No, Kelly McKnight did not forget his bridle. He also didn’t forget that horses get some “say” in how they are ridden. When you read the horse bulletin boards you’d think there was a “magic bit” du jour. That if your dressage horse doesn’t like a loose ring snaffle, if your show hunter isn’t perfectly mellow in a D-ring, or your eventer can’t go cross country in his dressage bit that you are somehow doing something wrong.
For many years I hunted a Trakehner who loved to be ridden bitless. In fact, he told me very clearly, and for a long time, that he didn’t like bits, that they were
uncomfortable in his mouth, where his big tongue and low palate didn’t leave a lot of room.
Eventually, I tried riding him bitless. First I tried the Dr. Cook’s bridle, but he didn’t much care for the poll pressure. Then I discovered the LG bridle, which is basically a side pull bridle with the reins attached to a wheel. You can achieve a bit more leverage when you attach the reins to a spoke that turns the wheel very slightly.
This discovery was a real turning point for us because suddenly I had a happy, willing partner. He was soft and light in my hands, he jumped beautifully and he was never out of control. I hunted him bitless for many seasons. Sometimes it surprised people, who wondered if I had enough control in it.
Certainly, this isn’t for every horse. I’ve tried riding Freedom and Zelda both bitless and I don’t have a lot of control. It’s fine for a hack, but out hunting? I don’t think it would be much fun. But I think that everyone should try, on occasion, to give their horses a break and see what kind of ride they have without a bit. Who knows? You might never go back!
Remember Sheldon? The CANTER horse I had before Zelda? He also was a much happier horse without a bit. The important thing is to listen to your horse and see what works for him.
How about you? Do you ever ride bitless?