A Bit of Advice: Bitless bridles

Bitting expert Anita Marchesani is back this month to help us understand the function of bitless bridles and under what circumstances one might be appropriate.

From Anita:

It seems fitting that I am writing this next post in my series about bitless bridles having just got back from a lovely hack on the pony in my bitless noseband.  I am a strong advocate for bitless riding for a great number of reasons, not the least being that it gives your horse a break and helps to improve the bond between horse and rider.

There are a number of different types of bitless arrangements, and they can work on the principles of direct action like a snaffle (noseband types) or leverage like acurb (hackamore and shanked types) as well the crossover styles that apply pressure to the sides of the head as well as underneath and sometimes the nose as well.

The simplest form of bitless bridle is, of course, just tying a lead rope to your head collar and going for it.  The Lightrider Noseband that I use is a refinement on this direct action, applying pressure from the sides to turn and across the nose and curb groove to slow or stop and flex at the poll.

English and German Hackamores work using leverage, which was discussed in detail in my previous blog on curb bits.  Essentially, the longer the shank the stronger the force that is being applied to the horse.  Karen O’Connor used a German hackamore combined with a snaffle bit on her Mr. Medicott in the showjumping at the Olympics to great success with this very strong horse.  The overall picture was one of control and communication, not conflict and arguments, and they produced a lovely round.

The crossover bitless bridles I personally have not had a lot of success with, as I find that a lot of horses find the all-round pressure across much of their head and face too confrontational.  They are very popular though, and I am sure that they work well for a number of horse and rider combinations.

Finding and training in a bitless arrangement that suits you can be a very useful for a rider.  If you work your horse bitless when you don’t have to, should you need to train for an extended period of time in a bitless arrangement–for example, to recover from a dental or oral injury–you can do this confident in the knowledge that you both understand how this will work.  Riding bitless for your long and slow fitness work can be a great way to help the horse relax and enjoy your hack out together, as well as developing the bond between you.  Schooling bitless can be an interesting exercise to see just how in tune you both are to weight and seat aids rather than your hands!

When trying a bitless arrangement for the first time, it is recommended that you do some simple exercises on the ground first to see how the horse responds to the rein aids, followed by a quiet ride in an enclosed arena.  Once the two of you are confident and happy, you can enjoy bitless riding hacking out, jumping or schooling.

Next month, after enjoying the dressage at the Olympics, we will look at the double bridle.

About Anita: Anita Marchesani is the bitting expert behind Bit Bank Australia, a specialist web shop that sells only horse bits and accessories.  She is a published author and a regular presenter, including at Equitana Asia Pacific, on her favourite topic of, you guessed it–horse bits!  Having lived and worked in the UK as an event groom, she now lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her family of one beagle, one fat pony, a gold fish and her wonderful husband.


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