My own personal journey with bitless bridles began over ten years ago. Since then I have passed through many and varied learning experiences and perspectives. Now I find I’m returning to a similar place to where I started. Initially I loved the cross-under bitless bridle because it meant I could immediately remove the bit from my horses’ mouths. I’d been riding in halters for years but didn’t feel safe doing that riding alongside the road or at work taking people out riding. So in those situations I still used a bit, but was never happy about it. I felt that I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to be safe and so continued to use the pain based method of bits.
Then one of my riding students was going to buy her first ever bitless bridle. I decided to get one too. Neither of us knew anything about them but luckily we accidentally bought the cross-under style (the side-pulls work the same as a halter). This one piece of equipment changed my life. I was busy studying equine science at university, working as a riding instructor and trail guide, and had a herd of horses including a warmblood stallion and his mares, to look after at home. Basically I had no time left to train my own horses but I still wanted to ride them for R&R. I literally did no training for the bitless at all (because I didn’t know how to then anyway) and just popped it on and rode. ALL my horses were wonderful in it and went softer and easier than I’d ever experienced before.
To say I was gobsmacked is to put it mildly, I was astounded. Why wasn’t everyone using these? Pain free and effective, I’d hit the bonanza! But the absolutely amazing part was how easily the horses transitioned into them. Up until this point I’d thought that only people who were not working and had lots of time, or who worked full time as trainers or who had lots of money to pay for instructors and trainers, or were incredibly highly skilled, could possibly ride a horse safely without a bit. This changed everything.
Of course I quickly started raving about them to anyone who’d listen. Most of my students went bitless and I thought it was only a matter of weeks before the world would be bitless. Well, ten years down the track and….
In the meantime I found myself drawn to the world of natural horsemanship, a group of people who don’t want to use bits and who want to be kind to their horses. Over the years I’ve incorporated many wonderful principles from this training style into my own method. But I’ve also found that for many people it’s just too long a journey to train a horse this way and/or they just don’t possess the skills. So many of these people continue riding with bits because they think that unless they can be master horse trainers they have no choice.
This brings me back to the beginning and to what I discovered with my very first bridle. The cross-under bitless bridle can be used by children, novices, fearful riders, intermediate and experienced riders IMMEDIATELY. There is no need for years of intensive training and light-bulb moments of incredible horse whispership to be able to ride without a bit. You can do it today if you want to remove the bit from your horses’ mouth. If you are a beginner it’s a good idea to start slowly in a small space while your horse adjusts and get some lessons if possible. For experienced riders who aren’t hand dependant, the transition is immediate.