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What's the "Best" Bitless Bridle?

Elmo in an S hackamore

This is a mega frequently asked question on bitless groups, forums, and pages – what is the best bitless bridle? Sometimes, this is phrased slightly differently, eg:

– What’s the best bitless bridle for a novice?
– What bitless bridle should I start my youngster in?
– What’s the best bitless bridle for my [insert breed here]?
– What’s the best bitless bridle for a strong horse?
– What’s the best bitless bridle for a sensitive horse?
– What’s the best bitless bridle for [insert discipline here]?

First things first – I suggest that you do plenty of reading and research on the bridles available and how they work. The Bitless Lifestyle Believers group has an excellent series of photographs on how bitless bridles work which you can take a look at here. It’s a great place to start because BLB doesn’t allow scientific inaccuracies such as “hackamores break noses”.

Our lovely friend Phillippa Christie has written a book on bitless bridles which is very helpful and informative! It’s called Bitless 101, and you can find it here:

https://shop.equinepartnership.ie/product/bitless-bridle-fitting-guide/

It’s also important to understand the relationship between tools and training. As equestrians, it is our duty to strive for improvement in ourselves, and our equine partners across the board. That includes more than just riding and training, but also care and management. Nothing irks me more than seeing excess tack in place of proper training!

You may need to begin your bitless journey with a stronger piece of tack, such as a German hackamore, and that’s fine, as long as you recognise that your goal is to work your way down from it. We should all be aiming for the simplest bridle possible – a sidepull – or even no bridle at all! Bear that in mind, and don’t get comfortable with your tack. Evaluate it regularly and explore other options, and be prepared to put the work into your riding and training.

Things to consider when selecting a bitless bridle

  • Rider ability
  • Horses level of training
  • Horses preference
  • Budget
  • Availability
  • Horses physical attributes

Rider Ability

If you are a novice rider, or aware that your hands need more work, try to avoid the bridles with leverage and stick with simpler bridles. A sidepull would best suit most riders in this category. That would include:

Category A

  • The Transcend
  • Sidepull
  • Micklem (as sidepull)
  • Headcollar
  • Paso Fino bosal
  • Orbitless/wheel hackamore on mildest setting
  • Flower hackamore on mildest setting
  • Cavesson (soft)
  • Riding halter

The next step up would be any of the bridles with a mild squeezing action. These include:

Category B

  • Scawbrigs
  • Indian bosals
  • Dr Cooks (crossunder)
  • Micklem (as scawbrig or crossunder)
  • Dually halter
  • &Partners Pro bridle

Above that, we have the leverage bridles. The shorter the shank, the milder the action, so bear that in mind as you look at options. The milder ones include:

Category C

  • Flower hackamore on medium setting
  • Orbitless/wheel hackamore on medium setting
  • Barefoot bitless bit
  • Short shank English hackamore
  • Little S hackamore

And finally, the long-shanked hackamores, which are best suited to experienced hands. It is a complete fallacy that these can break a horses nose – it has never been formally documented at all, there is no proof, only myths. They do require quiet hands that understand the careful release that comes with using a hackamore. These types include:

Category D

  • English hackamore
  • Baroque hackamore
  • German hackamore
  • Western hackamore

You will notice that bosals and rope halters are absent from the above lists. A bosal works from weight aids via reins rather than direct contact, and they must be carefully fitted to ensure they don’t cause rubbing. They are not something that is recommended for someone who has no training or access to training with someone who does know how to use a bosal.

As for rope halters – they aren’t really suited to direct reining, but if you are neck reining, a well-fitted rope halter is fine. They do tend to move around and can cause rubs because of this. In my opinion, there are more comfortable pieces of equipment available. A plain headcollar will distribute pressure better, for example.

Horses level of training

A horse that is being started should be ridden in a Category A bridle. These are soft, gentle, and will give pound for pound pressure. The release is instant which makes it a particularly clear method of communication.

When a horse reaches a level where they would perhaps need more refinement, you may want to consider moving to a different bridle that better suits your needs. A Transcend double bridle is particularly good for this because it gives two distinct cues – just like you would get from a double bridle for dressage – but it doesn’t escalate pressure.

