Monday, September 24, 2012

Tack Tantrum: No Bit (of Common Sense) Bridles

I'm a big believer in bitless bridles.
I just happen to hate almost every one I've ever seen.

I just threw a little tantrum recently, because I could not for the life of me find a decent bitless bridle to put on Annie. I've been riding her in her halter for a while now, and that's fine and dandy and all, but it would be nice to have something.... classier.

Okay okay, so I don't really need anything different, but I'm sure you know about the addiction of tack shopping-- us cowgirls like new tack better than any Coach purse or pair of Gucci shoes. Besides which, I don't like the way the snap-on reins and metal halter loops jingle. And, uh, I think Annie would look really cool in a blinged out black tack set like Trigger had, only with purple accents. And maybe some rhinestones on the saddle blanket.

There, my guilty secret is out: I want to dress up my horse like a pretty pretty princess okay?!

These images represent 80% of my childhood and at least 15% of my adult daydreams.

Anyway, back to bitless bridles.

What I want is a black leather, no-bit bridle, with some bling, and a comfortable noseband. Sounds doable, right? WRONG. If you want a no-bit bridle, you can choose from: A) nylon crap B) horrific hackamores or C) expensive-ass Dr. Cooks that aren't, in my opinion, truly "bitless." Let me show you what I mean.

I had bought Annie a nylon Rank brand no-bit bridle. First, the corded noseband rubbed her face raw. So I wrapped it in purple fleece. Then, it kept slipping down her face, pinching the soft parts of her nose and restricting airflow. Unlike leather, nylon doesn't keep its shape- if you pull on it, it stays tight. I kept adjusting the noseband so it would sit higher, but it kept slipping down-- the nylon doesn't grip well, and it's tied, not buckled, in place. That's also the reason that the whole bridle became slightly disarranged, with straps either being too short or too long on one side or the other. And of course nylon just doesn't give you that leather//bling/princess look. (Though it is machine washable, a nice plus.)

I don't know if Annie's gigantic head was part of the problem, but I relegated the Rank to the back of the tack room.

Left: nice and high on the nose-- good. Right: pinchy ouchy bad! (Also, where is the girl's helmet?!)

Next, there's this option: nice leather headstall with room for bling... but gross noseband. The thin nylon rope doesn't release well, pinching the face continually if you pull on it. And I don't want any kind of pulley/rope system; I just want a noseband! Please?

So then I tried looking at bosals/hackamores. Unfortunately, traditional bosals are pretty much only for horses who neck rein (Annie doesn't). In addition, I don't like the weight of a bosal on a horse's nose. So then, what about hackamores?


Yacht Rope Sidepull Hackamore / Bitless Bridle Attachment - Color Choices

That's gonna hurt!

WHAT the ever-living FUCK?!


Whoooaahh there partner. I think we just wandered into territory best left to Tacky Tack of the Day. Why are there so many monstrosities in the bitless world? Why, in general, are there so many "bitless" bridles out there that rely on pain or gimmicks just as much as bitted bridles do? I'll tell you why:

A horse may be poorly trained, have teeth problems, is not getting enough exercise, is naturally hot/fast, whatever. So the trainer/rider uses gimmicks like evil bits and tie-downs to make the horse behave, rather than fixing the actual problem. The horse becomes super pissy and starts to throw a fit every time you go to bridle it, or pull on a rein. Remove the bit and voila, the horse acts better! Wouldn't you, once metal was no longer being yanked around in your mouth? But after a while, the rider no longer feels he has the control he once did. He can't force the horse's head to drop, or yank and get an instant response. Or maybe the horse just got used to the bitless, and is now up to its old bad behavior. Solution? A hackamore! One with all the ouch of a horrific, sharp, thin, jaw-breaking bit, but on the nose and under the chin instead of in the mouth. This will be another temporary gimmick, because the horse will eventually rebel or become neurotic under the new form of torture, but it works for a while.

You can actually see this process happening in testimonies left on the websites of makers of no-bit bridles. Here's one:

In general though, bitless bridles aren't for "fixing" horses, training is. You horse will continue to toss his head, or pull, or chew, or suffer from bad teeth, or whatever unless you address the actual problem instead of buying new gear. Getting a (true) bitless bridle can be a good way of starting that training, but it's not a substitute for it. That's just common sense! More on that in a bit.

