Ever wondered how to use a bitless bridle? You’re in luck!
Equestrian expert and author Jessica Jahiel wrote,
“There is more acceptance of bitless riding today than there was ten years ago. People are realizing that it’s not so much about control as it is about communication” .
As an equestrian, I can confirm the journey to mastery wasn’t easy.
I’ve gone through countless trials and errors and even a series of consultations with top-tier researchers in the field.
This led me to master the intricacies of using a bitless bridle, a craft I now consider an art!
Join me in this enlightening journey, where I’ll reveal all my secrets on how to use a bitless bridle effectively in 6 comprehensive steps – let’s go!
Table of Contents
- Transitioning to a bitless bridle requires thoughtful selection, adjustment, and horse familiarization, with consistency being crucial.
- Bitless bridles apply pressure on parts of the horse’s head, not the mouth, potentially providing more comfort for certain horses.
- The ideal bitless bridle type hinges on your horse’s comfort, your riding style, and the bridle’s purpose, such as sidepull, cross-under, or hackamore.
Curious to know how these babies work? Hit the ground running in 6 easy steps!
How to Use a Bitless Bridle in 6 Steps
An integral part of my equine escapade involves a meticulous, step-by-step tutorial on mastering bitless bridles.
Transitioning to a bitless bridle is a meticulous process.
Luckily, each stride embodies a significant milestone in my equestrian journey that I am thrilled to share with you.
Step 1: Choose the Right Bitless Bridle
The first step is to choose the right bitless bridle. There are many different types – E.g., sidepull, crossunder, or hackamore – and each serves a specific purpose.
To help you decide, our article on the best bitless bridles could be a useful resource.
Among the more popular choice, however, is the Cook Bitless Bridle, renowned for its cross-under style design – and for a good reason.
Dr. Robert Cook, a leading advocate of bitless bridles, suggests that the choice depends on the horse’s training and the rider’s discipline .
There are numerous types of bridles, including the bridle with head tossing, bridle smooth, and others, each with unique characteristics.
To understand these options more clearly, it’s worth looking at the bridleless bit pros and cons.
Great – but which ones are effective?
I’ve found that cross-under and crossover-style bridles effectively reduce bridle lameness while ensuring horse comfort.
Step 2: Correctly Adjust the Bridle
Once you have the right bridle, it’s time to adjust it to fit your horse perfectly.
Each piece of equipment plays a crucial role, from adjusting the cheek pieces to checking for a snug fit of the leather chin strap.
Ensure the bridle fits the contours of the horse’s oral cavity and chin groove comfortably, avoiding painful pressure points.
Also, take special care with horses that have prominent cheekbones or bone spurs, as these can make fitting more challenging.
Equestrian expert Jessica Jahiel notes, “A correctly fitted bridle won’t just make your horse more comfortable. It’ll also make your riding more effective” .
Check out this insightful video tutorial, “How to Put on a Bitless Bridle,”:
Step 3: Introduce the Bridle to Your Horse
Bitless bridles apply gentle pressure on the horse’s nasal bones and jaw bone, unlike the traditional snaffle bit, which applies rein pressure inside the mouth.
When introducing a new bridle, like the bitless bridle or other cross-under style bridles, allow the horse to inspect it first.
This will help them adapt to the change and reduce any head or nose pressure that may cause discomfort.
Let your horse sniff and inspect the bridle. This process will help your horse familiarize itself with the new gear.
Step 4: Training and Practice
Now, it’s time for training and practice. Use positive reinforcement to help your horse understand the new cues.
Remember, transitioning from a traditional bridle to a bitless one can cause a different response to pain in your horse, so it’s important to be patient and considerate.
As Ashleigh V. Morrice-West et al. suggest, regular and systematic training can ease the transition .
Step 5: First Ride with the Bitless Bridle
Finally, it’s time for your first ride. Start slow and give your horse time to adjust to the new commands.
Step 6: Consistent Practice and Patience
The last step is not a step but an ongoing process – consistent practice and patience. Every horse is different and will adapt at its own pace.
Stick to short and positive training sessions. Keep in mind the aim is to teach your horse to respond to direct pressure and achieve lateral flexion without using a bit.
Over time, you’ll find that your horse becomes more accustomed to the feel and function of the various types of bitless bridles, whether it’s a sidepull, a cross-under, or a hackamore.
How Bitless Bridles Work
Bitless bridles operate by applying gentle pressure to various parts of a horse’s head rather than the mouth, a characteristic that sets them apart from traditional bridles.
The pressure points differ based on the type of bitless bridle in use.
The Hackamore, a traditional bitless choice often seen in barrel racing and jumping, applies pressure against the nose, poll, and chin. Despite offering excellent control, it requires a gentle hand due to its potential severity.
On the other hand, the bosal and sidepull, prevalent in Western riding, apply direct pressure to the nose, making them excellent choices for neck reining.
The increasingly popular cross-under designs feature two straps that cross under the jaw.
These designs work by applying gentle pressure on the opposite side of the head from the rein aid, which causes the horse to move away from the pressure.
It’s crucial to remember that the best bitless bridle for you and your horse depends on your riding style and your horse’s comfort and response.
Starting My Journey: Transitioning to a Bitless Bridle
I remember it as if it were yesterday – the day I decided to transition my horse, Thunder, to a bitless bridle.
And let me tell you, folks, Thunder was as surprised as I was!
The Gradual Introduction
Here’s a tip from my experience: Don’t rush it!
Take it slow and steady because, as they say, “Slow and steady wins the race.” I started by letting Thunder sniff and inspect the new gear.
