Going Bitless: My Story

When I was younger, I never thought twice about putting a metal bit in my horse’s mouth.  It was just part of the necessary equipment for riding–along with the saddle and saddle pad.  And it still is for the majority of horse people.

But if you stop and think about why bits (and many other devices) are used on horses, you’ll realize that most of them are pain-based. They get certain results because the horse does not want to endure the pain that will result if he doesn’t do what is asked.  Of course, not every rider will cause pain to the horse’s mouth with a bit, but the bit certainly has the ability to inflict pain–the horse’s mouth is quite sensitive.

I always prided myself on having ‘light’ hands while riding, and my horses were always very responsive to the bit.  When I started barrel racing in my mid-teens, it seemed I was always searching for the ‘perfect’ bit–one that would give me the rate and turn that I needed to have those fast times.  With my horse, Hershey, I thought I’d finally found the perfect one–a junior cow horse bit.

Then one day, something happened that changed my mind about running barrels in a bit.  I was running Hershey at a local race, and when I came out of the arena and dismounted, I noticed I’d pulled the entire bit through one side of his mouth by accident.  I was horrified.

I immediately switched to a light hackamore–called a Little S Hack.  I’ve used this hackamore ever since.

hershey

Barrel Racing in the S Hack

 

Many hackamores (as well as bosals and sidepulls) are also pain-based, but again, the level of pain inflicted depends on the rider.   I believed (and still believe) that hackamores are much less likely to cause pain and damage than bits, though.

A few years ago, when I started freelancing, one of the first articles I wrote was about a study on bit damage performed by Dr. Robert Cook.  (Is Your Horse’s Bit Harmful to His Mouth.)  This made me think more about my bit incident with Hershey.  I realized that bit damage was much more prevalent than I had ever thought.

When I interviewed Dr. Cook on my blog, I learned more about bit damage.   Here are just a few of the things that Dr. Cook witnessed resulting from bits during his career as a researcher and vet:

  • laceration and/or amputation of the tongue;
  • bone spurs on the bars of the mouth;
  • chip fractures of the first lower cheek teeth;
  • bruising on the roof of the mouth; and
  • periodontal disease.

(You can read my three part interview with Dr. Cook starting here.)

I also learned more about Dr. Cook’s patented bitless bridle and how it works during the interview.  I decided I wanted to buy a real bitless bridle–which is different from even a hackamore.   And I finally did so just recently.

Dr. Cook describes his bridle as being humane, safe, and effective.  I believe this to be true.  Instead of relying on pressure on a localized area such the nose or mouth, his bitless bridle works by applying pressure on a larger surface of the horse’s head with its crossunder design.  It’s really a neat concept.

bitless bridle

I am not writing this post as a review for Dr. Cook’s bridle, nor am I trying to advocate buying any particular bitless bridle.  His is just the one I chose to buy.  (Being on sale on Black Friday was a big incentive, too!)

I would encourage anyone reading this post to consider going bitless if you haven’t already though.  Here are a few of the bitless bridles out there:

We’ve been conditioned to think that bits are the only effective manner of communication in riding horses, but I’m here to tell you that they’re not.  I left bits behind long ago, and don’t intend to ever go back!

Ta-ta,

Casie

 

Casie

Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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12 Responses

  1. Robynne Catheron says:

    I did the same thing, pulled my horse’s bit clear through one side of his mouth! I felt so awful. I’ve never used a bit since. I have two different bitless bridles, one is an LG-Zaum (the cheek pieces look like metal wagon wheels), and the other one is the Lite Rider bridle from Cynthia Cooper (Natural Horse) in Australia. My horses like them, and they’re equally soft and responsive. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Dr Cook’s, that there’s a delay in release due to the reins threading through rings and then crossing under, and that there is a transition/retraining period because of it. Do you find that to be true?

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Robynne,

      I look forward to trying some of the other bitless bridles out there as well. I can’t honestly give an opinion on Dr. Cook’s bridle yet because I’ve only used it once. It’s been snowy and very wet for the last week or so. I will be trying it on all of my horses though. I’ll let you know!

  2. AnneMarie Azijn says:

    Congratulations! I am very happy for your horse!

  3. Tomas says:

    Thanks for sharing! But what if your horse has a hot temper?

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Tomas–I wouldn’t think temperament should matter. If the horse will respond to a bit, he will likely respond to a bitless bridle (or light hackamore). It’s just a different cueing system.

  4. Tomas says:

    Ok, interesting.

  5. Hi Casie, I just discovered your blog & love it! Great information – wish I’d found you sooner!

  6. Janine says:

    Hi Casie, I just came across your blog. So glad I did!! I just starting riding with the bit less bridle and love it. I’ve had my gelding for 8 weeks now. I was told from a few people along with his owner that he was hard to ride and needed an experienced rider. His owner gave him up because she had fallen off him and broke her collar bone. She was a nervous rider and kept holding him back and not letting him go forward. I’m not sure why she fell off. I have a feeling that it wasn’t him who caused it to happen. Anyway to make a long story short, I told her that I would love to have him and started ground work with him. I really paid attention to what he was trying to tell me. He is a gentle soul who just wants to please. I read up on all kinds of bits to use and not to use and just wasn’t happy with what I was reading. I accidently came across bitless bridles. The more I read the more it made sense to me to use one. Which I did and so far so good. He is so happy and relaxed. I honestly think he was misread. It’s all about patience and listening to your horse with not just your ears but with your eyes. His name is Freedom. Janine 🙂

    • Casie says:

      Hi Janine,

      So glad you had the patience to really work with this horse and try other options. I think what’s seen as misbehavior is often just the horse trying to communicate with us–they have no other way to tell us they’re in pain or they don’t like something. We have to be willing to listen, just like you said. Best of luck to you both!

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