A "true" bitless bridle is, in my book, one that gives fairly minimal control of the head. It's for secondary steering and stopping, basically. Primary stopping and steering? That's what your legs and seat are for. For this reason, I don't particularly like Dr. Cook's bridles

This is the patented bitless Dr. Cook system, guaranteed to be effective and humane! ...except, like a nasty hackamore, it relies on pressure to achieve its effects. Granted, there's no thin steel noseband here to crunch a poor horse's nose, but the Dr. Cook model applies significant pressure to the poll and sides of the face. Is a more humane gimmick? Yeah, sure. But once again, it's using equipment to solve a problem.

Back to common sense. True no-bit bridles force the rider to do the work, to build the foundations. The minimal control of the head means you don't get to muscle/pressure your way through an exercise. If you don't practice bending and giving with your horse, that horse won't turn. If you don't practice stopping, especially one-rein stops, you're not going to be able to stop in an emergency. And if you don't practice your aids, there's no bit to send a signal the easy way, and you won't get the response you want. In short, if you ride in a true bitless bridle, you have to be a good rider or else.

I'm not necessarily a good rider, but riding Annie in her halter forces me to try harder. Would I do it on any horse? NO. There are naturally hot/spooky horses out there that are simply not safe to ride without the emergency safety mechanism of a hard metal bit. But if you think your horse is responsive enough, try one-- you'll be a better rider for it.

After all my searching, I did find a few options for Annie and I:

- Tack surgery: shorten the cheek pieces on a standard headstall, patch in a noseband, hope you know what they hell you're doing.
western sidepull

- Try to find a Western side-pull bridle (not that hard) with a humane noseband (harder) in black (harder) that looks pretty (impossible).

- Buy a "Lightrider" bridle. These look pretty awesome, and the come in black, and they look really "nice" for the horse too. And of course, they're only found in fucking Australia and cost a hundred-and-twenty-two dollars plus shipping.

Do you hear that jingle? That's the sound of two paperclips, a penny and a rusty nail, i.e. the "spare cash" I can afford to spend right now. *sigh*


  1. I live in Canada and it's almost impossible to find a good distributor for ANYTHING horse related up here it seems, lol. But I have found for my tack needs. They have an assortment of bitless bridles as well - some expensive, some less so. You might be able to find something you like there :) The staff is SO friendly, will respond almost immediately by email and are fantastic even over the phone. (no, I don't work for them and am not affiliated by any means, haha). I just placed a $3600 order with them (my 2 horses are impossible to fit and all custom crap...grrr) and probably drove them NUTS for the past few weeks beforehand asking a million questions and not once did I get attitude even without having spent a penny.

    I agree with you on the scary ones...makes me shudder thinking people would use that on their horse's sensitive faces!

  2. Hey...
    speaking of BLING.. and Trigger!!
    I picked up this headstall and matching breast collar, I got it at 3 gaits (theraputic riding center), used it once for a costume trail ride.
    Its sitting in my basement and well... perhaps it could find a new home with you.
    I have used it in 3 years (at least) and paid 10 bucks for the pair...
    want it???? (say please.. don't make me beg.. its FREE!!!)

    Just don't make fun of my costume.. I KNOW I look like a big green nun.. I was supposed to look like a medieval lady...

    1. ZOMG, really?! It's beautiful, I would LOVE to have it! I want to pay you something for it though. If I send you a check, can you ship it to me? And I love your costume :) I saw waaaay worse when I was briefly with the SCA. The horse you're riding looks so content too, adorable.

  3. I'm a big fan of the nurtural bitless bridle. Have you tried them? or are they too much like the Dr Cook's for your liking?

    I have a horse size leather one you could borrow indefinitely - I could toss it in the mail.

  4. It wouldnt be too difficult to just do a bit of a "nip/tuck" on a normal bridle if all you want is to have a a noseband to attach reins to. Take a bridle with the right lenght on the sideleathers. Take a remont-noseband of the right size with decent size on the rings. Cut off the sideleathers. Attach to the halter. Done :).

    Or buy a show-halter (apperantly the look a bit different in Sweden compared to the states)? Oh, and they're cheap, about $40...

  5. Check out madtack on facebook. She has LOTS of colors available in biothane & beta... I'm trying to decide between blue 319 & turquiose 313...both in beta. She also has a very nice padded noseband for a s hackamore. Which is the lesser of the bit-less "evils"....a dr. cooks or s hackamore with a padded noseband (soft, pliable, rubbery feeling material)?