Bitless vs Bitted? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 06:18 AM Thread Starter
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Bitless vs Bitted?

Hi everyone!

Now, I know this can be a sore subject for some people, and I'm totally not trying to start an all out war about this. And I also know there's a VERY helpful post from Smrobs (I am so sorry if I spelled that wrong), on bits that I have already read more than once, this is a personal question!

My boy was apparently ridden bitless in his home before his previous home, but when I went to try him out he was ridden in a snaffle. I thought nothing of it, and since having him have ridden in a snaffle. I'm just getting into contact with all of his previous owners to try and find out a little more of his history (I'm just curious, there's no health problems or anything). He does the typical TB thing under tack, sticking his tongue out the side of his mouth (and NO the bit is not under his tongue either, he just does it to be a goof).

So I'm wondering if maybe a hackamore or other form of bitless bridle could work better for him? I've just got no experience, and to be honest riding bitless is a new concept for me, as I've always had one.

Anyone switched their horse from bit to bitless? How did you and your horse fair? Better, worse?

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post #2 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 06:29 PM
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I switched my horse from a bit to a simple bitless rope halter 8 years ago and never went back. I simply kept my horse responding to pressure/release at first but soon realized that there were some big holes that were missing in my riding that I was not aware of when using a bit so, I added more communication and feel with my body. I soon figured out that bits were really not necessary for control and safety. Going bitless forced me to learn more about how to influence my horse through my body and mind. She's 14 yrs old now.

Scarlet kept getting better and better to ride. I found myself wondering if I just had one of those special horses, or could this work with other horses. So, a few years ago I bought a 14 year old mare Libby who was being ridden in a severe twisted wire snaffle with all the accompanying scars and injury to tounge, gums, and lips. The owner thought I was crazy to want to rider her bitless.

I took her out on the trail the very next day in a Bitless Rope Bridle and rode her using the combination of techniques that I call the "Human Bit" that I had found really worked well with Scarlet. Libby did fine, however, it was very evident that she had not really understood how to give to pressure, to pain yes, but I was not offering that as an option. She had all the typical habits of avoiding the bit, even though she was in a Bitless Rope Bridle. Stiffening up, nosing out, head shaking, trying to take the reins out of my hands. All that has dissappeared and I did not train it out of her, she simply realized that pain was not a part of her riding experience anymore. She has remained bitless to this day.

I found there is so many positives from riding bitless that I and my horses really like. On occaision when I've had short rides on other peoples horses who are in a bit, I find I just do not care for the feel in my hands or body of a bitted horse. Hope this helps.
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post #3 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 07:19 PM
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Bitless bridles...where to start.

I guess I'll just tell you some of my+Lacey's story and see where that goes.

When I first got Lacey, she was fussy about the bit. She'd go fine, most of the time, but in the event of human/horse disagreement, she would would pretty much explode when any sort of bit pressure was engaged.

I had no idea what was going on so I basically stopped riding her for a time and just worked on our groundwork, while staying away from touchy "subjects".
One day I decided to hop on bareback (the first time I had ever ridden her bareback) with her just in her nylon halter and she was lighter+more responsive to my rein cues that she had EVER been before.
That led me to think that perhaps something was up in her mouth, causing these issues.
So I started riding her in an "Indian Hackamore".
As we progressed along, it turned out that she has melanomas in the corners of her mouth, due to being a gray. A snaffle/any broken bit first cues the corners of the mouth, then moves to collapsing in the middle, but the melanomas had/have robbed the corners of her mouth of feeling+therefore she wasn't getting the pre-cue, just the collapse after she "didn't respond". That was panicking her and causing the blowups.
I happily decided that bitless was best, for us, and continued along like that. But, my mare, being the relatively high powered creature she is, eventually got wind of the fact that there was little I could do to stop her, in the bitless, if she wanted to bolt.
She would go along fine, most of the time, but put her in an intense situation where she's a bit excited and watch me have no control.
I tried and tried to retrain her, soften her up to the bitless, replace her "stop" button, etc etc, but nothing worked. She'd be perfect in low key situations or in the arena, but get her a bit excited and BAM, no control.

Obviously, that's extremely dangerous and after one particularly scary ride (we were miles from home and the only way I was able to get us home in one piece was to ORS every couple of feet+have a vise-like grip on the reins+tight hold on her nose) I knew I couldn't just let it go if I wanted to be able to really ride my horse.

