Does anyone agree on bits? No. Is riding bitless the perfect solution? No. I’ve been asked for some bitless information, and I’m not sure I can even do that without talking bits, too. Even then, it’s idle chatter if there is no horse in the conversation.
Usually, I rant about the foolish habit of moving to a stronger bit when your horse gets fussy in the “gentle” one he’s in now. Like metal on bone is ever gentle. Usually, I’m blunt and say something like,
Using a stronger bit is like winning an argument, not because you’re right, but because you’re holding a gun.
Then someone chirps up that a bit is only as kind or cruel as the hands on the reins. Truth. We’ve all see snaffles used like weapons, yes.
It’s just about then that the Amen Choir sings the praises of riding bitless. It feels like they’re claiming the moral high ground, riding without a bit, and the rest of us poor riders using snaffles are no better than dominators with gruesome spade bits. Then bit-users think bitless riders are incapable of anything but trail riding. Sigh.
Like every bitless bridle is created equal. Like every horse has the same mouth conformation. Like just for this once, an answer could be cut and dried; black and white. No luck.
Now it’s my unfortunate task to remind riders of two things: First, the horse’s bit shouldn’t matter much because we ride with our seats on their backs, not with our hands in their mouths. Because we ride back to front. Because if the horse is forward and balanced, his head will be correct for his conformation, in a bridle or at liberty in the pasture.
Second, but probably more important, it isn’t up to you to pick which bit (as long as it’s dressage legal) or bitless bridle you use. It’s up to your horse.
Back in the dark ages, I thought I was using a mild snaffle bit. My trainer recommended it but my horse practically did backflips. I learned that if a horse has a low palate, that middle joint can be excruciatingly (nutcracker) painful. These days, more horses seem to prefer three-link or French link snaffles. Yay.
But some horses seem to not like that metallic noise or the taste or hardness, and they prefer Happy Mouth bits. They’re the ones with the ivory-colored plastic that’s a little like your dog’s Nylabone. Or maybe they think links are over-flexible and they prefer something more solid like a Mullen-mouth bit.
All of these bits are dressage legal with no shanks. Each works slightly differently and remains on the light side, as bits come and go, and are preferable to a more severe bit. I’ve listened and read, year after year, opinions and reviews of how these bits work and who should use them. I have had success and failure with each of them. People can agree that they are mild bits, but after that, horses will still have their own opinion.
But let’s say you want to try something different –no bit at all. There are rope halters with rings tied into knots on the noseband. It’s “just a halter” but hard on noses if they fit too loosely and slide around. Those noseband knots put pressure on nerve bundles on the horse’s face. Traditional hackamores have no bit but can have shanks and chain curb straps that exert leverage… A linked snaffle could be kinder.
There are side pulls that have a noseband with rings on either side for the reins, like riding with a rope tied to your halter. Some are beautifully made, like these.
If you are critical of nosebands on conventional bridles, this is a good choice but remember that this noseband shouldn’t be cranked down either. There are converter nosebands that have loops to attach the reins. Rather than a buckle that you secure loosely, it’s just a slide and the noseband works like a noose if it gets tighter but doesn’t release when you slack the rein.
So, maybe a bridle with a noseband that can be buckled loosely and a cross-under attachment to reins, so when you ask with your inside rein, it cues the outside cheek, if that makes sense. (Shown on the horse in above photo.) This version has good balance but again, the cross-under needs to release as reins are released.
The traditional bitless attachment favored in Europe is a metal wheel or flower shaped piece attached to the bridle and I’ve seen horses prefer this to a cross-under design.
If you try a bitless bridle, go slow and be safe. Try it in an arena on a good day, after your horse is warmed up. Some horses will lick and chew and love it right away but the rider will lose confidence. Some horses don’t like pressure on their nose and they lose confidence bitless, preferring the familiarity of a bit. Listen to your horse.
If a rider thinks that bitless is necessarily better or easier, sorry. Then this one other detail: Changing bridles doesn’t change a thing about your hands.
When people talk about bits or bitless, there is so much passion and hard-felt opinion and I’ve heard it all from all sides, pro and con. And in my mind, I still see that trainer-who-shall-go-unnamed slamming his fist down and back, while his horse is already inches behind the vertical. The same cruel position is available in a bitless bridle. There is no moral high ground when it comes to aggression against a horse.
