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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

How Bit-Free Riding Calms Horses

Updated: Feb 16

A woman laying on a bitless horse
Happy Bit-Free Riding

When I switched from riding with a bit, to riding bit-free, a lot of things changed and shifted. I found myself connecting and communicating with horses more and it changed the way I ride, improving my feel and understanding of how my whole body communicates with the horse. For the horses, it changed their riding experience too, in huge and profound ways. They were less fearful and reactive, trusted me more and were calmer. So I decided to write an article about my experience of how bit-free riding calms horses. I was working at a large riding centre. There were 65 horses there and I would take groups of varying skill level out for rainforest rides. I had my favourite guide horses that I rode. These horses were steady and listened well to their rider. Sometimes I would ride a new horse who needed some on the job training. One of these horses in training was a 5yo green-broke brumby. He had huge potential as a guide horse. He would go in the front or behind and could canter up beside a runaway horse and stay steady if I needed to lean down and grab their rein to stop them. He was also fantastic in the bush, watching where every hoof fell, I never had to worry about holes or snakes when riding him. As a green-broke though there were still many things in the world, especially those of human design, that caused him to startle. I was working, so I needed to always have full control of my horse. When he startled, I had to correct him instantly and as strong as needed to get him back. I was riding him with a bit, and after these corrections he would be stressed and energetically high for quite a while. This meant more work for me to keep him safe and under control while I did my job. And then bitless bridles entered my world, and I started using them with my horses at home and then those at work. I tried the brumby in it back at the ranch and had a few rides with him just the two of us, and he went so well I was given the ok to ride him bit-free while working. The difference was astounding. He was still very green and continued to react to things in the environment, so my corrections still needed to be strong. But straight after the correction he was back to normal and calm. He no longer maintained elevated stress levels after the correction. It took me a while to work out what had happened, as I was new to bit-free riding. What I was doing in both situations was exactly the same. It was later that my riding style changed, initially I rode the same way when bit-free as I would have with a bit. I realised that when I corrected him with the bit, it worked, but the pain that he felt in his mouth created a fear reaction in him. This fear was what resulted in the elevated stress levels. When I used the bitless bridle it worked too, but as there was no pain involved in the correction, he had no fear response, and so he remained calm afterwards. It also accelerated his training, and it wasn’t long before he stopped startling all together. This was a huge ‘Ah Ha’ moment for me, I totally understood the whole situation from the horses’ point of view. This insight snowballed, and I started looking at everything I do from the horses’ point of view. This changed how I am with horses completely. By getting out of my mind and into theirs, a new perspective of the world arose. It is from this perspective, through the horses’ eyes, that we are able to be considerate and compassionate horse people. Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc. Happy Horses Bitless Considerate Horsemanship

Email: Web: Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles Lismore, NSW, Australia Ph: 0401 249 263

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