Anyway, I ended up having to do some SERIOUS reschooling on her with her in a low ported pelham (apparently solid bits are fine for her to use+don't cause her issues) and it took me months of riding her in places/situations that cause bolts+really surprising her with the pelham's curb "power", to get her over it. She had learned that she could bolt so why not, right?
Now she's pretty much better but bolting is one of those things that once it's learned, it's hard to 100% eradicate. At least now she doesn't need a curb to stop her, she stops fine in the snaffle portion of the pelham.
I even ride her bitless upon an occasion which she loves. Apparently the reschooling in a bit somewhat transferred to bitless as well. However, when we're riding bitless, I don't go places that'll cause her to challenge her training and I don't let her get too excited in it, but we do ride in it quite often with few issues.

And this, I'll add, is a well trained horse. She wasn't when we first went bitless but by the time she started bolting, she was well versed in most matters concerning the ridden horse. She stops on vocal commands, she moves off my leg nicely, I can control her with my seat, the whole deal.
She knew bolting was wrong but she also knew I couldn't stop her.

I had tried every retraining option I could think of but for her, she needs something in her mouth telling her things. I wish we could have stayed bitless 24/7 but she just couldn't handle it.

Basically, my thinking is that horses should be well versed in both. I think bitless definitely has it's place but I think bitless is probably not the best longterm solution.
All it takes is one bad incident for things to really go south or a bunch of little incidents (my mare had been being ridden bitless for 2 years before the bolting started), then that horse is basically ruined for bitless riding.

just my thoughts. :)

ETA: Geesh, sorry about the length, talk about a novel!!...and any weird typos. I don't have time to proof read...
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Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #4 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 07:54 PM
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Very good post, Wallaby .

Randella, I am glad that you were able to get some good information from my thread. I am all for people riding their horse in whatever is most comfortable for them and what they go best in whether it be a bit or bitless. I'm not a fan of training/schooling horses in rope halters though, the cues in those are just not clear enough. It's one thing to throw a halter on an old broke horse to plod around but young horses (and horses needing a bit of re-training) need the cue clarity of something that was designed for riding like a sidepull, bosal, indian bosal, dr cooks, etc.

Personally, if I was looking to do some long-term bitless riding, I would likely go with a nice leather sidepull due to the simplicity of cues, non-abrasive noseband, and ease of use. Bosal's are great tools but you really need someone experienced to teach you the proper way to use them.

The sidepull basically works almost identical to a snaffle. The lateral cues are the same, just instead of pulling on the mouth, it pulls on the nose. The biggest problem with leather nosebands is that they don't have much "bite" if you end up in a situation like Wallaby mentioned above. If he's a strong enough horse that you might need the bite, then I would hesitantly suggest a double rope noseband sidepull. My biggest problem with those is that you have to have really good hands to keep the abrasive rope from skinning the nose up....but they do have a bit more "umph" if you were to need it.

I suppose a rawhide noseband would be right in middle ground between the two. It would have a bit more sting than the leather but without the abrasiveness of the rope.

Whenever you went to change him over, I would do some suppling exercises from the ground before ever getting on, just to make sure that he remembers how to give to it. Then I would ride him in a secure environment for the first few rides to make sure that he was really responsive at all 3 gaits before taking him out into the "world".
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post #5 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 09:04 PM
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Hi Wallaby,

I read your horse story with great interest. Everyone experiences different things with different results on different horses. I am happy to see that you have found a solution that works for you. I would like to share my bolting experiences being bitless to add to the discussion, not to try and change anyone's mind about things, just sharing, food for thought.

The very day that I decided to ride Scarlet bitless was the day I had my first bolt on her as murphy's law would have it. This incident would have happened whether she was bitted or not I believe. Scarlet was young and up to this point I would try and keep the lid on things with ORS (which I have since discarded entirely) using a bit when she was excited. On the day, I had a hiker in full gear suddenly step out of the woods onto the trail behind us, it scared Scarlet and off she went. I decided to just ride it out (first time I ever did that). To my surprise the bolt only lasted a short time, and she slowed back down to a walk on her own and calmed down really quickly. I took note of how easily she calmed herself down when I did not try to entervene, where as in milder panics using ORS it took her a long time to relax. I made my first important discovery that day.

A few months later she had her second bolt with 2 large dogs suddenly appearring above us running full speed. She whirled and off she went, this time is a worse state of panic, I rode it out thinking this would take awhile, but it didn't, it was about the same as before with the same results. Since those 2 times she has not offered to bolt and held things together even though we have experienced many similar cricumstances since.

Wind the clock up to about 8 weeks ago. We were attacked by a pit bull on a trail ride. To make the story short, she hung in there to allow me to dismount and get the dog off of her. I attacked the dog constantly for about 30 yards until I chased him off. I turned around to look for the dust trail of my horse, certain she had run off. To my astonishment, she did not bolt and run off, but stood there bleeding waiting for me to catch her up.

