Bit or Bitless for Non Ridden Equines

The Non Ridden Equine Association UK and our affiliated Non Ridden Equine Facebook groups are not anti-bit or anti-bitless. Our members are passionate about a better way and tack and equipment is one topic that has certainly sparked very hot debate. So here we have posted on here some FREE advice, suggestions and tips that may help you and your horse. 

What matters is the knowledge and compassion of the mind of the hands that hold the equipment. An educated mind enables you to understand your head collar, halter, bridle (bit or no bit) choice in relation to your chosen activity, horsemanship stage and ability. This in the context of the bigger picture of aiming for refinement of your horsemanship. The wrong approach and equipment used badly can result in disaster and can make you and your horse miserable. So here we wanted to share some insights to help you and your horse. 

Ethical compassionate horsemanship is what matters. Any head collar, halter or bridle, be it bitless or with a bit can cause discomfort or pain if used incorrectly. Therefore we urge people to invest in their horsemanship. If you are looking to connect with a horsemanship practitioner who is passionate about non ridden please check out the Ask the Experts section. Learning is lifelong and a great investment. We are all students of the horse on a personal journey of enlightenment. What is right for one is not right for another. We all see things differently. 

On this page I share with you some my knowledge and experience of equipment and if on my journey I find new information I will edit this page. My horsemanship approach has been showcased in several national magazines and my training ethos bitless was showcased in Horse Magazine.    

The Mind and the Hands 

With a growing interest in horsemanship training that taps into the language of the herd more and more people are looking to try a kinder way. Horsemanship for me is open and honest dialogue using positive reinforcement. The opinion of the horse matters in our relationship and interactions, they provide us with excellent feedback. So with this in mind when you are reading this information you are 50% of the picture, your horse will have an opinion on the training methods you use and the equipment selected. All equipment does is amplify your requests. Some types of equipment and training methods will whisper others shout. Once you can master a dialogue of lightness and connection you will no longer need equipment for you and your horse to understand each other. Partnership with a strong bond is better than any equipment, so invest in the relationship

Horsemanship comes in many delightful shapes and forms and there is good, bad and ugly out there. This page is not about exploring this topic. However we do provide access to lots of FREE on-line resources to delight, inspire and educate for non ridden horsemanship in our on-line Library. Please use this resource along with investing in your horsemanship with a practitioner of your choice. We have a section on our website – Ask the Experts – this is a list of practitioners who are keen to support people with non ridden horsemanship. These resources are not comprehensive and we are continually adding to them. 

A bit, head collar, halter or a bitless bridle should never be selected as a fashion trend or as a fix it training gadget, as there is never a short cut in training a horse. Uneducated harsh hands can cause a horse considerable discomfort in very mild equipment and in turn cause resistance. It is not the equipment at fault it is the way it is used. It is to be highlighted and underlined that correct technique is essential to train your horse and to develop refined horsemanship communication. 

Pressure is pressure, a bit can cause discomfort and pain so too can a head collar, a halter or a bitless bridle. For me it is about connection with the horse using a subtle whisper to suggest to the horse rather than using pressure and equipment to shout instruction. All head collars, halters, bridles be they bit or bitless can cause discomfort / pain. Some by the nature of design and materials used cause more discomfort or pain than others. The horse’s head and mouth is packed full of nerve endings. The skull has little padding. The nose on the horse is delicate and fragile. So it is wrong to think it is ok for a horse to brace and resist or a handler to pull on the rope in a head collar, halter or a bridle (bit or bitless) and it won’t hurt the horse, because it will. 

Horses move into pressure. It is hardwired into them. Horses don’t pull carts they push into the collar. Education and teaching your horse to be soft to the equipment is essential. Not using equipment to cause discomfort and pain so the horse backs off. Horsemanship sessions are a great investment and look for methods that use positive reinforcement. Your horse will thank you. 

Whatever you choose to use in the way of equipment for your horse regular dental checks are essential for comfort.

Head Collars and Halters  

Head Collars 

There are a huge range of head collars available in many different designs, colours, materials and prices. Head collars are usually made with wide straps and easy to undo buckles or clips. They are usually loose and no tightening parts. Most simple head collars offer an instant return to neutral on release of pressure. Any training style head collars with “control type features” such a sliding rope over nose or poll attachment maybe slow to release pressure or not release at all. In my opinion instant release equipment is better for training equines. Most of us use a simple head collar for everyday use. So long as the head collar is a correct fit and made with comfort in mind most horses are very happy in a head collar. It is usually our most useful piece of equipment and sadly many do not think of a head collar as training equipment, and it is. Every interaction we do with our equines is training. It is possible that for a non ridden equine a simple head collar maybe all you need. Limitations are only a few: Head collars can move about if you use them for some ground training activities and this is why we often look for an alternative for these activities. Some horses need educating not to lean into the wide strap this is a training issue not an equipment issue.

Halters 

There are many different types of halters available. Many are made from rope and are thin. Due to being thin they can create more focused pressure on the horse. Some designs have knots which again can apply pressure in a very small defined area. 

In some training approaches this can be useful to have this more focused pressure. However great care must be taken as this halter has the potential to cause discomfort or pain if used incorrectly. The halter must be used with tact, timing and the very softest pressure. Timing of an instant release supported with a positive reinforcement is essential. Therefore if you select a rope halter please ensure you are aware of how to use this equipment with great care and tact. Invest in your horsemanship.

