The first time the word bitless was mentioned to me I must admit I laughed, I mean surely having no bit would mean no brakes, right? Wrong, this is a common misconception by most in relation to bitless. Before going further, this is not an I hate bits post but about how bitless can have its uses.
Now, what bitless won’t do though is replace bad training and in order to go bitless, the right amount of groundwork and training is still required. For me I tried it after a recommendation from my daughter who rides her 16.1hh mare in a bitless bridle and my then 3-year-old cob wasn’t going well in a bit but rode fine in a halter.
So I made the change and rode for about a year in an English hackamore, now I know you might be thinking that this is a
harsh bitless bridle but like a bit, all types can be harsh in the wrong hands. Previously I tried a Waterford bit which again people say are harsh but due to him chewing, the links in it discouraged this behaviour and I have light hands. Being bitless enabled me to teach him how to ride off my seat rather than my hands and now the lightest of touch and a change in weight is enough to change our direction.
There are many different types of bitless bridles around and for a short time, we also tried a Cross under style (see above). However, this just confused him despite groundwork and we quickly returned to his hackamore. For my horse being bitless enabled him to relax and learn without chewing the bit which distracted him from listening to me and concentrating on his surroundings, he was able to grow and mature whilst learning still.
Types of Bitless bridles:
Transcend double bridle
He’s now 5 and I have changed to ride in an egg-butt lozenge but his time bitless has given him skills, he and I, might not have otherwise gained. He’s very focused on my seat aids and will move simply by me shifting my weight instead of using the reins and bit. I find that he now needs the minimum amount of pressure applying to the reins and he will turn. I may return to bitless in the future for hacking out and use my bit for jumping etc but for now, we are comfortable in what we have and he is working well!
Along with trying bitless, we have also tried a treeless saddle due to his ever-changing shape being a youngster. We tried various treed saddles for some time with nothing being suitable and one even slipping to the side mid-ride, even though it was fitted by a saddle fitter! So for around a year, I rode in an EasyTrek treeless saddle, which suited him well and was very comfortable. Unfortunately though for me, I found that I started to lean forwards in it and this was affecting our riding. Therefore the search began for another saddle and we have now got a lovely GFS general purpose saddle with changeable gullet. This saddle is lovely and comfy and has stopped my bad position.
However, I do also use the best friends bareback pad for smaller hacks. This pad has no stirrups as recommended for a bareback pad, as these can put pressure on the horses back, plus I don’t need them to balance so find it better to use my core muscles to ride. We can walk and trot but the canter is work in progress for both of us, we have done it once and it was not as scary as I first thought and he stops well so I didn’t bounce around when transitioning back to walk.
Finally, as you have probably guessed we are also barefoot! I am thankful that he has good feet and has regular trims and check-ups with the farrier to make sure they are maintained. I love the sound of his hooves on the ground and hopefully, he can continue for many years!