What Does “Bitless” Really Mean?

There is some controversy surrounding the bitless bridle vs. bitted bridle debate.   I would like to set the record straight on a few points of fact.

Bitless Bridle:  Definition:  A bitless bridle is any type of headgear used to control an animal (usually a horse) while riding that does not include a bit.

 There are many types of bitless bridles.  For example: A bosal is a bitless bridle.  A hackamore is a bitless bridle.  A side-pull is a bitless bridle.  A cross-under is a bitless bridle.  And a riding halter is a bitless bridle.

 A riding halter differs from simply attaching reins to a ‘traditional’ halter in several ways.  First, a riding halter does not have a fiador knot. This sets it apart from most rope halters.  Also, a riding halter has rings to attach reins to.  The rings are set lower on the noseband than in traditional side-pull-type bridles.  This is to help prevent the noseband from sliding up the horse’s face when pulling on the reins. The properties of a riding halter are unique and different from a halter, and that is why there is a patent pending on the design.

Some argue that the rider has less control when using a bitless bridle.  This is a common misconception.  A horse that has been trained to be ridden bitless is just as ‘contollable’ as a horse who is trained to be ridden in a bit…sometimes more so.  The difference being, the horse is generally happier and more relaxed with out a bit than with.  There are many many examples of people riding in bitless bridles, and even bridles-less, that show that it is not the bit that controls the horse, but his training.  While a strong bit may give the rider the illusion they have more control over the horse, this is not necessarily the case.

There is a growing body of evidence which supports the notion that bits can harm horses [1].  Horses mouths are extremely sensitive, and it is all too common for a rider, whether intentionally or not, to hurt the horse with the bit.  Beginning riders are especially likely to accidentally ‘punish” the horse in the mouth as they lack the independant seat required to allow their hands to remain soft and giving.  But even the mildest of bits can inflict pain, and at the very least are annoying to the horse. 

Reference: Metal In The Mouth, The Abusive Effects of Bitted Bridles by Dr. Robert Cook and Dr. Hiltrud Strasser.


4 Responses

  1. Hi Aeron!

    I watched your videos on youtube and have to tell you this story about bitless riding. When I was a girl – my family boarded horses. I never had a horse of my own and the owners left no tack except the lead ropes and halters. They said I could ride though, and I rode a 17hh thoroughbred, a retired racehorse, a barrel racer, a hot headed parade appy, and a 4 year old mare with a halter and lead ropes. I could get those horses to do ANYTHING I wanted. They were my buddies and trusted me. Great memories and it all came really naturally and easy.

  2. Hi, i have been reading the articles on bitless bridles and have become a convert. We are in England and are just starting our rescue mare on bitless as she will not tolerate any sort of metal inher mouth and i dont want to stress her out just because of this. It has taken 2 months to even get the bitless over her ears but with patience and confidence fingers crossed we are half way there. She is happy with her NH halter (very similar to yours in USA) i think and this has helped so much i would never believe that something with knots would do so much good.

    • I have been riding my mare for years in a hackamore because her original trainer was heavy handed with the bit and forced it in when she was young and reluctant. I switched to a hackamore as I got tired of her head going up into the sky at the sight of it. However, she will take a mild bit now with much work on my part!

  3. I have been riding my mare for years with a hackamore as her original trainer was really rough with the bit and she continually flipped up her head at the very sight of it.

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