Bitless Bridles 

All bitless bridles rely on use of a noseband in their design. Research has shown that tight nosebands cause significant distress to horses. Therefore correct fitting of a bitless bridle is essential or it can cause distress and pain. There are many different styles of bitless bridles there are available. Each is different in action. Some are milder and others more severe. Some bridles offer instant release to a neutral state these give clear and precise cues. Others are slow to release or don't release pressure are at best fudgy and at worst teach a horse resistance. Different bitless bridles put pressure / contact in different places on the horse’s head. Many have been designed for riding and some of these bridles do not translate well for non ridden activities. Here I will not give information on every bitless bridle available. Here I will focus on a few  that offer an instant release to neutral that are great for non ridden activities. Ideally horse and handler combinations that are considering incorporating bitless into their horsemanship should try a few different bridles. As they can feel very different, what one horse likes another may dislike. 

Each horse will have a different shaped head and getting the correct and comfortable fit for a bitless bridle is essential. So please seek professional advice from a bitless professional.

Side Pull / Side Cue

If your horse is happy in a head collar then a side pull will probably be a great bitless bridle choice for ground activities where a head collar has limitations. A side pull bridle is a very simple bridle that has offers a rein attachment on each side of the nose to direct the horse. You can also use a coupling between the rings so you can use the bridle with one line. It is an instant release bridle. There are lots of designs available. 

The benefits of this bridle are:-

  • It is a very mild bitless bridle.
  • Side pulls are available in a range of designs, materials and prices. 
  • They vary from soft wide padded leather, webbing, to rope and each feels very different to ground work your horse in. 
  • So the advice is to look at as many different side pulls before you purchase yours.
You can use these for in hand work with a coupling for use with one rope. The ring each side is great for working on 2 lines for long reining. Many horses are happy to be do ground activities in a side pull. Here are a few suggestions of places you can purchase side pull bridles from: EbayBitless HorseNose RopesBarefoot, etc... 

Several multi-bridles offer the facility to use a side pull option these include: Orbitless, Matrix and the Flower Hackamore. Which I will provide information below. 

Orbitless. 

The Orbitless bridle works by applying pressure to the nose, chin and poll. It is an instant release bridle. It is can be used as a side pull or a mild hackamore. 

The benefits of this bridle are:-

  • There are no long shanks to apply large amounts of leverage. 
  • I love this bridle as the aids can be refined, subtle, soft and gentle as the Orbitless offers precise and clear instant release. 
  • It can be used with a coupling with a single lead ring for in hand activities. Or with two lines for long reining etc… 
  • Due to the unique shape of the ellipses the bridle has numerous settings. Set in the vertical plane you will increase poll pressure, set in the horizontal plane you reduce poll pressure. Then dependant on where you attach the lead rope gives you even more settings. So it can be varied between poll and chin pressure and nose and chin pressure. Therefore you can try different settings to find the one your horse prefers.
Click here for more information. 

Matrix. 

This is a multi bitless bridle. Great if you are looking for a bridle that is adaptable. It can be used as a Side Pull, Scawbrig, Crossunder, Paso Fino, Bosal and Hackamore. Most of these options offer an instant release, however in my experience the crossunder and scawbrig is slower to release pressure, so these are the only two options I don’t use for my own horses. Because it gives you many options it is very useful for in-hand work with one rope or you can go to using two lines. For more information on the Matrix bridle contact Lise Cooke, Plas Equestrian, Rhydargaeau, Carmarthen. SA32 7JJ. Te: 01267 253251 / 07450199627. email: [email protected] Facebook has both Plas Equestrian and Matrix Bitless Bridles

Flower Hackamore. 

This bridle gives you several settings, the difference between this bridle and the Orbitless is it provides a slightly longer shank and a few less options.

Bits 

The selection of bits is vast and too big to cover every type of bit out there. They range from harsh to mild. Even the mildest / kindest bit in uneducated hands can cause pain and damage. Many bits have been developed with riding in mind and will not be suitable for non ridden activities. If you choose to use a bit for your horse there are several things to consider. The shape and form of your horse’s head and mouth for example: some horses have a low or high roof of the mouth, some have very fleshy tongues, some wide or narrow tongues, some have a wide or narrow jaw, some have thin lips others fleshy, wolf teeth, etc... Mouth and head conformation varies enormously between individual equines and different breeds. To get the right bit for your horse is an art and a science. Getting the right fit is a combination of physically it fitting the horse, how the horse feels about the bit and how you use it. It pays to take professional advice when fitting a bit correctly and how to use it. It pays to discuss this with a horsemanship practitioner or contact a specialist in bits, for example The Bit Bank.

There is research that has discovered the use of a bit in a horse’s mouth affects the horse’s natural breathing as it breaks the seal of the horse’s mouth. Some horses dislike a bit and this will be seen in behavioural issues such as resistance, fidgeting, head shaking, fixing, grinding teeth on the bit, leaning, backing off, running away, mouth problems, etc…. Sadly often when a horse shows a resistance people will go to trying a harsher bit or any number of different styles of nosebands. Research has shown that tight nosebands cause significant distress to horses. 

There are no short cuts with horses, no equipment or upping the pressure will fix things. Pure and simple it is the relationship and ethical training that matters.