Why Bitless is Better

Many people ask me why I ride in a halter.  (Many people just stare at me with a look of confusion, but that’s ok!).  There are a few reasons why I do it, and I’d like to share them with you because I think it’s an important topic and more people should know about it.

Natural horsemanship and bitless riding go hand in hand.  Natural Horsemanship is based on the horse’s own natural instincts and behaviors, and focuses on a pain-free,  fear-free method of teaching horses.  Because the bit can, and often does, cause pain, it is a contradictory method of training to NH.   Now of course not all bits are created equal, just as not all people hurt their horses with them (at least, not intentionally), but from what I have learned, even just the presence of the bit in the mouth can be detrimental to the horse, both physically and mentally.

Horses’ mouths are designed for eating, swallowing, and breathing, and when a bit is present, it interferes with these basic processes.  In some horses the effect is more profound, but all horses are affected by this to some degree.  Problems with bits can often be seen with behaviors like running away, head tossing, rearing, and many other negative behaviors. I highly recommend Dr. Robert Cook and Dr. Hiltrud Strasser’s book “Metal in the Mouth” for a more detailed explaination.
Metal in the Mouth

So, if we remove the bit, and the horse is more comfortable, he is also calmer and more willing to learn.  Remember that horses don’t learn when they’re in pain.  I have noticed such a difference in my horses’ attitudes that I now ride bitless all the time.  Now that doesn’t mean I am “anti-bit,” or that I never use a bit…. I still do, more often on horses I know I’m going to sell.  I realize not everyone rides bitless, so I teach my ‘for sale’ horses to go both ways.

So for those who think that you can’t achieve a certain level of learning without a bit, check out this video.

Let me ask you this: If horse A can perform at a certain level without a bit, and horse B preforms at the same level with a bit, which horse is better trained?   If your horse is getting better trained (pardon the grammar), the bit should get milder and milder — the logical extension of which is:  at a certain point, no bit is needed at all.

For those of you who think it’s the bit that stops the horse, have a peek at this video:

I used to work in a tack store, and many many times, people would come in and ask me for a ‘better’ or ‘bigger’ bit.  “My horse just isn’t going the way he used to, and I need something with a little more [bite/leverage/control/whatever].”   Obviously if the horse is getting worse, or responding less, it is a rider/trainer error, not a bit error.  The majority of people who ride with bits think that a stronger bit equals more control, but that’s not true.  The proof is in the pudding.  All you need to do is look at some of the bits people use when “control” is an issue, like in foxhunting and eventing.  Some of these horses look like they are running away with the rider, or completely out of control, even with that big bit in their mouths.  Then, look at some of the NH riders and trainers… working with precision and control with only a string around the horse’s neck, or nothing at all!

For many years now I have foxhunted in a rope halter and rope reins.  People think I’m nuts.  I won’t rule that out, but in this case, it was reasonable, since I had trained my horse to be ridden in this way.  Some people said that my horse was unusual, that most horses couldn’t do what my horse did.  Hogwash!  She is just an off-the-track thoroughbred like half the hunt horses out there.  Any horse can learn to do what mine does.  It’s a matter of taking the time to teach them.  Obviously I wouldn’t just put a halter on some horse and go hunting without ‘proper prior preparation’ as Pat Parelli would say.  Taking the time to train the horse properly will reap great rewards in the end.

For those who think you can’t acheive collection or execute upper-level movements without a bit, watch this video:

There are many ways to ride bitless:  a bitless bridle, for example, a Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle, is very good for those just trying bitless riding for the first time.  Switching from a bitted bridle to a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle is probably the easiest transition to bitless riding as you use it the same way you would use a bitted bridle; it requires very little additional training in order to use it.  Dr. Cook’s website also has some very good information about the benefits of riding without a bit.  You can also ride in a halter of course, or nothing at all! (This techinique is a little more advanced…. more on this later).  I have tried practically every bitless bridle and halter out there, and I have found that a plain old rope halter works best for me…. but it is up to you to find the one you are most comfortable with.

Here is a very informative article explaining more of the science behind the damage caused by bits.

Here is another article that is well-written and informative.

Another article here.

