Why ride bitless? Many studies in recent years have shown the detrimental effects of a bit in a horses mouth:
- The Reflex Conflict: Breathing and Eating are two incompatible behaviors. The horse can only breath through the nose, and for the tube to be completely open the tongue needs to be completely still, which is not the case with a bit.
- The metal of the bit is laying on the diastema (the toothless tract of the lower jaw), which is just bone covered by very sensitive skin. Damage there is invisible from the outside.
- The tongue gets pinched by drawing on the rains, and by possibly getting between diastema and bit. Also there is no space for a bit in a horse’s mouth, as has been found by the Veterinary University in Hanover (Germany)
- The composition of saliva is changed by the metal of a bit, which is likely to cause colic and gastritis.
- The bit itself is the cause of about 40 diseases and over 200 behavioral problems.
Here is a list of bitless bridles that are on the market.
A European design, known as a “Gluecksrad” or “LG bridle,” uses a six-spoked metal wheel that connects headstall, noseband and chinstrap to add some leverage. There are different ways to connect the reins for various levels of leverage or no leverage at all.
This bridle is well suited for finer and higher communication with the horse. Collection is easily achieved and very quiet hand signals are understood. The quick release makes it easy to teach lessons to the horse. This bridle feels just like a bit to the riders hand.
The LG bridle was invented over a decade ago and is used by many European riders, including two Olympic gold medalists (Dressage and Eventing).
Jowl Straps are crossed underneath the horse’s head and after passing through a ring are connected to the reins. Brief pressure on one rein pushes on the opposite side of the head, which makes the horse turn his head. Tugging on both reins at the same time puts pressure on the jowls, nose and poll, which ‘hugs’ the whole head and slows the horse down. This bridle works well and has many satisfied followers.
Dr. Robert Cook, a veterinarian, Professor of Surgery Emeritus of Tufts University, Massachusetts and inventor of the Dr. Cook Bridle, has been doing research focused on diseases of the horse’s mouth, ear, nose and throat, with a special interest in unsoundness of wind, the cause of bleeding in racehorses, and the harmful effects of the bit method of communication.
Dr. Robert Cook is the author of two books for horsemen: Specifications for Speed in the Racehorse: The Airflow Factors, and Metal in the Mouth: The Abusive Effects of Bitted Bridles
Similar design to the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. Straps are joined with a leather piece under the head.
A side pull is a simple bitless bridle. Reins are attached to rings on either side of the horse’s muzzle. When both reins are pulled, pressure is placed on the horse’s nose, asking for a halt. Pulling on one rein cues the horse to turn its head in that direction – pulling on the left rein cues the horse to turn left, and the right rein cues a right turn. The simplest side pulls look and feel like a halter.
Here an improved design by Diana Thompson
It is a simple design, consisting only of yacht rope just like the rope halters. The ropes criss-cross beneath the horses jaw and are guided through rings, and your direct rein tells the horse in which direction to go.
The only drawback to it is that the release is rather slow, and lateral movements are harder to get.
Bosals and Hackamores were originally used to start colts in training. A hackamore does not injure sensitive tissue in the colt’s mouth and provides firm and safe control. The term Hackamore and Bosal are used interchangeable, but technically the Bosal is only the rawhide braid around the nose of the horse. The Mecate (rope that creates the rein and leadline), together with the Bosal and headstall complete the Hackamore.
The Bosal comes in different width, where the thinner the Bosal, the lighter it is, which means less pressure on the horse’s nose. The higher trained the horse is, the thinner the Bosal that is needed. When the reins are pulled, the bosal pushes on the top of the nose. A higher quality Bosal will be less stiff and with time will adapt around the individual horse’s nose. The more flexible and elastic, the more accurately the rider can communicate.
The Bosal Hackamore is known as a bridle that’s the most difficult to learn and to handle.