Many people wonder if it is possible to ride any horse without a bit in its mouth. Riding with a bit seems ‘normal’ to many people, and there are many ancient of examples of bits, so bits have been in use for a very long time.
It is entirely possible to train a horse to be ridden without a bit, right from the early days of its training. In fact, it’s possible to train a horse to be ridden without any sort of bit or headstall on its head at all. The downside is that the horse will be limited to doing things—like trail riding, that don’t require any specific type of bit or bridle. A horse destined for the show ring will need to learn to carry and respond to an appropriate bit. And many people will prefer to ride their horse with a bit in its mouth for many reasons.
If you ride your horse at home, out on the trail or at very small shows where there are no rules regarding bits, and you feel safe with your horse in a bitless bridle, you don’t need a bit. Distance and pleasure trail riders like bitless bridles because they allow the horse to eat and drink without removing the bridle. This makes the horse more comfortable, and when competing in long distance riding events, may make the horse more likely to drink, which is very important for preventing dehydration.
If you are riding your horse with a bit, you can make the change to bitless. It’s best to try out your bitless bridle in a ring or arena first. See how well your horse responds because when you go out, you want to make sure your horse is obedient to your aids. Most horses make the transition easily. Some even become more relaxed. Others may require some re-schooling, spending more time working on upwards and downwards transitions before you’ll be confident that they are responding well to going bitless. It’s important to remember that the bit does not control the horse, obedience to training does. So, whether you ride your horse with a bit or not, it can still be difficult and even dangerous to ride if it’s not well trained.
There are many different choices when it comes to bitless bridles, and just like finding the right bit, it might require trying a few different ones before you find one you and your horse are comfortable in. Bosals, side-pulls and mechanical hackamores are all options you can try.
Remember though, that you are not necessarily being kinder to your horse by using a bitless bridle. Any equipment is only as humane as the person whose hands it is in. A great deal of pain can be inflicted on a horse by the improper use of a bit or a bitless bridle. Even a simple side-pull can cause pain and damage if used improperly. Bitless bridles with long shanks can be quite painful if the rider does not know how to use them effectively.
For some horse sports, you will not be able to use a bitless bridle. For instance, dressage will require you to use a bit. You can, however, ride ‘hor concours’ with a bitless bridle at some competitions. You may be able to use a bitless bridle in jumper or western classes. If you are competing, you will need to check the individual rules for that sport.