If your horse is still fussy with his head and you think your hands are fine, who’s right?
I think you know the answer. And this is why so many of us have piles of new but useless bits in our tack boxes. Roughly half of my riders are bitless and half are in simple snaffles. As a trainer, I have a sweet collection of kind bits and different bitless options that I keep around so my clients can try them without having to buy them immediately. I recommend this try-out method and while you’re there, sign up for lessons.
Rather than conversations about which bit is kinder, I’d like to see people actually make the effort to learn kind contact with a good trainer. It’s the most subtle and challenging work a rider can take on, learning to maintain a neutral seat and working in balance with a horse. Learning to quiet our instinct to control the last four inches of a horse’s nose and instead ride the entire horse, relaxed and forward. There is simply nothing more important.
Contact is like holding hands with someone you are so comfortable with, that there’s overlap where they begin and you end. Good contact is moving forward through space without gravity or dependence on anything more concrete than the flow of movement that is oneness.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
109 thoughts on “Bit or Bitless? You Won’t Like the Answer.”
Thank you for this. Your wisdom is always appreciated. <3
(psst. "confOrmation". 🙂 )
Oh, good catch! Confirm or conform? Which are we after? 😉 That’s tricky!
Thanks for the comment and the alternate spellcheck.
The usage was rather vague. I chose to go for “conformation” relating mouth structure to acceptance. But, it could also be that the human needs to look for the horse’s “confirmation” of the correct choice. 🙂
just one thing is it harder to guide them with a bitless bridle ?
I believe that riding is done with seat and legs, so no. And the less anxiety they have in the head, the better.
Very nice post! Bit versus bitless seems to be one of those endless arguments with passionate emotions from both sides. You’ve done a good job of explaining pro’s, con’s and options of each. And…as always…you’ve guided your readers back to asking the horse for his opinion in the matter.
Thank you so much!
Thank you for directing us where we all need to go on this matter- the horse ! This is such a contentious matter that I appreciate your taking it on !
Contentious? Us humans?? Heheheh. Thanks, Sarah.
I loved that answar thank you ????
Great article! I learn every time I read your writings! Thanks, Tonya
Sent from my iPhone
This topic… we all like to dream that a dental float will correct our hand problem, too. Thanks, Tonya.
This is so timely and interesting. Would like to try the wheel-style bitless just to experiment. Love the quote “like winning an argument because you are holding a gun”. Thanks for writing this and sharing it!
Thanks, Portia… Youtube has all kinds of videos bitless, too.
Wonderful article! I have moved from snaffles to a crossunder bitless because my horses seem to be happier and surprisingly my hands have improved. I initially tried bitless because my horse has seasonal allergies and bits seemed to make it hard for him to swallow resulting in so much coughing riding was impossible. Bitless solved that problem for us. I have tried different bits and bitless setups in an effort to find the feel both my horses and I communicate the best with. My dressage gelding has never gone better for me. Thank you for your balanced exploration of this contentious issue.
Some horses don’t like any bits and some riders gain confidence with their hands and improve when horses are able to relax. Great comment, Lynne.
Thank you for a very thoughtful and informative article. I was of the mind that all horses would prefer bitless…no steel in their mouths, but over the years I’ve learned that as you said, it does depend on the horse, and the riders hands. Even if you are riding bitless, but are hard-handed and forceful with your reins, the horse will still be uncomfortable and unhappy. I am lucky to work with an excellent trainer who thinks as you do, when it comes to riding in a bitted bridle, or going bitless, and she has always looked to the horse to tell us which he prefers.
Great comment and wonderful trainer! Thank you for the comment, Cricketgurl.
Probably an endless “discussion” – the same as shod or barefoot! But it is a discussion (people-wise) and hopefully a conversation they have WITH & FOR their horse. Maybe its only on this blog but then, THIS blog is FOR horses & the people who truly care to converse with their horse.
Thanks, Maggie. And I sure hope it goes farther than this blog!
Didn’t like the answer … loved it! I think it worth mentioning – conformation-wise – the many other pressure points that we address on the horse’s head besides the mouth! If I feel connected, I can offer a message almost without any movement on my hand’s part to my horse’s mouth. We have a “discussion” going out here regarding using two hands with a curb. Care to wade in?