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23 Responses

  1. Hi
    I have ridden my horse Flicka 2 times without a bit in the arena. I really really want to ride without a bit in the future.She always had a bit but I want to change that.
    What she is trying to do after a while without a bit during riding is eating grass. I pull her up ofcourse and let her walk on , and as soon she’s not eating I release pressure.
    But she kept on trying it .
    In the spring the grass will be more tempting after the long winter with just snow on the ground. My arena has gras.So I’m a bit nervous to start again without a bit as it seems I have to pul her so hard up to keep her away from it. What is your advice ?
    Thank you.

    Hi Saskia,
    I would suggest, instead of trying to pull her head up (which can end up just a tug of war which you will not win since she is stronger), try kicking her to make her move… it’s hard to eat and move your feet at the same time…. if you can, try to make her walk or trot a small circle every time she puts her head down… pretty soon she’ll put it together and get tired of doing circles…. start with a rein cue first, and if she doesn’t respond, do the circles… pretty soon just the rein cue will work, without you having to tug and tug and tug on her. Let me know how it goes! ~Aeron

  2. My horse wears a saddle and a bridle. I sometimes ride him in the bitless bridle. I’m trying very hard to go the barefoot road. I will competed w/him. I practice NH.
    If I only listen to Nazarov, I am a terrible person. My horse has never opened his mouth w/pain. We will go to horse trials when he enjoys it too.
    I am actually a good horse person!!

  3. Hello there, my name is Haley, and i have a regular quarter horse named lorena, nothing fancy, but she is quite stubborn, i have never tried to ride her bit-less, as i am worried about what i should do, but she does not listen the the bit(or to me, not sure which one) real well. I would love to know how to control my horse better, please help me, you can message me at haleywilkinson@hotmail.com

    • Hi Haley, I think that she is probably not listening to you, so you need to make sure she does before trying her in a bitless halter or bridle. Once she is listening to you obediently, then you can try the bitless. I would recommend lessons or a trainer to help you with this, as it may take a little while to get the hang of it. Good luck!

  4. Hi, my name is Pixie, I’m 14 years old and live in South U.S.A. I have a Missouri Fox Trotter mare, whom I trained with a bozzle, and ride today with a hackamore. So I’m familiar with bitless riding, and I much prefer it. 🙂
    About a year ago adopted a Quarter Horse Paint gelding, he was mistreated and abused and he’s very high strung and strong-willed, and will absolutely not respond to a bozzle or any type of bitless headstall. So I used a snaffle bit. I still had very little control and he threw me off one day so badly that i spent a week in the hospital. My parents wanted him destoyed, but I talked them out of it, as long as I could control him. To save his life I borrowed my friend’s curb chain and put it on his bridle. I haven’t had any problems since, but I hate using the horrid thing. I know that it hurts him. Suggestions please?

    • Hi Pixie, thanks for writing to me…. As you know, I am definitely an advocate of bitless riding… however, I would say that in your case, safety comes first, and if a curb chain is what it takes to keep control of the horse, then it is definitely A-OK with me. After a while, if you feel he is improving in his manners & control, then you can try to ease back to a milder bit, but not until you feel 100% safe doing it. It may take a while to re-train him, especially if he was mis-handled, but your number 1 priority is to be safe and not get hurt… ok? There are plenty of other horses out there, but only one YOU. Good luck, and let me know how it goes. ~Aeron

  5. thanks so much Aeron. You make me feel a lot better about it! 🙂

  6. Hi, my name is Marie and I just started taking riding lessons. I have been reading Dr.Cooks website and very much would like to use a bit-less bridle and practice NH.

    I will start leasing a horse next week.(Jan 2010) and if all goes well hope to purchase a horse down the road within the next 3 -6 months.. I will be purchasing equipment for myself this week including a bridle so I am wondering if I should just purchase Dr.Cooks bridle instead of the standard bit bridle would be the right thing to do.

    The thought of the using the bit or even buying one when the option of bit-less is available makes it seem like I’d be wasting money that could be put to a bit-less.

    Thank you,

    Marie

  7. Hi I’m Jorja and im 14 and ive recently started riding a 21 year old anglo-arab gelding who is a forward going and strong ride. He used to toss his head around madly and has done for years and after the first time of riding him i suggested the Bitless bridle and he is a changed horse!
    No more head throwing or tossing and his is so much more happy without the bit. He feels so much better to ride. We just need to get used to it as he is still very strong but he is responding well.
    I wish more people knew about the bitless and gave it a shot because even after 21 years on the bit my Ullisess was instantly better without one
    yours Jorja x

  8. Superb website. You have made a brand-new regular reader. Please keep up the great posts and I look forward to more of your fascinating updates.

