Advice for going bitless with your horse

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Considering trying a bitless bridle with your horse? Bitless bridle instructor, Pat Voisey, answers commonly asked questions.

What's involved when changing over to a bitless bridle?

This really depends on the individual horse and rider. 

Both of my horses were in a Pelham before, but I changed them to bitless and they took to it immediately. 

If you think a bit has given your horse issues with bucking, bolting or head shaking, it's important to get him checked by a vet first before going bitless to check there's no underlying problems. 

You should also have his saddle checked too,

If no problems are found, it's wise to try the new bridle in a school or safe environment first. I like to lead the horse on the ground first in the new bridle, turning each way a few times. 

Squeeze the rein as you would to ask for the half to allow you horse to become used to the new feel. If he's happy with all of this, then mount and have a go in the saddle. 

Will I have any brakes if I go bitless? 

The first thing to say is that, regardless of whether your horse is bitted or bitless, it's essential that your horse is schooled to accept your aids so that the bridle isn't the only braking option.

More advice on going bitless 

That being said, I'd say yes, absolutely, you'll have brakes.

I can't claim to have tried every bitless bridle on the market but the ones I've tried have always been very effective - these are a hackamore, scrawbrig, a rope halter, and my present bridle, the Dr Cook crossover. 

These bridles all work differently and it's important to consider your horse's reaction to the different areas of pressure of each bridle.

With all bridles, their severity very much depends on the hands that hold the reins. The main difference with a bitless bridle is that, when the reins are released, there's no pressure, so when you do apply the brakes, they're very effective. 

With a bitted bridle, the pressure of the bit is a constant in the horse's mouth and pulling too hard on the reins can cause the adverse reactions of throwing the head up, rearing, bucking and bolting. 

Is my horse too old to go bitless?

It's never too early or late to make the change to bitless, and no more mucky bits to clean is a bonus!

The age, breed or type of your horse doesn't really make any difference if you're thinking about going bitless. 

One of my horses was 16 when she came to me and went straight from a Pelham into a bitless bridle with no problems. 

She's 25 now and still in regular work, managing three-hour hacks in all paces and over all terrain. 

Some older horses may benefit from being ridden bitless because there's less risk of damage to their teeth from the bit. 

Horses' teeth continually erupt until, due to age or damage, they fall out so the less possibility of damage, the better.

Riders that change to bitless often comment on how much more relaxed their horses are mentally and physically. 

Give it a try and see what you think.