Bitless Bridles
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 08:12 PM
A few of my students have been experimenting with bitless bridles. The reason they wanted to explore this idea was because their horses seemed unhappy with contact in a regular bridle. The signs of stress were obvious tension upon picking up the reins and speeding, head tossing, chomping on the bit without stopping, etc. Currently in dressage competitions in Canada bitless bridle is not allowed. However, not all of my students show. Plus, there is always an element of exploration and finding out for yourself instead of hearing stories. Because of that I supported my student's ideas and encouraged them to try a bitless bridle. Couple of them where not sure what to expect so they asked me to be first to ride in the bridle. To tell you the truth I wasn't sure what to expect neither but boy I was there for a surprise!
Rambo Micklem Multibridle is a bridle you can switch from bitless to one with the bit with a simple action of clipping a bit on to it. And this bridle is legal in dressage in Canada and USA. This is why one of my students who show in dressage her warmblood mare decided to pick Micklem. The horse was quieter and visibly more relaxed to begin because of no reason to chomp on the bit. No bit - no chomping! However, when I picked up the reins to ask for more contact and to put her in frame she became quite wiggly and with no bit I had to focus on riding her hind end forward, straighten through the ribcage because there was very little I could do with the front except keeping it straight with both reins. In bitless bridle the horse does not flex in the poll as it does with the bit. The rider and the horse have to relearn a few things. In terms of speed control and half-halts I didn't feel much difference from the bit. The horse was a bit strong but she always was. And contact with the reins didn't feel heavier than normal and her responses to half-halts were usual.
Her owner commented after a few riders that she realized how much she depended on the bit and on flexing the neck to get her way. This is impossible with the bitless bridle. A rider cannot create a false feel of bending through overbending the neck. It doesn't really work. The bitless bridle forces the rider to ride the whole horse!!! This was a huge surprise to me. I always liked the precision of the bit, the idea of supple jaw being a confirmation on how the whole horse feels. However, I know first hand how easy it is to overpower with the bit, end up pulling instead of riding and end up focusing more on the front than the whole horse. The other interesting comment my student made is "I cannot fight my horse in this bridle I have to ride her better."
Nurtural bridle is another popular bitless bridle. And I rode one horse in it and coached two other horses ridden by the same rider. Again, all horses were visibly more relaxed at the start - heads were stretching more downward and forward, the walk was freer and more forward. The horse that I rode is usually extremely strong with a bit. She wants to run through it and it takes her a moment to respond to a half-halt. And this horse hated the idea of being picked up into frame and go on the bit. Right from the first half-halts in the bitless bridle there was marked difference. She was quicker and easier to half-halt. I had no problem asking this horse to do everything she already knew how to do. And I felt that conversation between us was more clear and she was listening better.
Again, the owner commented that she had to focus more on riding the whole horse rather than simply pulling on the reins. Particularly, when she needed a strong half-halt and ended up tensing her lower back and pushing into stirrups the horse simply pulled her out of the saddle and didn't slow down in the slightest. Applying half-halt with correct engagement of core and alignment of upper body is extremely important with bitless bridle. With a strong horse you will be at least not effective and at the most in danger. With a soft and quiet horse there is a possibility of teaching this horse to lean into the contact. This would be similar to a horse drugging the handler toward a grass patch and the handler is pulling on the lead rope to very little effect.
The student who rode her two horses in the bitless bridle had interesting change in her posture. She was sitting more upright and her hands were a bit higher with elbows bent more. For this rider these were very positive changes because she has a tendency to lean forward and pull her hands down. I am not sure how this bridle encouraged her to sit up and lift her hands without me saying a word. With the bit I had to remind her about this every lesson. One of her horses is an ex-reiner QH horse with typical QH conformation of low set straight neck plus a bit long loins. This combination makes it hard for a horse to engage behind and lift the front. To my astonishment and to the mare's owner this horse stepped under herself in trot and lifted the whole front from the base of the neck literally giving appearance of a plane taking off and the owner commented she felt like riding up the hill. Again, a surprise I didn't expect.
The bitless bridles are not a magical solution that fixed all the problems. But it is a very credible tool. Like any tool it only works when used correctly. It does create different responses from horses compare to the bridle with a bit. These responses may surprise a rider. Not all of them improving the situation right away. Many responses show weakness in horse's balance, education or/and skills. I guess a well trained horse will go in either bridle correctly. But the bitless bridle can be a way to see problems more clear and from a different perspective.
Happy riding...
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