Tag Archives: Tom Widdicombe

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.


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…



Filed under in-hand, riding, tack

A saddle at last

Here it is – in all its shining newness – a Stubben Roxanne VSS general purpose saddle.


It has a 17.5″ seat, and is 31cm width: the seat is deep which allows for Ben’s short back, there is a lot of wither clearance and good room for shoulder movement. It is on Ben without any saddlecloth as Stubben advise that the first 20 hours riding should be like that so that the sweat from Ben’s back will help the saddle soften and mould to his shape.


When I was thinking about choosing a saddle, I remembered that there is a Stubben factory here, fairly nearby. I contacted them and two ladies came out in a van with a quite delectable array of saddlery inside. We tried on various saddles, typically the saddles that had a reduced price were not the best for Ben, but this one was. I trotted Ben around the track and popped him over a couple of small jumps that my eldest daughter has put up. Ben moved freely, was forward going, the saddle felt very comfortable and secure and, unlike the treeless saddle, I had my lower legs back again.

So this is it, and this is Ben, ready for our ride yesterday morning. Ben thought I took too long putting on my riding hat. He started to go towards the gate, stopped and looked back as if to say “coming?”


I could wish for more interesting rides around here. We have a lane and roads, the most exciting moment was splashing into a small stream. The ride included a catch-up with some neighbours, plenty of cows and the odd car.


It was a nice, uneventful hack, barring the small events that always happen, such as stopping dead for a lady spraying weedkiller, staying as far to the side as possible from a black and white cow in a gateway and calmly walking on as passed closely at speed by a young lad in his car. Tom Widdicombe (who’s book I have mentioned recently) has a really nice blog post about what he calls horsemanship for “ordinary folk” – aiming for small things, such as a nice hack, relaxed, balanced work and not getting carried away by some of the amazing videos one sees out there. Well in that spirit, this was an ordinary ride, not remarkable, but with a forward going Ben who was mostly relaxed and responsive and had his lovely soft, open face at the end.


Filed under riding, tack



Another busy time. School holidays, husband away and I am still at work. I come home to Ben. He walks up to me, and stays. We greet, scratch, he sniffs all over my hair, yawns, relaxes with his head leaning against my arm and we stay together like that. Those moments are priceless and all the more precious as a year ago he would not have done that. He was not so open or so soft and often had a hint of aggression hanging around him.

A few years ago I read a little book by Tom Widdicombe called Be With Your Horse. It is a gem of a book and first alerted me to the obvious fact that the best way to reward your horse is to stand with them, doing nothing, just being. I remember winter nights in Mali’s stable at her livery yard just standing with her in the dark.

I thought I would spend this year competing Ben in TREC events. Due to a long winter, lack of time and saddle issues this has not happened. I will re-join the riding world after the holidays. Thankfully I work part-time and with my youngest daughter going to school this year I will have more time. But I will not have an agenda of competition. I will work to increase Ben’s fitness, strengthen his back, improve his suppleness and also to have fun. It is so much nicer to take things slowly and stay away from outside pressures, which, at my stage, why should I worry about anyway?


Filed under books, General, riding