Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
I've ridden my horses mostly bitless, using a side pull. However, I've started using a bit regularly.
What I found was that a bit gives me better control because it allows more subtle inputs. If my horses aren't excited, the will obey a sidepull as well as a bit, and maybe better. But two of my horses are pretty excitable. The Appy is pretty relaxed, unless you ask him to canter. He loves cantering. After one stretch of cantering, he'll anticipate it for the next half hour. Ask him to trot, and he'll trot in a choppy, head up, I'm ready to explode manner.
I guess the good news is that he'll then explode into a canter if asked, but he is a PITA until then. And with a sidepull halter, I cannot get him to calm down.
Same situation, with a bit, I can pull back my little finger about 1/2 inch on the side his front leg is moving forward, and then the next side. Basically, I ask him to move his front leg a little less with each stride. In about 4-6 strides, he has settled down.
My mare gets excited about a lot of things. Shouting "NOOO!!!" by pulling hard on the sidepull does nothing to help. Again, working my little finger on the bit, repeating with each stride, and she will USUALLY settle down without getting angry.
I started using a sidepull because my mare did better with it. Fast forward 3 years, and the trainer I hired to work with her (and me) concluded she had never been broken to using a bit at all, and had no idea why it was there or what it was for. That turned into about 2 months of practice with drive reins, until Mia learned to respond to the bit.
For now, I consider a bit to be essential safety equipment for Mia. Not because I need to be able to jerk on her mouth and cause pain, but because I need to be able to send her subtle signals. If I want her to stay in control, I need to be able to tell her to ease off just a hair. The sidepull doesn't give me that, and she hasn't learned the self-control yet to control herself.
BTW - I tried a cross-under style once. ONCE. It didn't give a release fast enough, and it really pissed off my mare. That was not a long ride, nor a fun one.
"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."