By bitting expert Lucy Nicholas
Riders may choose to ride without a bit for a variety of reasons, such as the horse’s preference and the influence of the bit of their way of going; also if the horse has physical problems e.g. getting rubs and sores or the anatomy of their mouths, or simply just personal choice of the rider.
Bitless designs are seen in all disciplines, but are the most prevalent in endurance riding. However riding bitless is increasingly common in the show jumping area, as a useful alternative to the bit for sensitive, highly strung horses!
A bitless bridle differs from a bitted bridle in the way that it utilises directional cues. Bitless bridles apply pressure to parts of the horse’s face and head, such as the nose, jaw and poll, but not to the mouth at all.
Types of bitless bridles
There are several bitless bridles on the market, with the hackamore and Micklem being the two most popular. (Click here to view more information on the Micklem).
This bridle has been designed from the inside out, following the shape of the skull itself, instead of just from the outward appearance of the equine’s head.
It avoids any pressure on the facial nerves or projecting cheek bones and also the upper jaw molar teeth, which prevents discomfort both to the facial nerves and the sensitive tissues lining the cheeks, that a tight fitting cavesson or flash noseband can cause.
The main reason for this is obvious to see when considering the skull of a horse. The top jaw is considerably wider than the lower jaw and this is true of all horses.
The inside of the cheeks may become squashed, bruised and lacerated between the outer edge of the upper jaw teeth on one side, and the flash noseband pressing inwards on the other side, in some equine cases, in a normal bridle that is not well fitted or doesn’t suit the horse.
The Micklem also provides a great solution for the many horses that resist because of pain around the frequently damaged bars of the mouth, or hate too much pressure on the tongue.
The Hackamore is perhaps the most well-known bitless bridle. There are many styles, but the classic hackamore design features a bosal noseband and a stabilising throat lash which is held to the hackamore by a browband.
The Hackamore noseband works by rein pressure on the face, nose, and chin. Hackamores are useful for horses with mouth problems, or those that just dislike any type of bit.
The English version of the hackamore has a fairly short shank, usually with a padded leather nose section which may have a sheepskin or faux-fur cover, and either leather straps with a chain behind, as pictured above, or an all-leather strap.
One pair of reins is used on the bottom of the shank, which gives nose pressure. It is very important to fit hackamores in the correct position to avoid nerve damage or restriction to the horse’s breathing. The hackamore replaces the normal noseband and is fitted slightly lower than a cavesson, making sure the noseband is sitting on a solid part of the horse’s nose, not onto the soft cartilage below.
There are other bitless bridles available, including the Scawbrig, The Crossover and The Orbit, however the Micklem and Hackamore are the two that I turn to when asked about bitless bridles. If you’re interested in going bitless, why not consider one of the above options? Please contact me, Lucy Nicholas, directly at The Saddlery Shop, if you have a specific query.