When you pull the reins it goes really tight around the muzzle (and under the chin). I'm trying to ride with loose rein all the time, but it may not be always a case on trail with youngster (especially if there is a need for one-rein stop). When I pull little harder to stop or to turn my horse was obviously unhappy (I tried it in ring, btw). I think if there is enough control to stop the horse then it's better to go with halter-type with attached reins (I actually used english hackamore with reins before I found bridle-type leather halter). To be honest, I was very much against the bit when I started my horses 2 years back (because it's more harsh than bitless blah, blah, blah), but it was surprise for me that my paint actually preferred bit (I use eggbutt french link with taste) to the gentle leather sidepull. QH also seem to respond better to the bit than the sidepull now (she waves her head in sidepull all the time). You just never know!
I'll just tell everyone what I know about bitless options :P
The nose of the horse is just as sensetive as the mouth.Tho, some bitless options are just soft leather, and thus might be ''nicer'' than a metal bit. These happens to be the ones that has the least ability to communicate with the horse in dessage; such as leather sidepull or ''bitless bridle''.
But it all lies in the hand.
First out; riding cavessons. Thy have three rings and a nosepart that's either a metalbar or a chain. Great for young horses as you can lead them with the middle ring (or work them on the lunge or in hand) and at the same time have reins for the rider in the side-rings.
The effect is the same as a regular snaffle.
(not a good shot, but he has a riding caveson) http://www.elftown.com/stuff/nacke.jpg
Muserolas/serretas is a metal bar with two rings; you screw it onto the noseband of your bridle (metal bar under the leather, and the rings on top). Same effect as a regular snaffle, and can be used together with a curb bit; good option if you don't want to stuff two bits in the horses mouth.
Some serretas has ''spikes'' on the underside, not very nice and you won't get a horse ''seeking the bit'' with that model. I also recommend short rings.
Sidepull; the softer versions isn't too precise, the harder/stiffer ones should work like the riding cavesson.
Hakamores; the ones with a chain in them is really harsh. The softer ones still work like a curb bit; they pull on the nose to tuck it in, under the chin to enforce the nosetuck, and on the neck. They're stronger than your hand, but is an option if your horse is ready for the curb.
Bosal; as far as I know they are very sharp, and more difficult to master. You can't pull the rein sideways like with a normal bit/bitless.
''bitless bridle'' this just confuses me.. the rein-aids squeses the horses head together in differet ways. Maybe it works, I don't really know..
Rope halters; are harsher than they seem and not very precise. You need to ride a lot with the seat and mainly have the halter as an ''emergency break'' to have at hand if necessary if you want a god result from it.
If you want to do any work with the horse, I'd say that you should use the cavesson or muserola as a first try. You can give correct and precise aids with them. But of course remember; they're not nice just because they're not in the mouth, so be careful with the reins no matter ifit's a bit or bitless.
I have a copy of the Dr Cook bridle and LOVE it! It's just about dead, so I plan on getting one from Moss Rock. They have some nice overlay options if you're into colorful tack, and they'll even add "bling"! Lol
I have had great luck with the cross-under style bridle. There is a learning curve for most horses, but once they get it, it's great to ride in. I use mine for trail riding or when a non-rider or novice wants to ride my horse. I've kept her mouth nice and soft and I intend to keep it that way .
Hey im thinking about going bitless myself the few that I though were good were the no bit bridles and the bitlessbridle.com 1's there is also 1 here in australia which is more western style...its by steve brady...may be worth look at.