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

Which Bitless Bridle Should I Use?

Updated: May 8

Horse wearing a Dr Cooks bitless bridle
The Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

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.

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. The amount of pressure in the riders hands remains the same, so this distribution means there's only a small amount of pressure at each spot. It also means it's very effective. This bridle gives excellent steering and brakes, giving the same amount of control as a bit but without the pain.

Side-Pull – The side-pull developed from the halter and has also been around for a long time. Nowadays they’re made in many styles and materials, and look more like a traditional bridle. In the majority, all the pressure from the rider’s hands is felt on the nose of the horse. Some have a sliding chin strap, helping to distribute the pressure more and give clearer communication. A few come with shanks for leverage, creating huge amounts of pressure on the nose.

Hackamore - These have been around a very long time and have been favoured by showjumpers and western riders. 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 with lots of pressure on the nose.

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.  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 some natural horsemanship riders. These work by applying pressure to the nose. The reins attach to the knot behind the horses’ jaw, or with some rings have been attached to the sides to provide better steering. 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 all these methods are a step up for your horse. You 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. I hope for those asking the question 'Which bitless bridle should I use?' that the choices are a little clearer now. Have fun and best of luck on you bit-free journey.

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Ph: 0401 249 263

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