I have nothing against riding a horse in a bit. In fact, until recently, it wasn’t even an issue. I’ve ridden all my horses in some form of snaffle and never thought much about it.
For my Trakehener gelding, bits have always been an issue. During the 12 years that I’ve owned this horse, I’ve yet to find a bit that really worked for him. Part of the problem is that he has a thick tongue and a low palate, which doesn’t leave much room for a bit. He is also uber sensitive and needs rock-steady hands (and of course his expressive movement makes that more difficult to achieve).
Every ride he would spend a good part of the time fussing with his mouth. Keeping his attention was difficult. I had reasonably good success with bits that stayed stable in his mouth: Happy Mouth Mullen Mouth with either eggbutt or D cheekpieces, Baucher with a french link, Myler Full Cheek Triple Barrel Mullen, for example, but none really addressed this issue. Yes, focusing on energizing his hind end helped, but he still fussed with his mouth. I’m not a big fan of using a crank noseband, flash or figure-8 to keep a horse’s mouth shut; to me that is addressing the symptom rather than the cause.
My first foray into bitless riding was with the Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle. I’ve read excellent reviews about this design, which seems to work for many horses. Here’s how it’s described on their Website:
The Bitless Bridle™ . . . allows the rider to communicate by painless pressure that is distributed around the whole of the head. Whereas a bit often applies harsh pressure to the mouth, over a small area, The Bitless Bridle™ distributes its gentle pressure to far less sensitive tissues and distributes even this amount of pressure over a wide area. It does this through two loops, one over the poll and one over the nose. Essentially, it gives the rider an inoffensive and benevolent method of communication by applying a nudge to one half of the head (for steering) or a hug to the whole of the head (for stopping).
Here’s a diagram, also from their site, on how the bridle works:
Unfortunately, this design didn’t suit my horse, probably because of the poll pressure. His reaction to even the slightest pressure from the bridle was to try and rear. Instead of taking any kind of “contact” he sucked back and avoided any pressure from the bridle, no matter how much leg I put on. I tried this for a few weeks, and then moved on. I don’t think that it’s a bad design, just not appropriate for this horse.
Next, I tried a jumping hackamore, which is similar to riding in a halter. The result was okay, but not ideal. I did not feel that I had a lot of control, but felt fine for going out on hacks.
Last year I became intrigued by the LG Bridle because it operates in a completely different way, using pressure across the nose, and in some positions pressure from a curb chain, rather than poll pressure, and uses the more traditional approach of a direct rein aid — to turn left, you use your left rein (the Dr. Cook’s bridle, due to its cross under design “pushes” on the opposite side of the horse’s head to achieve a turn). It also can be calibrated in its effect with milder and stronger settings. I’ve posted a review here on the bridle, but in short, it’s a great solution for my horse. With this bridle, my horse will take contact. He doesn’t lean and isn’t heavy in my hands, but is steady and consistent. After schooling him in the traditional position, which has a mild mechanical action.
I still find that I have to be careful to calibrate the strength of the bridle to the task. For most ring work or trails, I attach the reins in a side pull position. For more exciting events such as foxhunting or hunter paces, I revert to the conventional configuration. I have not ever tried attaching shanks to the bridle which would make it a conventional hackamore.
Next, I’m interested in trying the Micklem Multibridle which has a more conventional appearance, can be used with or without a bit, and which also allows different levels of control. I also like the way it’s been anatomically designed so that it fits a horse’s head more effectively. One of the complaints that I have with the LG Bridle is that the cheekpieces tend to creep up toward my horse’s eye. More on that design to follow soon!