You’re thinking of trying out one of the many bitless bridle types, which is wonderful!
It means you are hopefully, thinking of what is best for your horse!
Before, jumping in, take some time to learn about the different types of bitless bridles.
I’ve put together a list of all the main types and how they work, so read on!
Table of Contents
7 Different Types Of Bitless Bridles
If you’re thinking of using horse bitless bridles that’s great! However, it is not a decision you should jump into. There are a few things to consider before taking this big step for you and your horse.
One is that it is a common misconception that bitless bridles are much kinder than a bit and don’t cause the horse any pain but bits do. Bitless bridles work by applying pressure to the horse’s face.
There are different bitless bridle types, each with more or less facial pressure. Just like bits, the rider must learn how to use them and understand the type of pressure they create when used.
The process is a learning experience that in the end can make both the rider and horse happy. Horses are individuals and will prefer different bitless bridles over bits. Some horses end up going bitless after extensive trial and error using bits.
Mouth confirmation also determines if a horse will be happier bitless. A horse with a low palette, thick tongue, or small mouth might be much happier without a bit.
A good equine dentist can help you determine your horse’s mouth confirmation
Below, I’ve covered the main types of bitless bridles and how strong they are to help you know where to start.
Related: Types of Bridles (Complete Guide)
#1 Side Pull
A side pull is a good starter bitless bridle. It is one of the more gentle types of bitless bridles. If you or your horse are new to riding bitless, considering starting with this style.
This is also a good option for someone that hasn’t mastered steady, quiet hands, as you are less likely to cause too much unwanted pressure on the horse’s face.
You will come across a variety of side-pull bitless bridle styles. They can come in leather or look similar to a rope halter.
A side pull works by applying subtle pressure to the horse’s nose. The nose piece will contain a ring on each side where you attach the reins.
The horse is intended to move into the pressure. So if you move the left rein out then the horse should turn left.
The noseband should sit in the same place as a bridle for a bit. This is the best choice for a novice rider.
#2 Mechanical Hackamore
As I said above, bitless bridles for horses are not made equally. This especially applies to the mechanical hackamore. You will more often see this bridle in showjumping.
It is used on its own or with a bit, known as a combination bit. This type of bitless bridle is not for those new to this style of riding or even novice riders.
A mechanical hackamore can be quite severe and strong. Just because it doesn’t have a bit, does not mean you are being kinder to your horse with this option. It is considered one of the types of leverage bridles.
This option consists of side shanks and a curb chain. The longer the shank, the stronger its action. You can attach a hackamore to a regular bridle. You can use a curb strap instead of a chain to make it slightly less severe.
A mechanical hackamore works by applying pressure to the nose, poll, and chin of the horse. It also gives the rider leverage, but steering is less than you would have with a bit.
They come with different types of nosebands which along with the shanks can affect the severity.
If you want to try this option, transition to it slowly to find the style that your horse likes the most. Some horses really thrive in a hackamore if they have problems with a bit.
Only experienced riders should try these types of bridles.
#3 Cross Under
A cross-under bitless bridle initially looks like a mild option for your horse, but it is deceptive. They look similar to a side pull but have extra straps that make it a lot more severe.
These straps cross under the jaw and come out through a ring on the noseband. You then attach the reins to them. When you pull on the reins the straps tighten, applying pressure to the entire head.
Pulling on one rein will tighten the bridle more on that side of the face. This is a nice option, but as you can see you need to be careful that you aren’t constantly putting pressure on the reins.
Doing this will create constant pressure on the whole head, including poll pressure.
Doing that will be pretty uncomfortable for the horse. If you choose this type of bitless bridle, find someone experienced with them to teach you and your horse the right way to use them.
A bosal is most commonly seen in use by western riders. Well-trained horses in western riding go through a bit progression until they become a ‘bridled’ horse (fully-schooled horses).
The starting bridle most use for a green horse is the bosal.
A bosal is a very simple bridle. It is made up of a basic headstall that attaches to a braided rawhide noseband. Instead of wrapping under the chin, a bosal has ‘arms’ that extend a few inches below the face.
They are then brought together in one section. This is where the special reins that look like a piece of rope are attached. The longer the arms the stronger the bosal.
It works by squeezing the jaw. They help encourage a young horse to be soft. The special reins known as Mecate reins are thick and rough. As the bosal does not provide great lateral control, the reins help teach young horses how to respond to the seat and neck reining.
You are meant to ride with loose contact in the bridle. It encourages lighter communication. The end goal for training purposes is to create horses with sensitivity in communication.