  9. My neighbors had 3 horses and I’ve always been allowed to ride Ginger, she was their more recent addition. After she caught west nile she was more difficult to ride because she had no nerve endings in her whithers. She just went crazy with the saddle and bridle on, but if i just rode bareback with the halter and lead rope she was perfectly fine even with someone touching her whithers.

  10. Hi!

    I ride a paint horse that is overly sensitive to mouth cues with the bit. Do you think that a bit-less bridle would benefit him?

    Thanks,

    Kassy hendricks

    • Absolutely! Some horses are very sensitive in the mouth, and actually prefer a bitless… once you practice how to turn, stop, etc, it is just the same as riding with a bit, only your horse is happier! I have evented in my riding halter, and foxhunted in it… so anything is possible!

  11. Hi,
    I totally agree with riding bitless. I use the Dr. Cook bridle on my mare and we go everywhere. She loves it and does so much better. All my horses I ride bitless and notice a difference in their attiude. There just is no other way to ride. I believe it is safer for the horse and that they actually trust and respect you more.

  12. Hi Aeron!

    How can I purchase one of your Aeron Riding Halters, and how much do they cost? I bought a seven year old thoroughbred stallion in march. He is a calm horse with wonderful ground manners, but I found that when I put a bridle and bit on him, he is badly behaved in the arena. He doesn’t listen to rein turning cues well. He just stretches his neck against the bit and opens his mouth. I hate to have to keep pressure on it to get him to turn, but that’s what it takes. He doesn’t have teeth problems, and eats just fine.
    Then as I was going out to ride bareback one day, I attached my lead rope to either side of his nylon halter to ride, and he did fantastic! I can turn him perfectly, make him go and make him stop, and work him around cones and barrels without a problem. I was thinking of buying a natural hackamore, but I came across your halter instead and I think it looks great! It will be nice to use something made for riding with, that won’t give him rubs or big sweat marks on his face when we’re done.

    • Hi Mallory,
      Unfortunately I am still out of halters at the moment… I am trying to find some one to make them for me…there are a couple copy cats out there who have started making & selling my design, which is annoying to say the least… but not much I can do about it. I hope to be getting some more in soon. I will keep you posted! ~Aeron

      • patent the design. there are a lot of options out there to help you get a patent. even if it is just intellectual property. since you have actually made one, if you apply, its yours until its expired or denied.

      • If there is already a patent on the design (which I’m sure the original company had) I’m pretty sure they’re not going to let me re-patent it…. I can, however, put it into production if the patent is no longer active… or even if it is!

  13. Hello,
    My name is Laurel, I’m 13 and last June I bought a half friesian half quarter horse 5 year old . At first she was doing well, but I am a kind of timid rider and she developed many bad habits. Whenever I ride with my instructor she flings her head around and is very hard to control, and I end up dragging on her mouth more and more. She is headstrong and will often use anything she can to get advantage of the situation. Should I try bitless?

  14. Karin here. I just ran across this thread and wanted to comment. I have a paint mare. I got her at 6 months of age and trained her myself. I am no pro, but I knew right off that a bit wasn’t going to work. She went ballistic, therefore, we have always ridden with a hackamore. The type I prefer is braided leather. We only rode for pleasure, also barefoot, and we were in a parade once. I’ve been offered good money for her, but couldn’t part with my ‘baby’. I am unable to ride now due to back problems, but my girl is always ready for a scratch down and brushing. I would not feel afraid to have anyone ride her and will never allow a bit in her mouth.

  15. Hello my name is Emily I’m 11 and me and my siblings are going to get horses soon and I’m thinking about training my horse to do bitless my sister thinks it just “different strokes for different horses 😉” but ive learned a lot about the pain and future problems that a bit can cause. So should I start in a bit and later change or should I just go ahead and do bitless?

    • Hi Emily, I think you could do both! Teach your horse both bitted and bitless riding, and that way, your horse will be able to handle any situation in the future! Do you have riding teacher who will be helping you? That would be a good idea. Try to find a Natural Horsemanship trainer if you can; they are the best! Good luck!

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