Duct tape one hand to the riders leg? Is that what you mean? That’s as kind as I can think of… 🙂
Thanks for great article. I have moved all my horses to bitless over last 15 years but totally agree damage can be done bitless too. I mostly ride off a neckstrap, voice and weight aids on my very forward thinking horse with a light rider nose band on for “emergencies”
This is so good. I board at a barn where most of the lesson horses are ridden in bitless bridles by young folks without balance, and there’s so much cranking and yanking on those poor horses’ faces it would make me cringe. But I’m already cringing by hearing the instructor give suggestions that make it worse. And she is screaming them, no less. No wonder the horses look like strung out giraffes. I’m a really big fan of simple snaffles, generally with a link or lozenge, soft, allowing hands, and active seat and legs. Makes a world of difference.
God bless lesson horses. Every single one. Hate to hear that about a fellow trainer, but I know it’s true. Thanks Rebecca.
Another great blog. You have such great insight. As a bitless user (and please don’t shoot the messenger here) but if that bitless is the same kind I use then the noseband is too high up. It should be only 1 1/2″ to 2″ above the corner of the lip according the the instructions. The higher up the noseband is the less effective the bridle will be. Also worth pointing out is that with this kind of bridle it is imperative to get dentals done regularly as the mechanics of this bridle ‘pushes’ the face over as you already noted. If there are sharp points then that won’t feel good at all. I am not against bits at all. I used this bitless on my OTTB very successfully for 17 years after trying several bits and still dealing with a bad head tossing issue. It stopped the first time I put the bitless on him. I am sure I could have found a bit to suit him but I went the bitless route and it worked for us. Dooley seems to do very well in it as well. It’s one of those “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” scenarios for me. I do try very hard to use everything else before I use my hands – seat, legs, body, breath – all the things you teach, and thank you for always reminding me to do so.
Thank you, and on that particular horse, I want it “less effective”, farther away from his nose cartilage, exactly. Like I say, they are all individuals. Dooley seems to have made a quick and decisive choice. Gotta love that! Thank, Lyn.
Funny thing bits or no bits. After riding in a regular snaffle, French link, and everything inbetween and to the left or right, I went to riding in a rope halter. It seems my mare was happy for awhile and then not, so I tried a cross-under bitless, then a side-pull, then back to the rope halter. None of these met with her approval so we worked out way through all of the bits again, to no avail. She was unhappy and fussy and very much in the conversation! I was about to try to invent my own bridle of some sort when a friend suggested I try her Myler bit. I was sceptical but, dang, as soon as the bit was sitting in my mare’s mouth I could tell we were going to have a different ride. Head down, quiet, happy, and against what I thought was all odds. We also went through 5 saddles and 8 girths before finding the right combo. Who knew such a skookum appendix QH could be such a delicate flower?
I think they are all delicate flowers, even the big guys. I like the entry level Myler bits a lot. It’s what the mule in the photo uses. Thanks, from me, but even more so from your horse.
I must say the bitless you mention in your post looks very interesting. I like the sound of the instant release, which is my one complaint about the crossunder bitless. (Well, that and the tight noseband). Vewy vewy interwesting! Might have to put that on my Christmas list! 🙂
“A horse will run through a bit made of barbed wire if it wants to get away from your hands badly enough…” Advice from a former trainer re “bitting up”. Feeling fortunate that my guy reaches for his french link eggbutt when I offer it. Another aspect is correct measurement and sizing of whichever bit you use. 1/2 ” makes a huge difference.
Yikes, ugly and true quote. We always can do better. Thanks and good tip.
Hello… Wondering if there is a source for purchasing the “Metal Wheel” style in the USA? My horse and I thank you for a wonderful article.
Looks like you can get it in the US here, … http://shop.nwnhc.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=95 …and if this doesn’t work, contact me at the link at the top of the page.
I just ordered one of those European flower thingies to see if Lance likes it. For years I’ve used a KK snaffle (with the lozenge in the middle), but sometimes Lance says “no, thank-you” when I ask him to open his mouth for it. I tried a cross-under bitless and NEITHER of us liked it….
Good luck with this one, I like mine. Thanks, Michelle.