Horses Preference

Frankly, the largest thing to take into account – does your horse feel happy and comfortable in the bridle you have chosen?

When I started exploring bitless options, I got myself an assortment of equipment to test out. Ody picked the S hackamore by letting me know that he found the signals much clearer than he did from the Jin hackamore or sidepull. If Ody doesn’t understand something, he usually just trots until he figures out what the right thing to do is. In the S hackamore, he found the action clear and understandable, and he was instantly more relaxed about everything.

Listen to your horse!

Does your horse put their ears back, or toss their heads? Are they tense or relaxed? Are they responsive? Are they pulling or leaning? Listen closely and use the clues your horse is giving you to pick the bridle that they feel at their best in.

Budget

For the lucky few, this is low on the list, but for some of us – well, we have to be thrifty! A sidepull can be improvised easily enough. You could use a crank noseband, a drop noseband, a headcollar, put a couple of flash straps on your current bridle – so many ways! This is probably the best place to start when it comes to initial experimentation.

I got myself a selection of different bits and bobs to try. Some came from sales groups (Bitless Lifestyle Believers For Sale/Wanted is a good place to check!) on Facebook, and I got a couple of bargains on eBay, too. This means that I’ve got plenty of options in my tack wardrobe for the future, and gave me a good idea of the types of bridles to look for.

Once I had figured out what I liked, I could set about looking into buying a “proper” bitless bridle. I have had a couple of lovely bridles from Buck You that are both budget-friendly and good quality. I then saved up and bought a Transcend – which is simply beautiful! It’s top-quality English leather, UK made, and worth every single penny! If you like something with choices, take a look at the Bigg Comfort Bitless Multibridle.

Availability

You will probably only find a bog-standard English hackamore, or maybe even a German hackamore in tack shops in the UK. Bitless isn’t as popular as it should be, and of course, shops will only stock what sells. I try and support independent small businesses, such as Transcend, Bigg Comfort and Buck You. You will find plenty of them if you look!

Don’t be afraid to ask! Take your time to browse, check out reviews, and ask questions on groups like Bitless Lifestyle Believers.

There are a lot of bridles available online, and it pains me when I see people say things like “bitless isn’t accessible enough” because it simply isn’t true! Internet shopping means that it’s now easy peasy to buy, try, and return if it isn’t suitable. There is a plethora of information available on bitless, too, and even special online showing classes available!

Bitless is for everyone!

Horses physical attributes

Elmo is a “true” headshaker – he has trigeminal neuralgia, which causes nerve pain under certain stimuli. Sunlight, pollen, cold air, exercise, and pressure can all trigger his headshaking, so it was really important to find a bridle that doesn’t trigger him. We settled on the Bigg Comfort headpiece – it’s perfect for him. Very wide, very padded, with a specially patented browband block to prevent pressure points, which is especially great for him as the browband was a particular trigger.

Ody has very delicate skin, and I found that neoprene noseband padding on nosebands could cause rubs. Unpadded leather often causes rubs on his nose too, so I’m careful about what I use. If you have a sweaty horse (like Ody) then natural materials are much kinder to the skin. Sheepskin padding or well-padded leather seems to be working best for Ody.

Some of the hackamores (such as the S hackamore) may be difficult to fit on horses with smaller heads due to their size, and obviously fitting is extremely important, as with all tack. If you find that your cheek pieces are moving too close to the eye, then you probably need a jowl strap. You can get bridles with jowl straps, Markus Holst makes one, or you can simply slip a browband onto the cheekpieces to act as a jowl strap.

Transitions take time

Don’t expect your horse to be perfect in a bitless bridle the first time you use it! You need to give them some time and direction to adjust to the new piece of tack. Being bitless makes you re-evaluate everything about your riding and relationship, so don’t be tempted to give up just because you think your horse “doesn’t like it”. Give your horse the benefit of the doubt!

You can find information on how to transition here:

5 Steps to Becoming Bitless

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