On the Bit(less) Bridle: A Comparison


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:

Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle

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.

LG Bridle

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!

Miklem Multibridle

About these ads

22 responses

  1. I have looked at the Multibridle also. I am currently using Dr. Cook Bridles on all of my horses but my half-Arab reacts very strongly to his. I am going to try moving things around to use it as a sidepull. Please post your findings about the Multibridle. Thanks.

  2. I have just started using a ‘Nurtural’ bridle on my very green 5 year old arab. He doesn’t have specific issues with bits, he’s just not very generous and I’m trying to make sure that he has as little as possible to gripe about (he’s barefoot, with boots on just after a trim and has a Strada saddle with a flexible tree). Do you have any opinions/knowledge of these? It’s not unlike a Dr. Cook I think. Have used it three times so far and he seems fine in it but I think there will be a lack of feel for me!

  3. Sunset Halters makes a great bitless bridle that is pretty much just a rope halter with the cross under jaw straps. I haven’t used it, but I have heard many good things about it. It does put some pressure on the poll, but I don’t think as much as a Dr. Cook. The only problem with the Sunset Halter’s version of a crossover bitless bridle is that it looks very western so English riders might not like it.

    http://www.sunsethalters.com/bitless.php

    The Multi-Bridle looks okay, but there doesn’t seem to be that much going on with bitless version. It looks like it would stay tight and not give much release, acting more like a really tight halter or noseband.

  4. Bitless bridles are very neat, and a horse at my barn uses one, as he is a frequent teeth grinder. His owner has always tried to find a bit for him that’s appropriate for his habit, but could never find one that would last for long. He’s been bitless for a while now, and rides just the same, if not, better in it than one with a bit. I ride my pony in quite a harsh bit, Double Twisted Wire full cheek snaffle, and have never had anything against any bit. When used correctly, any bit can be a suitable and not a harsh bit.

  5. I use Dr. Cooks bitless bridle on my 21 yr old arabian, who was extremely sensitive to tongue pressure. When I got him he would toss his head and lean on the bit. It was terrible. I tried everything. Then I found Dr. Cooks bitless bridle and I won’t use anything else. I ride english and western.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for reading Equine Ink. I’m glad the Dr. Cook’s worked for your horse. Isn’t it a tremendous relief to find a bitting (or bitless) solution that allows you to really communicate?

      I hope you come back and read more!

      Liz

  6. Hi All

    The best bridle I’ve tried is the Corbin bridle. The bridle allows you to retrain your horse to go bitless by combining the bit and bitless aids together. really made it easy and I always felt safe in my training.

    Robin

  7. Pingback: EQUINE Ink

  8. Pingback: Should bitless bridles be allowed in USEF competitions? « EQUINE Ink

  9. Hi,
    I’m new to all this but have been thinking of using a bitless bridle on my 10 year old as the idea of having a steel bar in the mouth doesnt really appeal to me. Im a novice happy hacker/small jumps but my son loves to hunt him. I’ve been advised that if i make the change it has to be complete. Is there an issue with loss of control in hunting conditions as safety is my main concern.

    • Here I am a year later and much more in tune with my horse (and he with me :-)): decided one day to just put reins on a headcollar and see how he went> Amazing!. Responded very well to all transitions I asked for and was good as gold out hacking in the forest afterwards. Plan to see how he does over jumps/xc in the spring. I know definately not to try this on a hunt as he’s barely controllable with all his excitement in that situation.

  10. For the lady who wants to try bitless you should check out http://www.corbinsaddlery.com they sell a bridle that has 4 different styles. you can go regular bitted, combine the bit and noseband aids together (very useful for retraining), the bridle can then become a sidepull bitless and also made into a cross under bitless. I think it’s a nice looking bridle and works great for my mare.