Such a wise and good discussion, both in the column and in the comments! I agree wholeheartedly that the main thing is to figure out what the horse likes best (at any given time). My late Arab gelding, who would have been fine in a neck ring or halter, loved his double-link snaffle with lozenge. I always had to make sure that the bridle was ready for him before it was in range, because he’d dive for the bit. He was as responsive to it as if it had been a big curb, but he seemed to regard it as a kind of pacifier or security blanket. Needless to say, I had made him a sacred promise that his mouth would never be pulled on. I’m happy to use a sidepull, snaffle, sometimes pelham if it seems to help. Truthfully, I’d happily ride in just a neck ring if my current boarding barn allowed it. But even a neck ring can be quite severe if misused. There’s no getting away from being in control of our own hearts, bodies and hands.
Had to smile… neckrings can be painful for some people too. Great comment. 🙂
What my horse horse goes well in is what we use. I have a bit, I have a halter, a headcollar and I have a neck ring.
Providing her head isn’t between her legs having a moment I am not fussed to be honest. She just goes her natural outline.
Our bit is the lozenge centre with loose ring.
That’s a peaceful range of equipment, good for you.
Couldn’t agree more about asking your horse’s opinion. I have two mountain mares, both with the sweetest dispositions you could ask for. Sally loves her ‘wonder’ bit, she gets seriously worried if you try anything else. I think somebody along the line must’ve been really rough taking Ember’s bridle off, maybe really clunking her teeth with the bit? She’ll fling her head up and back even when you take her halter off so I switched her to Dr. Cook’s bitless and it was like a different horse. I felt safe trying it because she has a wonderful ‘whoa’, barely sit back and she stops immediately (maybe she’s just lazy and looking for an excuse!). Happy to say they’re both happy with their hardware and slowly but surely Ember is less panicked when being unhaltered or unbridled.
Never understood folks who use the same thing on every horse… (Good girl, Ember.) Thanks Sherry.
I don’t get that either. Every horse is different.
The answer “There’s no one correct answer for every critter.” is basically the best, truest answer in ANYTHING related to horses. (Or dog training, for that matter :P)
Thank you for the wonderful article.
Putting in and taking out the bit.
When a horse has had the bit raked acrosd the teeth they become edgy and hard to bit. Then the owner becomes edgy and yanks the bit in at the first opportunity be it by poking a finger or the horse finally gives in.
I teach my horses to slurp it in by themselves when i hold it up and say bit. I also say bit and lightly give a cue on the bridge of their nose to release. That way, if their teeth get clanked, they know they did it not me.
It is a slow rehab for a horse whose teeth have been banged by a bit; agreed. Thanks, Lydia.
Thank you for this blog, a reasoned overview of one of the most emotive discussions horse people can attempt to have and stay friends 🙂 I’ve been through tons of bits with my Friesian tester over the years, we ride in a halter whenever we can now, or a zilco hackamore when the halter is too scary for other riders! Omg no bit we’re all doomed!! But secretly he goes best in a myler long shank with a port – go figure 🙂 I keep it for high days and holidays because it scares the neighbours 🙂
Another emotive discussion here in the UK is about rider weight and there is a move to dismount riders at shows if they are deemed to be too heavy for the horse. All well and good, horse welfare etc back damage etc. Bit like rolkur, judges should be doing that anyway. But then you get the far side wading in with their get rid of fatty riders completely, we only want nice slim ones wearing our gear…. In the name of omg poor horses back… I say to people I hope you are going to do some research on why people who are 3 stone dripping wet also have back issues with their horses?!! Silence. I was on a yard with several horses whose owners were size 10s and nearly all of them had physical or behavioural issues with their horses, but no one said look at the rider or the handler, it’s not the horse… Just sayin…
It’s a strange addiction we have to bits that riders would be nervous about halters, but in the US bitless isn’t legal in lots of competitions so go figure. I’ve written a blog about weight that gets shared a lot and I’ll come back again, I’m sure…bottom line is that there is so much more to consider than numbers. Thanks, Helen.
Timely. From reading books and testimonies I’d become confident that horse go the same, with or without. Now riding a mare who’s agoraphobic, gets nervous when barn is not in view (we could go far away with no problems in a flat country).
Beginning to think that carrying a bit, even if I don’t use it (she *hates* being pulled) makes her feel calmer. Like without it, she may have lost a source of leadership and direction. Like going without things she was used to, at this point, is like taking away a security blanket.
Thanks again for wonderful writing.
A person on FB commented that she and her horse felt more energy was transmitted with the bit, in a positive way. But again, listen to her, I know several horses who really don’t like them. Maybe it would be different if they never knew bits, but if it helps her, use it. Thanks, Betsey.
