I’m a believer in less is more, and using natural methods whenever possible for my horse. However, it is also difficult for me to let go of control. It wasn’t an easy decision to move to use of a bitless bridle, but this is my experience.
Many options are available for equestrians to choose bitless, whether halter, bosal, side-pull, hackamore, etc. It can very much cause confusion and not every option is necessarily right for your horse. I read many forums, articles, and then let Google decide- opting first for the Dr. Cooks Bitless Bridle.
I lamented the cost for the biothane material and was quite grateful that my friend Steve, a retired mounted police officer had an extra that I could try over the winter. Ferrous is relatively easygoing and sensitive to aids, so I knew that he would adjust fairly quickly. More, he’d been ridden in a halter and rainbow reins by my children regularly.
I had to fiddle with the sizing a bit, to see what worked best. Ferrous is 14.2 with a narrow, long in the face. Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle comes in one size fits all, without a cob option that I normally buy.
I am no saddler or tack specialist, I’ll admit. But I’ve put together bridles, changed western fenders, and figured my way around when necessary. Fitting the Dr. Cooks bitless bridle on my Welsh cob cross has been really annoying. The bridle is one size fits all but fits awkwardly on Ferrous. Loosening the headstall and lowering the noseband results in bulging straps and awkward lifting while riding. Tightening the headstall creates a better fit (albeit with long, hanging straps), and results in raising the noseband too high. Between my trainer and I making adjustments, we finally found the best results.
For occasional use, this is not a problem for me or my pony but I would not want to use this bridle on a regular basis the way it fits. I would love to see Dr. Cook release an oversize, a cob size, and pony size bitless version.
My normally pokey horse felt quite forward and had a much more animated step from the beginning. Once he realized he had a little more freedom, he began to lower his head and stretch his neck and topline, using more of his hindquarters. Finally! I was so happy to encourage Ferrous to use his body the correct way without fighting him or pushing too hard. I found that even though while using a jointed rubber snaffle D-ring bit, he would consistently play with the bit and even brace against it. While he would eventually relax and use impulsion it often took a while to get there.
Not so with the bitless bridle. From the first ride, I was very pleased. Canter work confirmed it, providing just enough pressure to help him balance on those tough corners, lifting his shoulder and keeping him nice and long.
I did have difficulty slowing him and getting him into a frame but the successes from the first ride were a fantastic foundation to build upon and encourage me to use less rein in general.
The material is durable and easy to clean but “sticky” so does not release easily. As a result, I believe it gradually tightens too much.
I have since ridden Ferrous in this bitless bridle throughout the winter while in the indoor. He is much better at slowing now and often will provide me with a frame when using his body correctly from behind, however, when I do ask we still have difficulty because he resists. I struggle to get him to stretch his shoulders and feel sometimes the bitless is less effective for my strong-willed pony. I am wondering if this is perhaps rider error or if it is the lack of connection through the mouth. *Note: while some of it may be me, my trainer recently schooled him in the bitless and noted the same thing. This bitless English bridle is great for hacking and stretching, but not to put him together with connection and impulsion. Phew! Glad to know it isn’t just me.
Because of his forward momentum in the bitless and his love of jumping, I’ve hesitated to use the bitless bridle in the outdoor with small jumps. When we had a break in the weather I put his regular bridle with D-ring bit in to do some crossrails. He accepted it without issue but quickly began to play. More, once we began to jump and do some circles to slow he began to shake his head. It was clear he was not happy.
More, on the trails, he continued to shake his head with the bit in his mouth and even lifted his front hooves to scratch at the noseband. He is normally quite awake and energetic on a hack but I don’t feel he has enough brake to use the bitless in this scenario…yet.
I scheduled a floating and Ferrous’s teeth were sharp, and his bit was hitting his teeth as well. This was causing some of his head shaking and since he was floated hasn’t had any of the same shaking while wearing with his bit.
I love using a bitless bridle but there are some downsides. For a light hack or good stretch, it is ideal. However, when I am really working my horse, asking for collection and more impulsion I find my horse braces his neck against the bitless rather than softening as he does with a happy mouth bit.
In addition, I’m not sure I’m in love with Dr. Cook’s. The biothane material is not easy to release and the crossover under the chin is quite tight when pressure is put on the reins. However, it gets stuck there because of the ‘stickiness’ of the material and will not release very well. Further, I feel the noseband tends to slide up Ferrous’s face as we continue. My view between the ears often shows the headstall straps bulging as well no matter how I adjust the fit. As a result after a few minutes with no rein pressure, the material leaves an impression on his nose.
While many horsemen and horsewomen recommend Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle I think it is a good starting point for many. I am happy to have tried it and will keep it in my tack trunk. I lent it to another rider, who used it on her thoroughbred and he was like an entirely new horse, even jumping well and needing less balancing, especially in the canter. He holds himself differently from my horse, and Dr. Cooks made a huge improvement!
Ideally, Ferrous and I will find the perfect bitless bridle in both the proper fit and release to train with and use as an everyday item whether in the indoor, jumping, or on a hack in the woods. I’ve kept up my research and as a result of an endurance group recommendations, I have purchased an Orbitless Bridle from the UK. I realize that there is some training that needs to happen for Ferrous to soften to the bitless bridle in work, and I plan on doing some research into that as well!
Subscribe to my blog and I will let you know how the new bitless compares!