  11. I have been researching ALL of the bitless bridles that I can find but have not purchased one yet. My 10 yr old Appy gelding tends to toss his head a lot and constantly play with the bit – thus, why I’m thinking of making the switch. I also have a 3 yr old App that I’m starting this year and a 4 yr old App that my 3 yr old daughter rides – I want to switch them all. All advice is appreciated. Thank you.

    • The trick with going bitless is to figure out what type of pressure your horse responds to best. Some horses do fine with poll pressure, others do better with pressure on the nose.

      As for changing over, always start in an enclosed area to make sure that you have brakes and steering! My experience with bitless bridles is that they work best when you ride mostly off your seat; they do not provide the most subtle form of communication through the bridle.

  12. Ive used a few different styles of bitless bridle and don’t use bits at all,
    I use Dr Cooks or No Bit Bridles(Aus). (these two bridles are very similar) cross understlye on a couple of my horses and find them great, one of my horses doesn’t like it too much so I also use a “Lightrider Bitless Bridle” it has a soft chin strap which you can attach your reins to a uses pressure under chin and across nose, or you can use it as a side pull only. You can also get a nose band in this design to suit bridles you already have.

  13. I’m a journalist who has been researching the issue of bits as well as treatment of horses and it is clear in most discussions about horses is the wellbeing and feelings of the horse. The goal apparently by most riders is how to get their horse to ‘do’ something rather than to question whether or not it is appropriate or compassionate to ask in the first place. Also, trying a bitless bridle a few times after years of behavioral issues and then saying the bitless is not appropriate for one’s horse, is not a rational argument. Forgo impatience and bringing one’s skills and knowledge of horse behavior, horse psychology and welfare up to par with the times is what truly makes a person an authentic horseman/woman.

    • As someone who has ridden their horses both bitless and with bits, I think that the decision is a bit more complicated than your premise. Most effective riding is about the harmony that occurs between the rider and the horse; it’s not a question of asking a horse to “do” something that it is disinclined to do. In fact it’s darned difficult to force a horse to do something it doesn’t want to, whether or not it has a bit in its mouth. Some horses do extremely well with a bitless bridle, others do not. It is no more appropriate to believe that “only” bitless is the “right” way to ride a horse than it is to believe that traditional bitted bridles are the only way to go. I had a horse that was obviously happier going bitless. In fact, he went best in the mildest of bitless bridles — a side pull. I was able to school him in dressage and foxhunt him in this bridle with no problems. My other horse is not so accepting of the bitless bridle but is very happy, relaxed and obedient in a snaffle. In my opinion, being an authentic horseperson means that you listen to your horse.

  14. Brava, Liz! Listening to your horse is the passkey to solving most issues. After 34 years of riding and training everything (or nearly) from show Saddlebreds with full–double–bridles; driving, dressage, trail & endurance horses; TBs on and off the track, variety of gaited and non-gaited breeds, retraining show jumpers and many abused & “problem” horses, to pleasure hacks we can hop on bareback and ride with neck rope only…I don’t think there is ONE “right” way for everyone all the time. I normally use side pulls to start and retrain then move to Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridles once they work well off seat/leg and learn to wait for rider’s signals, but I also use a balance rein from Linda Tellington-Jones which I think is invaluable regardless of headgear. I have a tack room full of bits…most of which collect dust these days and only a few get used periodically. Whatever the horse seems to need to keep both safe and happy is most likely the “right” gear.

    • Cindy, getting ready to start a 3yr old to learn to work off seat and leg,she has only had a bit in her mouth a couple of times but seems to be fine with it, but really interested in trial riding full time in a bitless bridles, any ideas

  15. Ms. Sun had a good point – there are many riders who just want their horse to “do” something and treat the horse like a machine. Not those of you who post here – but yes there are people who are only interested in what their horse can do for them and are insensitive to the horse as a living, breathing, feeling being. We are not likely to see those persons post here. Obviously, riders who are trying different things with their horse to get a better result know it is because the horse is more responsive when more comfortable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s