I like your definition of “contact”. I believe it is more about the contact than about the bit. Well at least the bits I am familiar with a snaffle and a bridoon/curb for a double bridle. For me the answer has never really been the bit but the contact and how I use my hands, arms and shoulders. Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking post.
Couldn’t agree more, Anne. Thanks.
Thank you Anna this is so informative. And reading the comments is really helpful too!
Love the comments, too. Thanks, Kate
Thank you Anna for your honest and open writing style. I like how you peel the layers back revealing what’s really in front of us, what’s in our hands! I grew up in a professional horse background and there were always exceptions to the rule. Good horsemanship is an Art and a Science combined I call it the “Art of the Feel”. Your article reveals how important it is to stay open to the situation and know that it can change unexpectedly at any time. So many insights and great responses. Sometimes trusting our horse in the moment is all we need to go by. Thanks again!
Thank you, Kristin… and it is all about the art part.
Absolutely! I choose to ride bitless because my horse has a preference.
Despite my own beliefs and preferences, I wholeheartedly believe in giving people the information and knowledge for them to make their own decision, rather than preaching without any evidence or reason.
This post is nice and clear – I love how it doesn’t alienate people who are riding either bitless or with a bit.
Bitless isn’t legal in some riding disciplines, and that gets in the way… but horses need to be able to work the way they are the most comfortable. Bits need better hands than most of us have. Thank you for commenting and reblogging.
Reblogged this on Sense Equine and commented:
This can sometimes be a *sore* subject!
Never underestimate the importance of good balance with your horse and a “kind contact”.
Great article. What is your take on double bridles? My teacher wants me to begin riding my more advanced horse in a double, and I have been hesitant, can’t seem to get the point, but she insists that I’m missing out on a lot of nuance.
Well, this is another post entirely… but here goes. It’s legal to compete upper level in a snaffle now, so it is your choice. Fitting a double is a challenge and it has to be right. However good our hands are, they have to be much better on a double, even if we don’t see that always in competition…if nuance means that you can do more with less, that’s true. That said, for the horses I’ve ridden in doubles, I didn’t see a night and day difference in nuance. When I was required to use them in competition, I would use them for a few days before the show, but never wanted them full time. I’ve known horses who love them, crazy as it sounds. But the time riding gets to that level, riding skills have to be working well in a dozen ways and for all the talk about tack, the horse needs to be ridden properly, back to front. All bridles work better that way; it’s about the horse. I will say that people take you more seriously in a double bridle, if that makes sense. We humans are such snobs. I don’t think this answer helps much, it’s just so individual to the horse and rider… but thanks for asking, Christian.
Thank you, yes, this is interesting. I’m not going there with him as long as I am not convinced. There is such a contradiction for me between how, on the one hand, it doesn’t matter (because the good riding is in the seat anyway), and on the other hand, it’s a totally different game. Makes no sense to me. I can’t imagine it to be comfortable for the horse with that much metal in the mouth, but then I suppose it’s a matter of trying it out. He has a flat palate, so there isn’t a lot of space to begin with. And I’d have to have a few lessons on my teacher’s school masters first, though, specifically focusing on the double use. I have ridden in a double on other people’s horses a couple of times in my life, but did not like the knot in my brain it produces. The less I have in my hands, the better I feel (I mean in terms of complication…when I transitioned my green baby from bitless to Happy Mouth snaffle, I rode her with two pairs of reins for a little bit and hated the complications, and then I was riding her with two whips as well to be able to place them on the shoulders for steering, and oh my! Too much in my hands….). So it’s interesting to me that you say you didn’t see a night and day difference. Which I would actually expect to be the same….
Amen, Anna! I was lucky to end up with a mentor who looked for the most comfortable and kindest bit, at a time when studies were yet to be done. I was even luckier to have a mare that challenged me with every bit selection, until I tried a soft straight rubber Mullen out of desperation – a first lesson that material also matters. Movements to the highest level came easy in the bit – as did the day that she stood stock still as two horses bolted through our test – but, a double bridle was out of the question with her, and so was upper level competition (at that time).
I now have made some of my horses happy in Happy Mouth bits – but I have one who mouths and fusses over them, so he’s back in steel and very content with it. Everything you’ve said is bang on, but oh so difficult to explain to people either stuck with “tradition” or self-righteous in their rejection of it. My guide, in all aspects is always the horse – they speak clearly, if we just listen.
