THE TRANSITION TO BITLESS
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
I was very fortunate when I changed all my horses from being ridden with a bit to a bitless bridle. Without exception they all took to the bitless bridle without a problem. At the time I just thought that was normal and everyone’s horses would be the same. Since then I’ve learnt a few things.
Sometimes when I meet a new horse and their owner wants to try bitless, the horse doesn’t take to it instantly. So I developed a training program to assist the transition to a bitless bridle. This works beautifully and I’ve now transitioned countless different types of horses into the world of bitless riding. But there’s still the question of why? Why do some horses just ‘get it’ on the very first ride, while others need training? I’ve come up with two main reasons:
Some horses don’t understand pressure/release principles. These horses have always been ‘controlled’ with the use of pain. They don’t give to pressure at all and have no understanding if you ask this of them. When you remove the pain (bit), and replace it with a pressure (bitless), they don’t respond as they don’t understand. The pressure/release principle is exactly as it sounds, the rider applies a pressure, the horse responds, the rider releases the pressure. All young horses should be taught this as it is an absolutely fundamental skill that every horse needs. The sad thing is that horses will do what a human wants if pain is applied. But that does not make it right. Sometimes I meet people who use pain in order to get an instant result, rather than taking the time to train the horse. If both the human and the horse are new to training it can take some time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. You end up with a horse that can do all the same things AND have a healthy, open, mutually trusting relationship.
Some people don’t ‘release’ pressure. These can be very nervous riders who hang on tightly to the reins out of fear, restricting the horses’ ability to move forward and respond and giving confusing signals to the horse. These riders confuse the horse because there is no clear release, and sometimes the rider applies random rein pressures that don’t mean anything, further confusing the horse. These riders need help with their riding skills and confidence from a riding instructor who is familiar with bitless bridles. The other category is riders who always ride with contact. Traditional English riding requires a constant contact on the horses’ mouth and the riders become accustomed to always having pressure on the reins. In these situations the horse is not getting the 'release' when the bitless bridle is used. They may feel suffocated by the constant and unfamiliar contact. In this situation it helps to ride with a lighter contact for a while as your horse learns to respond to the bitless.
In the first category it’s the horse that requires some training and in the second category it’s the rider that needs some training. I assist people to transition into the bitless bridle by working with both the horse AND the rider for this reason. In some situations there is a mix of the above, and in others only one of the components. And when both the rider and the horse ‘get it’ right from the start then we work on improving what they’re doing and introducing new skills. It is not necessary to use pain to control horses and be safe while riding them. More and more equestrians now understand this and a new, brighter future is coming for the horse.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles