Bitless bridles are becoming more and more common nowadays. They work by applying pressure to the nose, jaw and poll, but not on the mouth. It is a great option for horses that are not comfortable with a bit in their mouths or have a mouth injury and for training young horses. They are often used in endurance and trail riding and in natural horsemanship.
The hackamore is the first “bitless” bridle that comes to mind.
Similar to a bit, the hackamore can be soft or harsh, depending on the rider’s hands. It is untrue to say that a hackamore is gentler than a bit. The face of a horse is very sensitive and made of many nerve endings. Incorrect use of a hackamore can result in pain and swelling on the nose and jaw. If not fitted correctly and combined with hard hands, it can damage the cartilage of the nose and even break the fine bones protecting the nasal passages.
The crossover bridle or Dr Cook bitless bridle is another popular bitless bridle.
The bridle consists of two straps that cross under the horse’s jaw and move independently of each other. Each strap falls naturally against the contours of the horse’s jaw without tension. Because the straps move freely they are free to move along with the movement of the jaw. When steering, pressure from one rein encourages a change in direction by pushing on the opposite side of the head. Response is more positive from a “push” of the head than from a pull on the bit. The horse follows the direction of the head which remains upright and turns more naturally. When asking the horse to stop, a gentle squeeze of the rein creates a calming effect which initiates a balancing reflex at the poll and gently stimulates the sensitivity behind the ears along with pressure across the bridge of the nose. With the Dr Cook bitless bridle, the braking is more effective as often with a harsh pull of the bit the horse will generally run from the pain. The horse also does not have an opportunity to grab the bit and so prevent the rider from communicating to the horse.
The bitless noseband
This type of bitless bridle works on a tightening of the jaw and nasal cartilage when pressure is applied. A strap of leather passed through two rings on either side of a padded nosepiece. The leather strap has two rings which the reins attach to.
The Sidepull bitless bridle
The sidepull bitless bridle has the reins attached to rings on each side of the noseband. Often they have a rope of the nose to allow the rider some directional and stopping ability. Sidepull bitless bridles are useful for young horses learning the basics of turning and stopping as well as horse who battle to turn and flex at the poll. They also help with horses who evade the bit by tucking their chins into their chests.
Changing over to bitless bridles takes time for you and your horse to get used to unless your horse has been trained from a youngster. It is a great way to enjoy your horse and will increase your understanding of and communication with your horse. Unfortunately, not all disciplines allow the use of bitless bridles, but who knows what the future will bring……