Riding Bitless


Here are photos of Pie (top) and Sovereign (bottom) in their bitless bridles.  Sadly, these shots don't show their pretty heads that well, but you can see the bitless bridles and their adorable bitless lips! (smiling)

Another blogger, Sydney over at her fabulous blog, Bitless horse: Science VS. tradition asked me about my own "bit to bitless" journey. 

My family has had horses on our farm since 1957.  Here is a photo of my mom jumping on an outside course in a show.  At that time, bits were fairly severe. 

When I was born in 1967, my first pony, the sweetie pie, Dimples, was outfitted in a tiny bridle with a snaffle bit.  I started lessons proper in 6th grade and most of the school horses I rode had 
D-ring snaffles.  Thankfully, many stables today are starting students in bitless bridles.  In a bitless bridle, beginning riders can learn to use their seat and hands independently without damaging the mouth of the school horse.  As I advanced through the school program I graduated to riding George, the stallion.  He had a Pelham bit with two sets of reins, one to the snaffle and one to the curb.  I believe I have soft hands, but I still shudder to think back on poor George, with all that metal in and around his mouth.

In 1980, my mom and dad bought me my amazing mare, Penny Lane.  I showed her in a snaffle, but she was known to wear a twisted wire and even a Pelham when hunted because she could get strong.  She never refused a fence for me and was a light-hearted show pony, but she had a tendency to go heavy on her forehand and would trip, stumble and even fall.  Because of this unsafe situation, I started taking dressage lessons with her when I was in 8th grade. It was then that I realized how little my hands had to do with the entire riding experience.  As I sat deeper and rode with my seat and legs, my smart little mare pulled herself up and balanced evenly.  No more tripping, no more racing.  My 8th grade brain wondered if I needed the bridle at all!

We have a 40 acre farm with lovely trails.  I started riding this mare outside of the ring in her halter with two lead ropes tied together like reins.  She did wonderfully in all situations, all weather.  Penny Lane passed away in 2000 - she had lived 31 happy years.  I don't think I ever put a bit in her mouth after 1983. 


In August of 2007 I began riding a Thoroughbred gelding named Baja at a local boarding stable.  He had a snaffle with a slow twist.  As the days got colder, I became increasingly uncomfortable putting that cold piece of metal in the sweet Baja-boy's mouth.  By December, the boarding stable owner would drive up each day and see Baja's bridle on my dashboard with the heat cranked just to warm the bit up for him.  Around the same time I started riding a buckskin QH for some friends.  They only had Western tack.  I had never actually used a  Western bridle (headstall?) before and the bit was a little off-putting.  The owner assured me it was not painful to the horse, but it looked like giant forceps to me.  The mare was 3 years old and I was only walking her so I just rode her in her halter with two leads attached and it worked out perfectly.  She listened to my seat and even "halt" was possible with just my body signals.

Online I began reading Jessica Jahiels's Horse-Sense Newsletter.  There are millions of clinicians and trainers out there with many different opinions about horsekeeping and riding.  Everyone has to find the advice that resonates within themselves.  For me, it is Jessica Jahiel.  She recommends Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle so I ordered one and tried it on Baja.  I was relieved and happy from the very first ride.  We walked, trotted, cantered, jumped and went out over the fields in the bitless bridle.  Finally, I had found tack that works well without being unnecessarily harsh.  Perfect. 

There is a very funny story about Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle and my blog.  I started my blog in December of 2008, right before we began fostering Pie and Sovereign.  I was posting away (to no one because I had no followers yet) about the preparations necessary to receive two Off-Track Thoroughbreds.  One day I posted about all the tack and grooming supplies that came in the mail that day, including, two bitless bridles. You can read that post here.  I talked about having two of everything and that I wished I could ride "Roman".   Growing up we always referred to riding two horses at once (like a bareback artist in the circus) as "Riding Roman".  No one commented, but I received an email from a man named "Bob".  He asked me what "Riding Roman" meant.  I answered and linked him to the wiki article about Roman Riding.  When he pleasantly emailed back again, under his name "Bob" there was his whole title.  "Bob" was short for Robert...as in Dr. Robert Cook, the inventor of Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle!!!!!  Ok, so I was falling all over myself on the next email to "Bob".  Freak-out time! 

That said, all my praise to Dr. Cook was sincere.  I love, love, love our bridles and only have ridden twice without them. ( Both times I rode with no tack at all!)  In fact, we don't have any bits in our barn now.  Happy Pie!  Happy Sovey!  Happy us!