I’ve heard critics of bitless bridles say they apply too much pressure to the horse. I find this an interesting statement. When riding in a bitless bridle there is no difference in how much rein pressure you use, it’s the same as riding in a bit. So, if people say bit-free riders are applying too much pressure they must be too! When someone is riding in a bitless bridle, if their rein aids get too strong, they’ll see it immediately as the bridle is visible. Not the same for bitted bridles. With traditional bridles the bit is invisible, nicely hidden in the mouth, so it’s very easy to apply too much pressure and not realise (bit blindness). I think bitted riders are not registering the pressure in the horse’s mouth because of its invisibility. I find riding bit-free is the best way of helping riders learn to ride with a light touch, precisely because there is nothing hidden, it’s all up front. I also find that as the horse gets used to being ridden without a bit, they stop fighting the rider. Once they realise that riding no longer involves pain in their mouth, they relax and listen more closely to the rider. The old paradigm of the rider getting stronger to ‘control’ the horse, resulting in the horse getting stronger, so the rider must get stronger etc. etc. totally disappears. There is no escalation happening, a new harsher bit is not required, or a noseband or a martingale.
When the horse no longer finds the need to fight the rider, or even worse, internalise and shut down as a way of dealing with the pain, they change. It’s like their brains have been somewhere else, they were only offering a percentage of who they really are. Then the whole horse arrives and everything changes. Rein aids are then used for subtle communication. Without the distraction of pain, horses are more open to listen to all the messages coming from the rider’s body. This means less and less rein is needed, which should be the goal of all riders. The entire relationship between horse and rider completely shifts. The pressure then becomes far less than what is required when riding with a bit. I am not saying this theoretically but from my own personal experience and from numerous students I have worked with over the years. I see the same thing again and again. When I first transitioned to bit-free riding I was getting weekly dressage lessons. I’d gone the path of many and followed my instructor’s advice to get a stronger bit, a pelham. This was to bring my horses head under control and get him to collect in the canter. He was a fiery type of horse, and I did struggle at times to maintain control when his blood was up. When we started using the pelham I was over the moon, he was instantly way more obedient. My instructor said this was because he liked the bit, and I believed her. I was the same as most people and went along with the superior expertise of the instructor. He was still stiff through the neck though, especially at canter, and nothing we did seemed to fix this. Then at some point bitless bridles came into my world. I started riding my dressage horse at home in the bitless bridle. After a few weeks I was riding him bitless at home and popped him into a canter circle. He did the softest collected canter I’d ever experienced, no stiffness in his neck at all! Suddenly I realised what the bit was doing. It was causing so much pain that he became instantly more obedient, not because he liked it, but because he was worried I would hurt him if he didn’t. But his body showed the truth. He could never let go and soften with that much pain. It was like a sudden bolt of realisation that changed the course of my life forever. Once I knew this I couldn’t un-know it. From then on I rode this full-on horse anywhere with minimum pressure. It was a total game changer. My hope for the horses in this world is that more and more people look for a way of riding that seeks to consider the horse. The benefits for both the horse and rider are huge.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles