Sandi B, if your horses perform better for you bitless, go bitless. There is nothing cruel about going bitless if your horse feels confident and happy and responds to you well. But I wouldn't celebrate it as an achievement, because it doesn't mean you've done something special. Maybe you read Black Beauty, but your horse didn't. Maybe using a bit made you feel angry or tense, and horses DO sense a tense, angry, frustrated rider. So by all means, feel free to go bitless if it works for you!
But that doesn't mean it gets the job done for all riders on all horses on all types of riding. Take a good look at post #23. Some horses will work cows without taking it personally. Some horses take a much more aggressive approach. My gelding will try very hard to do what someone wants. He is an extremely submissive horse. But he is more confident he is doing what his rider wants when he has a bit in his mouth, and that extra confidence helps him to relax. Mia is more high-strung. She was sold to me as perfect for a beginner, but she wasn't and isn't. If we go 50 yards without my messing with her mouth somehow, her head comes up and her ears turn back as if to say, "Are you still there? Are you awake? Are you taking care of me?" And if I take some slack out of a rein or use my seat to ask her for a different speed, she calms down.
She is an 11 year old horse with a lot of deep seated fears. We're working on that, but it takes a lot of time. I rode her for 3 years without a bit, and now ride her with one. She is more relaxed and confident with a bit than without. So should I celebrate achieving bitted riding with her?
Well, in a sense, yes. Anytime you figure out a way to make your horse more relaxed and confident, THAT is cause for celebration. But I'd honestly feel a bit silly if I boasted that my horses now use bits. I might as well boast that my horses now have saddles that fit...
Mia with a bit, on a trail. SHE
has pulled her head around and put tension on the outside rein. Does she look like a horse in pain? Is "Chestnut Beauty" suffering?
Hint - given the stiffness of my lower back, I'm the only one feeling pain in this picture...