There are so many different bitless bridles now that people can get confused. I think it’s wonderful that they’re so popular and lots of companies are now manufacturing them. There are almost as many bitless options now as bits! The main types of bitless bridle are cross-under and side-pull. There are also bosals and rope halters, with the reins attached behind the jaw. Halter – This is the oldest form of riding bitless. Webbing halters can be used but rope halters give clearer communication. Riding in halters is favoured by many natural horsemanship riders. These work by applying pressure to the nose. The reins attach to the knot behind the horses’ jaw Hackamore - These have been around a long time and are favoured by showjumpers. They are a type of side-pull using pressure solely on the nose. The reins attach to the ends of shanks giving leverage which makes it a strong bridle. Bosal – Another form of bitless bridle that has been around for a long time. Traditionally used by stockmen, used extensively in western riding and with young horses prior to bitting them. Made of stiffened rawhide it works via nose pressure only. Due to the extension of the bosal behind the horses’ head, to which the reins are attached, the bosal also has extra leverage. The back of the bosal lifts as pressure is applied to the reins, pushing the nose piece downwards to apply more pressure to the nose. Side-Pull – The side-pull developed from the rope halter and has also been around for a long time. By creating attachments at the side, the reins can be attached there, giving clearer direction to the horse than using the knot behind the jaw. Nowadays they’re also made with other materials, to look more like a traditional bridle. All the pressure from the rider’s hands is felt on the nose of the horse. Some side-pull bitless bridles also come with shanks for leverage. Cross-Under - This is the most recent player to the field. The first cross-under was designed by Dr Robert Cook over 30 years ago. He spent years studying the effect of bits on horses, both physiologically and behaviourally. From this research he designed a totally new method of communication with the horse that was humane and effective. The cross-under works by distributing the pressure from the rider’s hands around the horses’ entire head. So, which bitless bridle should you choose? It really depends on what you plan to do with your horse. All horses are happier without a bit in their mouth, so any of these methods is a step up for your horse. If you are interested in western riding, then perhaps the bosal is for you. If you like casual trail rides you might be happy with a rope halter or side-pull. Some people don’t like to use leverage with their horses but if you’re ok with that a hackamore is a great choice for sports such as show jumping and eventing. The cross-under can be used in most situations. Horses are trained to lead with a halter from a young age. They are accustomed to the pressure applied by a halter and how it feels on the nose. For this reason, moving into a side-pull bitless bridle can be an easy transition. If you’re willing to do a little training to new equipment and want that extra bit of control, the cross-under is a great option. Because it distributes the pressure around the horses’ whole head it is a stronger bridle than the side-pull. If you are wanting extra control then the cross-under, hackamore, leverage side-pull and bosal will give you that little bit extra. The normal side-pull and the halter are great for low-key riding and where the rider is experienced and can ensure safety in volatile situations. The horse may also decide what type of bitless option they like. Trialling a few types is a great idea to see what works for both of you. At the end of the day the most important thing is removing the bit, not the choice of which type of bitless you use.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Ph: 0401 249 263
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