cross-under bitless bridle

It can be very confusing for people when they decide to try bitless riding and start looking into what’s available. The amount of different styles of bitless bridles on the market now is astonishing. It’s a bit like all the different styles of bits, which is great because it indicates a growing interest in the horse world for bitless riding, but can be very confusing if you’ve never used or even seen a bitless bridle and don’t know what will suit you and your horse.


I will try and shed some light on the different styles and how they work and for which situations they are most likely to be appropriate. I have tried most of the styles by now and have taught a number of riding students and horses using different types.

side-pull bitless bridle

Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

Side-Pull Bitless Bridle

Basically all bitless bridles are a variation of either cross-under or side-pull. Cross-under bitless bridles have two straps that cross behind the jaw (hence the name) and apply pressure around the whole head while side-pulls have the reins attached to the sides of the bridle and apply pressure to the nose.


Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

The cross-under bitless bridle distributes pressure all around the head in a ‘head-hug’, so when the rider applies pressure only a small amount is felt by the horse in each place. The same amount of rein pressure is used as with any other gear, but it's distributed. The horse feels the pressure behind the jaw, at the sides of the head, on the poll and the nose. This makes the bridle very humane as it’s virtually impossible to hurt a horse with this style, making it brilliant for novice and experienced riders alike. The other thing this does is make the bridle very effective. The horses’ whole head is in your hands as you ride, rather than just the nose or mouth. This distributed pressure also ensures the horse does not get a sore spot on the nose. 

The origional Dr Cook Bitless Bridle was developed by Dr Cook after many years of research. His design has been so popular that other companies have made copies of it and now produce their own. In order to do this they have made changes in order to bypass the patent. I have yet to see any of these modifications enhancing the bridle, most unfortunately have decreased it's effectiveness. One in particular to watch out for is a cross-under that has had a keeper attached where the two straps cross behind the jaw. This keeper effectively stops the release of the straps and I recommend avoiding any cross-unders with this modification.


Side-Pull Bitless Bridle

The side-pulls feel the same as a halter to the horse, as the pressure is on the nose. If you have a well trained horse that can be ridden in a halter then this is a good choice for you. There are also rope bitless bridles now available, which are much easier to attach reins to than a halter as they have rings at the sides. A side-pull bridle usually fits the horses' head better than a halter, so there is less movement, plus they may look a bit smarter.


There are lots of different styles of side-pull on the market. There are straight side-pulls, where the reins attach to the bridle such that the pressure is all on the nose, plus some with a sliding chin-strap. These have approximately 90% of the pressure on the nose, and 10% behind the jaw. There are side-pulls that have leverage mechanisms, such as shanks, to increase the leverage on the nose (Hackamores and Bosals are also leverage bridles). I include Bosals here, because even though the reins attach to the knot at the back, not the sides, they also place the pressure on the nose.

Whichever style of Bitless Bridle you choose, it will be a step up for the horse. At the end of the day, any style of bitless bridle will be better for your horse than a bit.


If you have any further questions relating to types of bitless bridles I am more than happy to help, please contact us.   suzy@happyhorsesbitless.com  Ph. 0401 249 263