For me, I think the reason I had no further bolting issues all those years up to now, was that I increased the level of trust between the both of us with allowing her to do what she needed, to feel safe from what ever scared her those first 2 times. It was nothing more than riding the bolt out.

Thanks for listening.
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post #6 of 9 Old 08-18-2012, 10:42 PM
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I went from bitless to bit. In my case, the problem was that my horses were getting excited about cantering, and then cantering like idiots (dangerously forward, in the case of my mare - nose to the ground, off balance...thought we were likely to flip). They were also anticipating a canter when we trotted, and acting all prancy.

Bitless, I could STOP them, but I couldn't get them to shift their balance or to relax at the trot. When I put a bit on them, I could use what I call a lagging rein for lack of anything better: as each shoulder would move forward, my hand on that rein would lag the movement, taking some of the slack out of the rein. In the more extreme cases, maybe adding a finger of pressure to it. Doing that with each shoulder would get them to stop extending their front legs so far forward, and then I could shift my weight back and get them to follow my example.

Bitless, I could drop them a gait or stop them, but I didn't have the subtlety I needed to get them to trot or canter more relaxed.

When we trail ride, they wear their rope sidepull halter on under the bridle. I use that if I need to lead them somewhere. The other day, I reattached the reins to the sidepull halter and rode Mia that way for a while. I didn't notice anything until I dismounted later on.

I now find riding bitless like writing a letter (I'm old, I remember those days) with a paintbrush instead of a pencil. Possible, but not as efficient a tool. In particular, a bit allows me to say, "Not so much" instead of "slow", and my horses need that right now.

Trooper with the rope sidepull:

Mia with both:

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Last edited by bsms; 08-18-2012 at 10:46 PM.
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post #7 of 9 Old 08-19-2012, 12:00 AM
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That's exactly it, bsms! A lack of cue subtlety.
I think that's where my mare and I went wrong, riding bitless. She's the type that wants to respond on the pre-cue so the really black/white nature of most bitless things is really what got to her, imo.

I should mention that the bitless "bridle" I ride my mare in now, when I ride bitless, is a very soft sidepull halter - similar to the one bsms has on his gelding in that first picture.
The halter itself is so soft that there's quite a bit of movement in the halter itself before I actually touch her face with any sort of pressure - lots of pre-cue. There isn't a whole lot of "stop" in that halter and if she chooses to, she can certainly run straight through it, but I've actually never had her bolt in that halter - just in more "solid" bitless options. It seems that perhaps the soft nature of the halter encourages her to accept it...

Ironless Horse, that's great that your mare has increased in her trust of you like that! :)

My girl is functionally blind (still has a very minimal amount of sight but for the purposes of describing her, if she were a human she'd be more than legally blind) so her bolting was even more dangerous because she really didn't know what she was going to be up against, until she was RIGHT there. For her, the bolting wasn't precipitated by fear, it was always precipitated by "we're having SO much fun, let's RUN!!!" you know? The typical high spirited Arab. :)

Given her eyesight condition, I need her to be ready and willing to respond immediately when I cue her to something in her surroundings - not thinking about how best to get a run out of her life deal/focusing on evading my "slow down, we're in dangerous territory" cue.
It also turned out that some of it was my fault - I was not letting her run enough, figuring that at her age (27), runs should be a lesser part of her ride equation. She disagreed and now we spend much more time running which has created a much satisfied horse. :)

But yeah, if it had been fear, like with your mare, I would have taken a very similar tact. :) and good luck with all those dogs! I'd be scared. haha
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Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #8 of 9 Old 10-01-2012, 04:52 PM
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I went from Bit to Hackamore to Bitless Bridle with with my mare and had much improvement. as shown above each horse/rider pair is different and the same tack can and most likely will yield different results. my suggestion is to try out different options, be open-minded and you will find what works best for you.

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post #9 of 9 Old 10-02-2012, 04:49 PM
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Hey there guys.

I did for a while, try ride bitless. However, I did find it difficult. My mare (who is like Wallabys, an Arab) didn't really seem to understand what was being asked of her. She'd Whoa, she'd go, but the steering was really off and even something like a simple turn in a bitless bridle she'd throw up her head and be like, NO WAY. I really don't think she understood the cues without her snaffle. So I was steering totally off my legs and seat, which means my turns were big and slow and when I went to ponyclub or to a jumping lesson, and needed to be fast and have an instant response from her, the bitless bridle didn't cut it. So I switched back, and she is much happier now.
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