Keeping it simple: Ben selects a bitless bridle

Over the past couple of weeks I have tried four bitless alternatives on Ben, by riding out or in-hand work, or both. I am recording Ben’s response to each, which is obviously just the response of this particular cob to a particular form of restraint and not meant to be a definitive review of these bridles.

I am not against bits and I do not rule out using a bit with Ben again, in fact I possibly will as I, hopefully, progress with his flat work schooling. I am happy with his response in the myler comfort snaffle bit. The only reason I have contemplated bitless alternatives is that, often when I go to put the bridle on Ben, he gives these enormous yawns which I have interpreted as a sign of tension. I also like the fact that riding Ben bitless is educating me, encouraging me to focus on my own body when I ride and to encourage Ben to tune in to weight aids more than he used to. It is also nice to go on a long hack and know that Ben can eat freely without the bit.

There can be far too much information (and even more opinions) on the internet. However, in various searches for bitless bridles I came across this blog post by Tom Widdicombe which has provided a wonderfully sane voice amongst all those opinions out there.

So, here is Ben’s (and my) impressions of four different bridles:

  • Sidepull: the one I used is fashioned from a leather cavesson and I have chosen to place the noseband in the normal position, not low as in crossunder bridles. I have used this bridle while riding out, my daughter has used it in the arena and I have used it for in-hand work.
    • Ben has been more responsive to in-hand flexion etc than he was with the bit. While riding out with Sandra and Cassie I have asked Ben to stop while Cassie moved away from him and he did so from my body’s signal to stop and a slightly lifted outside rein. He did not attempt to snatch at grass while riding out. My daughter said that she forgot he had no bit when she was riding Ben.
  • Lightrider bridle (rope version): I rode out in this once only and did some basic flexions in-hand with this bridle.
    • This felt “dull” and I had to tug quite hard to lift Ben’s head from the grass. I did stop him as Cassie moved away but I had to pull much harder than I liked on the reins. The strap that is supposed to slide behind Ben’s chin did not slide and seemed to stick in the side rings of the bridle.
  • Cross-under bridle: the one I borrowed was made by Barefoot, but is similar in design to a Dr Cook’s. I tried this first over a year ago, when Ben leant into the contact. I thought it was worth trying again as he has had cranio-sacral treatments since which have eased his sensitivity around the poll area. I only rode Ben out in this.
    • This was the worst bridle from my point of view, possibly the best from Ben’s! As we rode out Templeton’s song from Charlotte’s Web went around in my head: “a fair is a veritable smorgesbord…” The sides of the road turned into a veritable smorgesbord for Ben, as he went from snatches of cow parsley to hazel leaves to grass. I must say it was very irritating and the bridle felt un-subtle and quite blunt and I was hating it by the end of the ride.
  • Rope halter: I thought I would try this for in-hand work before riding out in it. Mali used to love the rope halter (parelli-style) and was very light and responsive in it.
    • This felt very crude in-hand and after one session I decided that I would not ride out in it or use it again in-hand.

My conclusions: keep it simple. Choose the bridle that is closest to what Ben is used to, which give direct rein signals and does not involve poll pressure.

IMG_7154.JPG

Ben is looking rather disgruntled that I am taking a photo when he thought he was finished. I have fiddled with the height of the noseband a bit and have it usually one hole below this.

Is it worth using a bitless bridle? I think it is. Those yawns prior to bridling have completely disappeared.

The sidepull I have used is borrowed from Sandra, so all I have to do now is choose from the many, many options out there…

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8 Comments

Filed under in-hand, riding, tack

8 responses to “Keeping it simple: Ben selects a bitless bridle

  1. Hi Maire, I use a bitless bridle as well, a so-called ‘Flower’. From the start the Flower felt like riding with a bit and it still does (although I am not riding very often). Perhaps you had already heard of this bitless bridle, perhaps not?

