For many people riding a horse without a bit in its mouth is kind of scary.
There seems to be a psychological barrier and they think that without the metal thing the steering and brakes won’t work. I can fully understand this mental state because over the years since I began riding bitless I’ve seen quite a few horses that I certainly would not want to get on without some leverage if things went pear shaped!
The flip side is that if you have a good relationship with your horse or pony and they generally want to do the right thing for you then going bitless is less about ‘control’ and more about getting your head around actually changing your very normal mental ‘fear’ state to one of trust.
Here is how I found my way to bitless with my horse Connor
I’d bred Connor and when he turned four I planned to do the usual things I’d done with other horses I’d started. In a nutshell, some lunging to help get him used to the bridle and saddle then climb on, have my husband lead me around for the first few ‘rides’ then progress to some short walks to make sure the steering and brakes were functioning correctly, then turn him out for another 6 months till summer rolled around again.
Naturally this didn’t all happen in one day but over a period of several months.
Only 2 things were different with Connor when compared to other horses I had started. he didn’t like his ears being touched. No problem, I just dismantled the bridle every time I put it on assuming over time he would became more familiar with things around his ears.
I knew he hadn’t been hit around the head because I’d bred him and was the only person to ever handle him.
Everywhere else he was fine but he had hypersensitive ears.
The other noticeable difference was he didn’t want to take even the lightest contact with the bit. He didn’t get hysterical or dangerous he just came behind or above the contact.
I also thought with time we would work through it, I had never had a problem schooling horses to ‘accept’ the bit before.
Over the next few years we went through the issues mentioned in the Myler bit article.
He was far happier in the Myler bit than anything else until I tried a Bitless Bridle I had bought in Melbourne at Equitana.
This was a turning point for Connor as far as his head sensitivity was concerned.
He loved his bitless bridle.
We could jump, hack, school, trek and gallop in it with complete control.
He was more relaxed and moved forward with better rhythm than before.
I started schooling him over jumps in his bitless bridle.
I had never jumped him before and I partly attribute his confidence and expression when jumping to the fact that he has never been jabbed in the mouth when I got left behind because he’d jump higher and further than he needed to.
I ride my other horses in the bitless bridle as well and they all respond really well to it.
One of my ‘less sensitive’ horses did take 2 rides before he ‘tuned in’ to the bitless bridle and became more responsive.
One of the horses I had at the time, James, had previously only been ridden in a bit and demonstrated a lot of residual issues from his years as a racehorse, eventer and dressage horse.
The first time I rode him I with the bitless bridle and he was extremely grateful not to have metal in his mouth!
I have noticed with my horses that each horse needs the bitless bridle adjusted a little differently.
Because Connor is sensitive he responds best to the noseband part not too low and not too high on his nose, with the noseband buckled as loosely as I can get it, the last hole.
James responded far better to the noseband part being low and snug (not tight). They still should be able to open their mouth and move their tongue and jaw if they need too.
The others were somewhere in between the 2 extremes.
The first type of bitless bridle I used is based on the Dr. Cook but with rope crossovers under the jaw instead of leather.
I decided to go with this variation because I knew Connor would prefer the extra ‘release’ the rope would have over leather.
Years later I removed the rope crossover part and found with even less gear on his head Connor went even better.
Connor jumping 2003
2015 now with the rope underneath the jaw removed and reins attached to side ring and a soft cover over the noseband for extra comfort.