As a Certified Bitless Instructor, Transitioning horses to go Bitless is one of my areas of expertise....and I am writing this piece to assist those rare few riders who have tried and had difficulties using Bitless Bridles with their horses.
Firstly lets address this incorrect belief that somehow the bridle straps are going to magically bounce off the horses nose or jaw line, depending on what style of bitless bridle you are using.....when you release the rein.
This is NEVER going to happen.....and is not how a pressure and release bitless bridle (about 99.9% of them) work, but I have found that most riders genuinely believe this to be the case :( And you will see horse forums full of people complaining about things like the rein straps stick or the release doesn't work, or my horse cannot go bitless etc......due to these incorrect conclusions.
The bottom line here is that the rider is using the equipment in the wrong way, as if it was a bitted bridle....... and that is why they have experienced problems.....in 99.9% of most cases like this that I attend or assist with, there is nothing wrong with the bridle itself...or the horse......its the rider that needs to be more skilled.
And I am happy to help people learn those skills.......which aren't hard to master as it is all about feel and timing, as well as understanding what's in it for the horse.
So lets talk about the science and reactions by the horse now to going Bitless.......most horses transition quickly and easily to going bitless...and the info below was written to help those odd few who don't and in order to assist others be more compliant and softer....
Most bitless bridles should have the pressure strapping (the part that is tightened when the reins are pulled) lightly resting on the horses skin of his nose, or jaw area etc........and this is what we called a "NEUTRAL" position and is as if no reins were attached .......which should be the same as when zero rein pressure is being applied...but sadly most riders don't do this....they still apply pressure even when they think they are in NEUTRAL....even without realising it as there seems to be a psychological comfort for humans to be holding onto those reins which is detrimental to the bitless process.
Now once the rider takes up the slack on the reins to ask the horse for a turn, or stop etc.....this is what we call "REIN ENGAGEMENT" "and the strapping should now be applying a gentle tension, felt by the horse as a steady pressure to the horses face in some way.......as to ask for your maneuver.....
But I have found that sadly 99.9% of riders use WAY TOO MUCH rein pressure to ask for this......with big movements and extreme and unnecessarily harsh pressure being applied.....or pull the reins back rather than left or right as to ask for a turn, and again without the rider even realising they are doing this..........and then the horse gets confuses ,feels restricted and objects....and horse wrestling ensues.....and you end up having a fight with a 500-600kg horse that you CANNOT possibly win!
BUT IT SHOULD NEVER BE ABOUT WINNING WITH HORSES........
Just because the horse is a big animal, does not mean we have to shove and push him around with all that force......this creature is softer than you can ever imagine....he doesn't need kilograms of pressure to be applied to his reins when asking for a turn or stop etc........he needs only grams.....like the gentleness of touching a new born baby....after all he can feel a fly land on every part of his body and move each and every muscle independently to combat that.....so less is more, especially with bitless bridles :)
Bitless Riding is not like using a BIT....where the threat of pain is ever present to the horse........"the do as i ask or else" IS NOT applicable with a bitless bridle ......and riders will not be able to dominate their horses this way as they will simply ignore you .....or wrestle with you as mentioned.
Bitless riding is about mutual benefit for the rider and THE HORSE......so you say left and apply gentle pressure OF THE REIN OUT TO THE LEFT in ADDITION to all other aides...now that means after using your leg, eyes, bellybutton, weight, focus and head......and when the rein pressure is too much, too tight or being used too harsh like we mentioned, the horse will give you immediate feedback about your skills or lack of them as discussed.
So the right way to use a bitless bridle is by applying small movements and gentle pressure to ask for a turn, back up, stop etc....after using all other aids, and then for the rider to release the rein pressure IMMEDIATELY. The Bitless Bridles Strapping then goes back to the Neutral position rather than coming away from your horses face as erroneously expected......and its this that offers your horse the "release" which is his reward for complying to your polite request :)
Riding in a bitless bridle is often the start of a genuine partnership between rider and their horse based on trust and understanding, and I encourage you all to try it for yourself , even if its only to give your horse a break from the bit :)
As always I hope this article will help horses get a better deal from their riders through improved understanding of equipment and equine psychology from the horses point of view.
Tracy from www.naturalhorse.co.nz