    It seems to me you evaluate the bitless bridles as to how easy it is to pull Ben’s head from the grass, which strikes me as a bit odd to be honest. In my opinion no bridle (with or without bit) is meant to be a ‘pulling device’, but just a signalling device. The grass snatching habit is not something that should be solved or prevented with a bridle, but shows (at least that’s the way I see it) a certain lack of respect and politeness in the horse, don’t you think? I don’t mean to offend you in any way but because you are (or were?) a follower of Carolyn Resnick’s blog you no doubt know about the exercises which teach your horse politeness around food, when to eat and when not to, head up and head down etc. To me that’s the foundation which also translates into other aspects of daily horse behaviour. Please tell me what you think?

    Best wishes,
    Marja

    • Hi Marja,

      Thank you for that link. I have looked at the flower bridle previously and rejected it as can involve poll pressure which would not be so suitable for Ben.

      I do indeed read Carolyn Resnick’s blog and greatly value her wisdom but I’d rather not get into a discussion about Ben’s grass snatching and all it may imply. I write my blog to record my experiences with Ben and Rosie and am reluctant to turn this into a discussion/debate regarding different aspects and principles of horse behaviour and management. For me that would take from the immediacy of my experience. Bottom line for me, there is me, Ben (or Rosie) and what happens between us. To discuss around it would lose something from that experience and change the way I write this blog.

      Thank you for your interest.

      Máire

      • Hi Máire,

        Ofcourse I respect your wish not to get into a discussion. Besides, when rereading my reply to you I thought I was a bit sounding like a know-it-all, for which I apologize… I always enjoy your stories, that’s for sure :-)!

        A note about the ‘Flower’: whether the poll is influenced or not depends on where the different parts of the bridle (nose part, chin part, cheek parts and reins) are attached to the Flower, to which ‘petal’ so to speak. There is also a way that doesn’t involve poll pressure.

        Good luck with your bitless experiences!

        Marja

  2. I am glad you found a bitless option that both you and Ben can work with. I enjoyed your post and I always find it interesting how different horse & rider combinations like different things.
    We are the exact opposite of you; Grif goes very well in his crossunder and the one time I tried the (sidepull-type design) bridle on him — it was horrible. It was so bad, I only used it the one time and then ended up selling it.
    The interesting thing is, I don’t think a lot of people realize there are as many bitless options out there as there are and they are quick to write it off as something they don’t want to even try….
    I am not against the use of bits either (although I am trying to eradicate using one permanently for Grif and I – for my own personal reasons), however, I do wish more folks would try it with their horses – even if only for an occasional ride, to give the horse a break from having a piece of metal in their mouth. I think every horse deserves that 

    • Carol, Mali (my mare who died a few years ago) was completely different from Ben and, as I said, was very light in her response to the rope halter. As you say, there are so many different options, all we can do is ask our own particular horse, because they are well able to tell us. (Of course the options mean that we do get through rather a lot of tack…)

  3. Hi Marja,

    Thank you for that. I will look at the flower bridle again. There are different types of this bridle I think, although the flower is the prettiest!

    I think I don’t want discussions on this blog simply because there are so many discussions, different voices, different opinions out there and for me the most precious times I have with my ponies are those “in-between” times that are very hard to put into words but which I do try to record for my own sake. I love that this blog is giving me a record of a time in my life with Ben and Rosie which in years to come, I am sure, will provide me with memories which may otherwise have slipped my mind.

    I also like recording the journey I am taking, the practical changes I am making, that were not foreseen at the start – going barefoot for instance – and, in this case, trying out bitless alternatives.

    But a word about Ben and food – I can see from my post that I did focus on his habit of snatching at grass, because this habit is very annoying and, truly, I think he will always be opportunistic about this. He is an Irish cob after all!

  4. I do understand you entirely as to why you don’t look for discussion! And about the snatching grass: hey, I have Icelandics so I know about food oriented horses, haha ;-)!