For thousands of years we have accepted the use of bits on horses without a second thought. We teach them to accept them, not to pull against them and when they submit to our requests we believe them to be happy. It isn’t until we are on the receiving end of a few bucks, severe pulling or a little bit of head tossing that we think something is wrong, although sadly even then when we do investigate the cause we often miss the most simple answer – the bit!
The mouth area is one of the horse’s most sensitive areas yet we continue to force our horses to accept a piece of metal banging around against it. Just imagine how we would feel having to carry around a piece of metal, often quite heavy in our mouths for sometimes hours at a time, be expected to eat and drink when our mouths are already full and then still be able to perform our work well. We spend so much time and effort fitting our saddles, looking after their feet and maintaining the correct feeding regimes to ensure our horses are comfortable, but then we overlook such a crucial area of the horse – his mouth.
We use our bridles as a means to communicate with our horses so think of your reins as a “telephone” and the bit as “static” making it hard for the horse on the other end of the line, to hear you clearly. Taking away the bit is in effect taking away the “static”, paving the way for clearer conversation. Many people find that once they remove the bit it is like going to “power steering” and a lot of their stopping or contact problems disappear as the horse is not distracted and can focus more on what you are asking.
So what’s the answer? A bitless bridle!
Bitless bridles come in many different varieties from just a simple halter through to a hackamore or one of the newer styles that works on an all-over head pressure. One of the newer versions of bitless bridle to Australia (called the NoBit Bridle) works on a simple pressure and release system by transmitting pressure from the reins down underneath the horse’s jaw and up the opposite sides of the head. So when you pull on the left rein, the horse feels gentle but firm pressure up the right side of his head. He instinctively moves away from the pressure, turning his head to the left. When you pull on both reins together the pressure is transmitted up both sides of the head and is concentrated at the poll area. The horse automatically reacts to this pressure by lowering his head and slowing or stopping. When the horse does as it is asked you release the pressure confirming to the horse that he or she has done the right thing.
Because most of the horse’s reactions are instinctive, there is little or no retraining required to get the majority of horses to understand and make the change from bitted to bitless. And to you it feels just like a normal bridle, except that less effort is usually required to get the same result.
Why change to bitless? While there is a wide variety of reasons why riders seek out a bitless bridle, they can include “behavioural problems” such as bucking, pulling, head tossing, nervous behaviour and sweating up and in extreme cases refusal to take the bit at all. Unfortunately, all too commonly we reach for a stronger or different bit when our horse shows reluctance to stop or perform to our standards. If left unchecked, many problems directly caused by the bit can cause secondary issues that are much harder to deal with.
Bitless bridles are not just for the pleasure rider either. A lot of clubs and disciplines now accept the use of bitless bridles*. Many riders are now beginning to realise that you can achieve better results when the horse is relaxed in their work. Taking the bit away frees the horse’s mind from worrying about it and allows them to concentrate more on what you are asking. Imagine going to a show where there is no more nervous sweating, chomping on the bit and foaming at the mouth. A comfortable horse is a confident horse making for a more impressive presentation. Take a look around at your next horse event, you might be surprised at who is using one.
So while bitless riding may be quickly becoming more fashionable, it is for sound reasons and not just good looks.
*Unfortunately some clubs are still restricted by insurance clauses that are written by people outside the horse industry which prevent the use of riding bitless so please check with your club president or competition organiser to confirm their use.
Contact Nicole for more info….
NoBit Bridles ph 0414 320974
www.nobitbridles.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org