Great comment and I smile about that rubber mullen. I have fond memories of that “least of bits”, it will let you know what a flexible bit feels like. Not a bit for heavy hands! Thanks, Lia.
You always share such insightful perspectives, and this is no exception. My personal experience has been that working in-hand with the bitless makes for an easy and very effective transition. It helps the rider understand how to feel with the bitless, and it allows the horse time to make new connections between the feel of the bitless and his/her own body.
Thanks, Lucinda. (Sometimes I can’t include all the details in every post, but I am a proponent of ground work before every ride.)
An interesting piece. I have an OT Arabian that I am riding in the LG Zaum bitless bridle, which is the flower on that you are referring to. Zico makes one that is very similar. We tried the Dr. Cook but I did not like the slow release. He really loves the Zaum and I have not had any problem with him trying to runaway with me, although we have worked a lot in the arena before going out on trails. I do occasionally use a bitted bridle for lateral work.
He appreciates you listening, pretty certain about that. Give him a scratch from me, and thanks Catherine.
Yes!! Truth and common sense (I mean good sense) should go hand in hand don’t they? I’m so glad you ended this post with that last bit – it sorta/kinda erased my murderous thoughts and opinions on that horrid and manically obscene “trainer”, who I’d dearly love to get my hands on…
Tehehehe. Lorie, it does leave a bad taste, doesn’t it. Thanks for reading on…
I love reading your posts, Anna. They’re always my little award break with a coffee!
Whereas I completely agree with you that bits or bridles don’t change your hands, I’ve had great results with improving students’ seats by taking away their bits, as they need to learn to use their seats more and their hands less. I also agree that bitless bridles can be “great” tools to brutalise horses as much as bits.
After much experimenting I put all of the horses I train, and most of my students’ horses, with few exceptions that are very happy in their snaffles, in Viennese Cavessons nowadays – the ones’ without nose irons. With great results on both riders and horses.
Have you had any experience with those?
Thanks for the kind words, and I’m curious about the source for your cavessons. I only know the metal ones and don’t like them. (Not to mention that people go nuts about cranked nosebands, for good reason, and kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater). I have been looking for something like this for a therapeutic project I’ve been working on. Where do you get yours? Thanks so much… and I’m having my coffee, too. 🙂
Hi Anna, I’ve gotten mine from here, obviously a German shop – not sure if they ship to the US: http://www.elcaballo.de/kappzaeume
The company Sabro also make beautiful soft ones: https://www.sabro.de/Pferd/Angebote/Kappzaum-Light/100000
Sorry about the German sites!
Hope it helps though, I’ve seen it work wonders on rehab candidates, especially with the bends and obviously on the lunge.
They are usually sold as lunging equipment, even though their also great for riding. Let me know if it works for you!
Great article! Too often horse people seem to be stuck in a world of absolutes. Either bits are the only way go for ‘real riding’ or they are the devil’s torture devices and should be banned. The truth is both bits AND bitless bridles can be harsh to the point of cruelty OR wonderful tools of communication (not control).
Isn’t that the “absolute” truth. Great comment, Renee. Meet you in the gray area…
I always gain new insight when reading your post……Thank you for sharing! I am a western rider, working with a dressage trainer to fine tune my hands and seat. She has been wonderful. We do butt heads on 1 issue….my western horse has always been ridden in an Argentine snaffle (which isn’t a true snaffle) my trainer has switched him to a Myler loose ring snaffle….its been 2 months now and he is still fighting/playing with this new bit….some kind of noseband tie down was recently added…he really doesn’t like that. I’m using my hands more than ever now just to get his attention….I feel we aren’t listening to him…any insight….should I just keep at it until he adjust….or ??? Thanks for any input from your or your faithful readers,
Again, I never substitute other people’s eyes for my own, so I’m guessing… without seeing him, I can only make general comments. I love the Myler loose ring. I would ask you to not use your previous “snaffle” too. It is more severe than you know. That said, asking a horse to work on contact is a slow process. Using hands well is the very hardest thing to learn. One look at elite competition should affirm that. You say you’re using your hands more than ever…I assume at your trainer’s request, and that might be the thing he’s responding to, more than the rest. In my lessons, contact is a very gradual addition and only for brief moments in the beginning. If I was guessing blindly, and I am, then I would guess that needed to be slowed down… In the process of learning contact, it’s inevitable that we pull on their faces until we gain the sensitivity to follow their heads fluidly… and they do not like it. Go slower and work for a shorter time… I’ve seen a lot of horses come apart during that process. Good luck.
