People always want to know how to go about changing their horse from bitted to bitless, and it’s an awful lot simpler than you think!
1 – Groundwork
Positive reinforcement (+r) training is scientifically proven to be effective. It’s extremely easy to pick up, and your horse will love it! You will need some treats and a clicker (clicking your tongue or using a word like “yes” will work, too!) and your pony in a headcollar. Work in a safe space where there aren’t too many distractions or other horses.
Check out this poster to see how easy it is to train!
2 – Riding
When you’ve mastered the art of stopping on the ground, you can introduce it whilst riding. I suggest you use a headcollar under/over your bridle – whichever sits better – and two sets of reins. One set on the bit, and one set on the headcollar.
In a safe environment, take your pony for a spin. Stick to walk work to begin with, and do plenty of walk to halt transitions. Make sure that as soon as your horse stops, and reward him with a treat.
3 – Building Trust & Confidence
When you’ve got walk sorted, it’s time to start bending and working at other paces. Take your time with this. The whole point of having your bit rein there is as a backup cue if they don’t understand your request. You should feel yourself building confidence in yourself and your horse, and weaning yourself off the bit rein until you don’t need to touch it at all.
Use your bitted/bitless combo in as many different situations as you can – jumping, hacking, schooling etc. Your confidence and connection will soar as you use positive reinforcement with your pony, and they will love working and training with you BECAUSE BISCUITS!
4 – Remove the Bit
By now, you should be confidently completing your rides without touching the bit rein. That means it’s time to ditch the bit! Hooray! Take steps to ensure you are in a safe environment for the first couple of rides in just a halter so that you don’t dent that newly built confidence, and never be afraid of going back a step if you feel the need. The goal is building a firm foundation!
5 – Get a Bitless Bridle
Congratulations! You and your pony are now bitless! Time for the fun part – buying a proper bitless bridle!
There are hundreds to choose from, and it is a case of trying as many styles as you can. Always begin with no leverage (sidepulls and Transcend) and work your way up to mild types (scawbrigs, crossunders, Indian bosals) before looking into the leverage family (hackamores).
Pay close attention to your horse’s reactions, and don’t expect them to be perfect in every bridle immediately. Study how they react to the different kinds of pressure – nose, poll, jaw, chin, whole head etc. It may take a while to find the right one, but when you do, you’ll never look back!
Ody picked an S hackamore, which has nose pressure but no poll pressure. The first couple of rides he didn’t seem to click, but the third ride he was light, responsive, and very happy. Elmo has been trickier because he’s a headshaker, and I’m trying to find something that he is comfortable in. At the moment, we are trialling a Jin hackamore. It’s extremely lightweight and he seems to be going well in it so far.