shifts the reins, the reins alter the position of the bosal on the horse’s muzzle; the bosal irritates the horse, causing him to respond accordingly. The rough mecate reins also encourage the horse to neck rein and keep him alert to the signals transferred through the bosal.
Mechanical hackamore – Mechanical hackamores operate on leverage, much in the same way that curb bits operate. The hackamore features a noseband and chin strap, along with shanks which can vary in length. As the rider pulls on the reins, he or she activates pressure on the horse’s muzzle. The pressure is multiplied by the shanks of the hackamore, so an unaware rider can inadvertently put a great deal of pressure on a horse’s face with a mechanical hackamore. Steering is not well-accomplished with a mechanical hackamore, as the shanks don’t allow the reins to truly work independently, so a horse depends on leg and seat cues for turning.
Sidepulls -Sidepulls, which are literally bridles without bits, allow a rider to put pressure directly on a horse’s muzzle through use of the reins. A rider can also signal a turn by pulling on one rein, which will put pressure on the opposite side of the horse’s face. Sidepulls can vary in their intensity depending on their design – some styles include different types of materials, such as chain or hard plastic strips, which are run beneath the noseband. Typically sidepulls create very little discomfort for a horse, which can be a benefit if a rider has poor hands, but which can also allow a horse to essentially “run through” signals being given.
Making the transition
When transitioning your horse to a bitless bridle make sure that you have cues which your horse understands and responds to. If you’ll be riding with a bosal or mechanical hackamore, spend extra time working on cuing your horse to turn with your body weight and legs, since direct rein cues will be difficult with mechanical hackamores and bosals. In making the transition to any sort of bitless bridle, establish a firm halt command with your horse before making the transition. Cue primarily with your seat and your voice, and make sure that your horse responds to this.
When you first ride with a bitless bridle, do so in a small enclosed area, like a round pen, if possible. Give your horse time to adjust to the new equipment, and spend lots of time working on turning and downward transitions. Be patient, and realize that it will take your horse a bit of time to adjust to the new pressures and cues. Don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a trainer if you run into issues with the horse’s transition. With time and a bit of training, you’ll be able to see what benefits going bitless might provide to your horse.
Visit Classic Equine Equipment for additional information.