Recently while doing a bitless presentation, I discovered that the main thing people wanted to know was how to transition to a bitless bridle. Over the 10 years I’ve been using cross-under bitless bridles, I’ve developed exercises that make the transition from riding with a bit to without a bit seamless. Below I will describe step by step how to do this easily with any horse.
Ensure correct fitting.
A badly fitting bridle can distract the horse and/or reduce communication. The noseband needs to be about an inch above the corners of the mouth, if lower, it puts pressure on the cartilage, and if higher there is reduced control. The noseband is used to communicate with the horse so if it’s tight the pressure/release is not clear. Have it as loose as possible but without the cheek pieces popping outwards when you use the reins. Ensure the poll piece is not putting pressure on the back of the ears. This is extremely uncomfortable for the horse. If it is, use a larger browband.
Put the reins over the horse’s neck as if you were about to ride and stand beside the girth. Ask the horse to yield their head toward you. Use a squeezing rein aid and release immediately when you feel the horse give, praise them. Don’t worry about how big a yield they do. If you release on a small give you can ask again and you will usually get a bigger one the next time. You’re after quality first. Quantity is easy once you have quality. When you see improvement, repeat on the other side.
Next, ask them to yield away from you. Stand half way along the neck and taking your hand underneath the neck use the rein to ask the horse to yield the head away. Repeat on other side.
Using both reins ask your horse to drop the head. Ensure your feel on the reins is down and not backwards or forwards.
Again using both reins ask for backwards. Start with one step then increase. Next take the reins over the head and ask your horse to stand still as you back away to the end of the reins. Ask them to come towards you using forward rein pressure.
Next do some hindquarter yields. Stand at the girth and using the nearest rein ask for the head yield (already established) then keeping a squeezing feel on the rein walk toward the hinds. The hinds should move as you approach, if not wave your hand, tap with your finger, click tongue etc. Repeat other side.
Finally do shoulder yields. Stand half way along the neck, flex the head away (already established) then use your hand on the shoulder to ask the shoulder to move over.
With both the hind and forequarter yields start with one step. We don’t want the horse moving forward or backwards, just around. Don’t increase the number of steps until you have achieved this.
If you need to, use add-ons like alternate squeezes, tongue clicking, increasing the strength and using fingers etc., try different things then when you get a response release immediately. Do as many yielding sessions as you need to until you feel the horse is giving and softening to the bridle in all the yields. These yields are specifically for transitioning and result in the horse becoming accustomed to the feel of the bridle in every way, and teach the horse to soften and yield to the bridle.
If your horse is doing all these yields well, then riding will be a breeze. Start off in an enclosed area and don’t collect the reins up short to start with. Use a long open rein and have fun. Later you can take up more rein contact, but make it easy for the horse to start with. Do the yields from the saddle. Everything you’ve been doing on the ground transfers to the saddle. Once you've been riding for a while in the enclosed area you will forget you have on a bitless, from that point on just ride as you normally would. Above all enjoy yourself, this is fun, not work, and your horse will enjoy this as much as you.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
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