Thank You Thank You!! Yes, I am using my hands more to slow him down, and at the trainers request, with her repeating…he’ll get it, its a slow process…thanks again:)
When I got my mare she’d been ridden for a long time by camp “students” in a Tom Thumb bit which I consider to be a very severe bit (not a “training” bit as some call it). She was sold because she could not be controlled in it and would just go where she pleased (usually somewhere to graze). I was told she had a very hard mouth.
I never put a bit in her mouth again and she is a very happy girl to listen to her bitless bridle. The one I use was designed by trainer Elizabeth Graves and isn’t made anymore, but Buckaroo Leathers has one designed in a very similar manner. For the folks who are nervous about me riding my horse on trails without a bit (to them that equals no control) I try and explain that control isn’t coming from your reins or your bit, but the trust and communication you have with your horse. I really feel like this mare SO appreciates not having that pain in her mouth she tries extra hard to respond to my cues.
I also had a Morgan who hated riding in the bitless. He loved his French link and was much more comfortable in that, ridden with fairly close contact. So they are all different with different likes and dislikes, and they communicate as best they can their preferences, if we will only listen!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful blog posts, I’m really enjoying reading them (and the comments)
Great comment, Jane. Thank you.
I ride bitless. I often get asked “My horse pulls, would he be better bitless?” and I really don’t know where to begin with answering that question. As you say, the hands on the reins are more important that the hardware on the horse.
Spade bits, by the way, are not ‘designed’ to be cruel any more than the snaffle is. They need to be used correctly and if they are then they are no better nor worse than any other bit. The problem with them is that so few people or horses have sufficient training to be able to use one correctly and people put them on their horse ‘to look good’ ( same as they do a double bridle and with the same horrific result)
Thanks for commenting, Jackie. Parts of the bit conversation are complicated and some are simple. I do welcome your opinion. And you and I will have to disagree about spade bits; they’re not comparable to snaffles or a double bridle. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
‘Changing bridles doesn’t change a thing about your hands’ – truer words were never spoken! This is one of the most balanced and sensible comments I’ve come across on a subject which seems rather senselessly divisive. Listening and paying attention to what works for each individual horse seems like common sense to me, and yet how uncommon it is. . . My horse is happy and comfortable in her rope halter, and also occasionally likes to be ridden in her sweet iron loose ring snaffle – and I’m happy with either too.
Just discovered this blog, but I’m liking what I’m seeing so far, so will definitely keep reading 🙂
Thanks for readkng along, Crystal. And too often we forget that common sense part…
Brilliant, thank you. I used to get or overhear a lot of comments at my yard that there’s no point asking me about bits or seeing if I have one someone can borrow to try for their horse as ‘she won’t know, she’s a bitless rider’. Each time I patiently made the correction ‘no, I have a bitless horse. What do you need to ask/borrow?’. It seems beyond most people’s comprehension to encounter someone who has no strong feelings either way about bits or bitless, except that it should be up to the horse. Thank you for reconfirming that I’m not mad for thinking like that!
Great comment, Clare. Thanks.
Love your posts, however, “traditional hackamores” are braided rawhide or leather and have no shanks or curb chains. The pictures you linked to are mechanical hackamores and there is no comparison in how they work or how they feel.
Edited, thank you.
Hello! Do the local and larger shows typically have rules around using a bit or not? We are new to the equine world and are considering a wonderful horse that prefers to be bitless most of the time. Thanks!!
Yes, and many times bitless isn’t okay. But all disciplines are different so do check ahead.
This is awesome. I have always thought it was a grey area and depended on the individual horse.
Thanks, Tamsyn. Unique individuals each and every horse.
I think this is an informative article and it’s very useful
and knowledgeable. I really enjoyed reading this post.
big fan, thank you!
Thank you, I appreciate your time reading, Demir.
Love this article!!! I feel it says it all ?
This is a wonderful article! Thanks for the honesty, pointing out the responsibility of the rider and the link to those beautiful bit less bridles. Do you suppose dressage will ever allow bitless??
I think it will. Dressage is a lumbering beast compared to our dancing horses, but yes, I think it will get there. Thanks, Jennifer.