The material of the noseband is also rough to encourage the horse to move away from it. It is important that a bosal fits well so it doesn’t cause too much rubbing on the face and damage delicate cartilage in the face.
The pressure a bosal creates can cause pain, so make sure you learn how to ride with this option correctly, to get the most benefit from it. To use this bridle, you should have a good independent seat
A scrawbrig is one step up from a side pull in terms of how strong it is. The reins attach to rings on the noseband, but instead of being fixed, they are on the end of a strap the goes around the chin groove.
When you apply rein pressure on this bridle, you are applying both chin pressure and nose pressure.
The most well-known convertible bitless bridle is the Rambo Micklem Multibridle. This bridle can be used with or without a bit.
When you ride in this option without a bit it acts in the same way as a scrawbrig or a side pull.
#7 Wheel Hackamore
The wheel hackamore is a type of mechanical hackamore but is less strong as it does not have shanks. It contains a wheel that allows for different options to attach the reins and a curb chain.
Depending on where you attach these will give your increased or decreased leverage.
READ MORE: How To Bridle a Difficult Horse?
Which Bitless Bridle Would You Like to Choose for Your Horse?
Choosing a bitless bridle for your horse is a personal experience and choice.
Not all horses will like one and if they do they will have a preferred type.
When you are starting out on your bitless journey, enlist the help of someone experienced in this area. Now that you have an understanding of the different types, you will know that one of the best options to start off with is a side pull.
A side pull is the mildest type and the most forgiving for a novice or new bitless rider. Once you’ve mastered bitless, you might find that your horse needs something stronger.
At that point hopefully, you feel confident enough to use a stronger bridle while keeping discomfort for your horse at a minimum.
It is important that your riding is up to a decent standard before riding bitless. You should know the correct aids to use and have a good seat.
You should also have good hands, as just like using a bit, every bridle is often only as severe as the person using it.
Still, have some questions about bitless bridles pros and cons? I’ve answered some of the most commonly asked by horse owners here for you.
Are bitless bridles better?
Not necessarily. It is not true that this type of bridle is always kinder to the horse. Some horses don’t like the pressure they cause on the face, while some horses prefer not having a bit in their mouth. Whether they are better is down to the individual horse. Remember, there are all kinds of different types of horses.
Why would you use a bitless bridle?
Choosing to use a bitless bridle is down to the horse. If a horse has a mouth injury where a bit of pain can occur, using a bitless bridle is a good way for them to still get exercise. Or, horses that have certain mouth confirmation, might warrant the use of this type of bridle.
Why are bitless bridles bad?
Just like any type, traditional bridle or bitless, it can be bad in the wrong hands. Some styles can exert a huge amount of pressure on the horse’s face. They can even cause nose and jaw swelling, and pain. Sometimes with rough hands, they can damage the delicate nasal cartilage and facial bones.
Kindest bitless bridle?
The kindest bitless bridle is a side pull. It is almost like riding in a halter with reins attached and causes the most gentle pressure. It is also the least likely to cause any damage to the face, making it a better choice for beginner riders.
What is a Dr. Cook bitless bridle?
Cook bitless is a type of bridle designed by Dr. Robert Cook, a veterinarian from Massachusetts. It is different than a traditional hackamore or side pull. As for pressure, this is gentle and works on the poll and side of the face. This bridle comes in western and English styles and has a choice of brow band.
Can you compete in a bitless bridle?
Many competitions will not allow bitless bridles, the main exception seems to be showjumping where is it usually allowed. Dressage competitions almost never allow it. Before heading out to a show, always check the specific competition regulations.
As you can see choosing the best bitless bridle isn’t as straightforward as many people believe.
First, you need to find out if it is something your horse would prefer and then try the different styles, starting with the mildest.
Ensure, your riding is up to a good standard, as all the usual aids are still essential.
Finally, seek out help from someone experienced in transitioning a horse to bitless riding to guide you both on the process for a happy result. This is especially true for beginner riders.
- KER. 2016. “The Horse’s Mouth: Understanding the Soft Palate – Kentucky Equine Research.” Kentucky Equine Research. February 2016. https://ker.com/equinews/horses-mouth-understanding-soft-palate/.
- “TRADITIONAL (PAIN-BASED) BITLESS BRIDLES 1.” n.d. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.bitlessbridle.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/traditional_bitless_bridles.pdf.
What type of bitless bridle do you use for your horse? Please share with us below!
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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