I like the finesse that I can get with a bit. When working on all leg/seat cues, it's great for telling the horse to stop (after you've asked with seat/leg) because I don't have to yank or pull, I can pick my hand up a little and get a response. My mare moves from pressure great, but undersaddle she is not the calmest. She HAS to have something to do. When we're working on just standing still, the bit can get me to calm her down soo much faster than any of the bitless options I've tried (mechanical hack, flat halter, rope halter, etc). She does not like pressure on her nose and it makes her pissy. She'll do as asked, but she does not enjoy it. If I can get the same response in a bit and have her happy with it, I'm not going to upset her when I can accomplish whatever it is while keeping her happy as well. Posted via Mobile Device
I never really used 'harsh' bits, but I'd only really use bits in general if they're fine with the rope halter first. Otherwise, there's no bit going in there. A bit does add to the 'finesse' some say here, that's true, for me as well. But I ride in a rope halter most of the time, and it works fine. Somehow, it adds to me feeling more secure. I also go by the words "a bit doesn't control your horse, your horse controls himself".
I know this will be controversial to say but I'm not impressed with bitless bridles. I have only ridden with 4 people who used and swore by their bitless bridles. Not one of them had control over their horses and fought constantly with them pulling, grazing and wandering off. The rest of the riding club was laughing behind their backs.
I do like riding with a simple halter and lead now and then just for fun but I think people who aren't trained have a tendency to latch onto things like bitless bridles as if it were a religion. If you can't control your horse what's the point?!
I don't choose one or the other. I ride in a snaffle if the dorks are being fresh, riding with others, jumping, travelling, etc. basically if I think they might try to be complete idiots, I don't risk it. Like yesterday, for example, I rode Ray in a halter and leadrope and he did perfectly fine! I took Drift out not even an hour later with a d ring snaffle because he wasn't ridden since August and was fresh, and I intended to jump and gallop him.
Frankly, my guys could probably go without a bit EVER, but I don't risk it. I'd rather be safe than sorry, and I don't use a bit so harsh that it really affects them at all. I think horses should be able to happily go either way. Granted, some bitless methods can be just as harsh as some bits, so one is not really better than the other, and there's no need to harp on how cruel either of them is.. It comes down to how soft a rider you are and how well the tack fits your horse.
Some shows, rides, groups, etc. require that you use a bit. Or a certain type of bit. I'd rather my horses be okay with a bit and respond to it as well as going bitless so I can choose which to use according to the conditions. But that's just me. Yeah, people abuse bits. A lot of the people I ride with use bits a lot harsher than they need, and they shorten reins and pull their horses mouthes crazy hard when they don't need to. But there are also people who ride bitless that pull just as hard on their horses, if not harder because there's no bit and they think the horse can't feel them. Just do your research and be smart about it.
I never really used 'harsh' bits, but I'd only really use bits in general if they're fine with the rope halter first. Otherwise, there's no bit going in there....I also go by the words "a bit doesn't control your horse, your horse controls himself".
I've got to strongly disagree. Actually, bits were invented for control. They do not give absolute control, but they absolutely provide more influence (control) than a rope halter does.
Bits are tools. For example, the main reason I switched Trooper over from a rope halter to a bit was that he tended to tip his nose out in turns, and a rope halter didn't give me any means to tip his nose in and teach him to turn with better balance. A rope halter gave me no control of his nose position.
Mia has always been a very spooky horse - as in 'eye-rolling, diarrhea-squirting' fearful. In a rope halter, she never learned to control her fear. In a snaffle, she never learned to control her fear. In a curb bit, I was able to keep her in one place when something scared her...and she soon figured out that the scary things ruining her life were not so scary after all.
The curb bit gave me more control. That control made it possible to train her. If I had stuck to a rope halter, she would still be a terrified horse, winding her emotions ever upward until she mentally melted down.
Mia had no control of her emotions, and a rope halter - which we tried for 3 years - was useless for training her to control herself. A snaffle did not give enough control to teach her to control herself. A curb bit did, and using one has changed her life for the better. She is far more relaxed when hanging out in the corral today than she was 2 years ago. She isn't totally free of nerves or spooks, but her spooks now consist of "The OMG Crouch" instead of "Turn and RUN!" - and that is better for us both.
Some horses are naturally very willing and self-controlled. Others need varying degrees of help to get there. I'm currently working on transitioning Mia back to a very mild snaffle bit. I do not know if it will work. If not, she can go the rest of her life in a curb. There is nothing harsh or cruel about the design of this bit:
I will be interested to see if she has learned enough self-control and confidence to behave well in its snaffle counterpart:
Bitless bridles and bits are both tools for communication and control. Which works best depends on the horse and the need.
BSMS, it's interesting to read about your spooky horse and the curb bit. I really like the so-called Spanish Snaffle AKA Port-Mouthed Kimblewick, which essentially has a mouthpiece like a Port-Mouthed Pelham and slotted D-rings so you can set the level of curb action you want between very mild and mild. It's a bit I find useful on nervous horses as it's hard for them to hurt themselves on with sudden rapid startles, and this bit is very good for stopping the horse from taking off in a simple way, without drama or the need for drastic measures like one rein emergency stops. The curb encourages a horse to tuck its nose down rather than stick it in the air, and if you can stop the nose going in the air you can nip many a bolt in the bud. My current horse was upside-down / star gazing when I got him and is now nicely balanced in the neck muscles, plus he was a chicken on trails early on and I really am over using snaffles when horses are prone to taking off. Like you say, if you can encourage a horse to walk on calmly when it's spooked and your bit is an effective tool in that department, it can do wonders for unspooking it rapidly. Talking to them helps too, of course. I now laugh at my horse if he gets into "Mummy, there's a monster behind that bush" mode and that seems to help settle him too.
Opinion on main topic: Horses and bits can be a pretty individual thing, dependent on both horse and rider. The most important thing is to have something that's not irritating to your horse (not pinching the lips or too hard on the bars of the mouth or digging into the roof of the mouth or just an uncomfortable shape for a particular horse's mouth), and which allows you to communicate well and in a nuanced way.
Some horses are happier bitless (halter, bosal, hackmore, etc etc), which can be just fine especially for trails, pleasure riding etc. Sometimes that's just the way it is, often that's because people's hands aren't quite as soft with bits as they should be
I agree that it depends on the horse. For certain horses, riding in a hackamore is the equivalent to riding in a halter. But that's something you can fix through more training. I broke an Arab mare using only a mechanical hackamore and she worked beautifully in it. I recently started her on the bit because it is not legal to use mechanical hackamores in the majority of shows. You can use them in barrel shows though I believe. It really depends on whether you are using it on a show horse or a horse you just work in the arena and take on the trails. A hackamore can be just as cruel as a bit in the wrong hands. I use both equally. Just like the bit, you are not supposed to hang on their face with a hackamore, so if used correctly, it is very useful