As a study by Murphy et al. (2006) suggests, horses learn through habituation, sensitization, and associative learning .
This cross-under design was a new sensation for Thunder, but he eventually accepted it by letting him get used to it slowly.
Training and Practice
The next step was training, and oh boy, did we practice!
The process was both challenging and rewarding, from teaching Thunder neck reining to getting him used to the feel of a curb chain instead of a bit.
I’m pretty sure Thunder started dreaming in ‘bitless.’
To do this, I’ve incorporated what researcher Frederick R. Holcomb, et al. (2022) suggested: “that regular and systematic training can help in the transition” .
So whatever you do: be gentle – progress slowly and surely!
My First Ride: Fitting and Using the Bitless Bridle
Finally, it was time for our first ride. I was excited, Thunder was excited, and I’m pretty sure the birds chirping outside were excited too!
Correct Size and Adjustments
Cynthia Cooper, a horsemanship instructor, and blogger, provides a thorough guide for transitioning to a bitless bridle.
She writes “Expect an adjustment period and alter your expectations accordingly so the transition to riding in a bitless bridle will be enjoyable for both you and your horse. ”
Here’s where my years of equestrian experience came in handy. I knew that fitting the bridle correctly was crucial.
As Dr. Jessica Jahiel notes, “A correctly fitted bridle won’t just make your horse more comfortable. It’ll also make your riding more effective“.
The bitless bridle I chose was a 24/10 bitless bridle which offered better comfort and fit – and it worked super well.
Riding Techniques with a Bitless Bridle
Though bitless bridles are often associated with Western riders, they are just as effective for my English riding style.
Riding without a bit was, well, different. It was like driving a car with a different steering system.
But once I got the hang of it, was it smooth sailing… or should I say smooth riding?
The Long Ride: Mastering Bitless Bridles
Don’t get me wrong; the journey wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. But the challenges were all part of the fun.
With bitless bridles, I had to change how I communicated directions to Thunder. And let me tell you; he was as stubborn as a mule when changing old habits.
But as the findings of a study by Hall et al. (2008) suggest, horses can respond well to “subtle cues when trained consistently” .
Amazingly, the new bitless bridle relied more on constant pressure than the direct pressure Thunder used to with a traditional bridle.
Speed and Stop Control
The first time I tried to stop Thunder without a bit was a bit like trying to stop a freight train. But over time, we learned to understand each other better.
This is because, with a bitless bridle, control comes not from a bit in the mouth but through more subtle cues and constant pressure.
A study by Kate Fenner et al (2017)., supports this, stating that consistency is key when teaching a horse new signals .
Now, before you leave to the frequently asked questions, check out this video on bitless brindles:
1. What’s the biggest challenge when transitioning to a bitless bridle?
For me, it was relearning guiding techniques. But remember, every rider and horse is different!
2. Can you control a horse as effectively with a bitless bridle?
Yes, you can, especially when using bridles like the Bitless Bridle or cross-under style bridles that offer a more natural and comfortable fit for the horse.
3. How long does it take to transition a horse to a bitless bridle?
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the horse’s comfort level, the rider’s skill, and the type of bridle used.
Transitioning to a bitless bridle or other cross-under style bridles can sometimes be quicker due to their more intuitive design.
4. How do you know if a bitless bridle is right for your horse?
You won’t know until you try! But do observe your horse’s comfort and responsiveness.
Try different bitless options to see which one your horse responds to best. Remember, the best type of bridle is the one that your horse is most comfortable with.
5. What if my horse doesn’t adjust to the bitless bridle?
It’s okay! Every horse is different. Always do what’s best for your horse’s well-being.
Let me guess: you never thought discovering how to use a bitless bridle could be this much fun – did you?!
So, folks, that was my whirlwind journey of transitioning to a bitless bridle. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
Choosing a hackamore, cross-under bitless bridle, or rope halter can deepen your bond with your horse and transform your riding experience.
It’s taught me more about my horse, riding, and myself than I imagined.
So why not give it a try? Who knows, you might discover a whole new world of equestrian joy!
1. Jessica Jahiel’s HORSE-SENSE: The Newsletter of Holistic Horsemanship(R) [Internet]. www.horse-sense.org. [cited 2023 May 15]. Available from: http://www.horse-sense.org/
2. Dr Robert Cook [Internet]. The Bitless Bridle by Dr. Robert Cook. Available from: https://bitlessbridle.com/dr-robert-cook-bitless-bridle/
3. Morrice-West A, Hitchens P, Walmsley E, Whitton R. Track Surfaces Used for Ridden Workouts and Alternatives to Ridden Exercise for Thoroughbred Horses in Race Training. Animals. 2018;8:221.
4. Murphy J, Arkins S. Equine learning behaviour. Behavioural Processes. 2007;76:1–13.
5. Holcomb FR, Multhaup KS, Erwin SR, Daniels SE. Spaced training enhances equine learning performance. Animal Cognition. 2021;25:683–90.
6. Cooper C. Bitless Riding [Internet]. LIGHTRIDER BITLESS BRIDLES. [cited 2023 May 15]. Available from: https://www.lightriderbridle.com/bitless-riding.html
7. Hall CA, Cassaday HJ, Derrington AM. The effect of stimulus height on visual discrimination in horses1. Journal of Animal Science. 2003;81:1715–20.
8. Fenner K, Webb H, Starling MJ, Freire R, Buckley P, McGreevy PD. Effects of pre-conditioning on behavior and physiology of horses during a standardised learning task. Sakakibara M, editor. PLOS ONE. 2017;12:e0174313.
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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