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Have you ever wondered about going bitless? Would a bitless bridle be better for your horse and how do you know which one to use?

I feel that using any piece of equipment effectively is about being aware of why you are using it, how it works, and what benefits or limitations that equipment has.

In today’s video, I discuss reasons why you may want to try a bitless bridle, we will look at several different styles, and I will help you understand how they work and what to be aware of with different bridle designs.

Now that you have watched the video, share your thoughts! Have you used a bitless bridle? What style did you use and what did you like or dislike about it?

See you in the comments!



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57 Responses

  1. Thank you Callie, very interesting video. The horse that I take lessons on typically has a bitless bridle. My understanding was it was because he was very responsive to the bridle, and also to avoid having students pulling too much on his mouth. It has always worked very well with him. However when we did some dressage and more work on bending, we used a bit bridle, I think for greater control. I didn’t realize that the pattern of pressure was so different among different bitless bridles. This is helpful to know. Next time I’ll try to find out where exactly the bitless bridle is putting pressure on the horse, so I can understand what I’m doing.

  2. Callie,
    I transferred Izzy from a mechanical hackamore to a little S hackamore because , 1) it was hard to use and 2) I felt better about it because it wasn’t so much pressure and she responded a lot better to it. The S still has the braided waxed rope on it and a small curved shank which allows me to use a small amount of direct pressure like a side pull but still get the hack nose pressure. She seems to do well in it but i am still wondering if she would respond even better in a bit (which to my knowledge she has never had at the age of 13). Should i still try the bit or leave her alone if shes better than before but not perfect?

    1. Hi Mykalynn,
      I think it may depend on what your goals are for her, if you would like to really further her training and feel limited by the hackamore then try a bit. If she hasn’t worn one before, just keep in mind that she will need some time to get used to holding it in her mouth as well as responding to the pressures from the bit.

    2. If you want a good bit to transition with I can recommend the Myler Combination bit because it uses nose pressure in combination with a kind bit so that the horse can easily associate the two. I use it on youngsters after having trained them in a halter to help then understand how to respond to the bit.
      Here’s a link describing the combination bit:

  3. I’ve been using a bitless bridle on my horse for about 10 years now and love it….I believe it’s the first brand you discussed in your video (crosses under the horses chin). I began using bitless because I knew that I was too heavy handed with my reins and felt that was unfair to the horse. I am heavy handed only because I’m not a highly skilled rider, so I felt my “clunkiness” and “overcorrecting” were problems I needed to work on, but not at the expense of my horse’s mouth. The transition to bitless took NO time at all. I simply put on the bitless and my horse immediately responded well to steering and stopping. I do not do perform any moves that require complex communication with my horse though a bit…we do basic pleasure trail riding at typically a walk and sometimes a trot. The owner of the barn where I keep my horse didn’t even notice I had gone bitless….until after I’d been riding bitless for about 5 years. Now I frequently ride bitless and bareback and I feel the horse really appreciates it! Thank you for your videos….they are very informative.

  4. I liked this video — very informative. I once used a hackamore for a few months when I was not getting a response to my halt aid. As I think about it, I was also at a lower level of understanding HOW to apply any aid at that time. My horse, Asher, was very responsive to the Hackamore. It allowed me to be very light with my hands and he would halt and even walk backward very easily for me. The reason I stopped using it was not a good one. It was because of negative comments from my friends who did not use a Hackamore, and felt that there would be little control over my horse if I continued to use it. My trainer said to me, “is it working for you?”. When I replied yes then her response was then it’s a good thing. Anyway, I may try it again this summer just to change things up a bit and to become adept at using it. By the way, Callie, your arena is absolutely stunning! I love the slant design of the walls and I think the detail up toward the ceiling is gorgeous !

    1. Hi Linda,
      Your trainer sounds like she knows what she is talking about 🙂
      I stopped using a Neue Schule Tranz Angled bit (which is wonderful) after my mare came back from 6 weeks in the mountains and said NO when I asked for her to slow down or stop. We lost all brakes and steering. I thought my coach lost her mind when she said ride in a rope halter (no knots) We went into a LG-Zaum when we had all lateral stuff again. She LOVES it! soft, doesnt go behind the vertical, or above, we are just starting piourettes. Unfortunately I cant compete in it in Canada. I would give it a go, the Orbitless is pretty close. So much feel and I have Whoa when she says Nah haha

  5. Thank you for this video. I’m a bit bitless bridle fan. I ride my horse with the same bitless bridles you have shown in the video. A Dr Cook bitless bridle , and also a Sidepull style . I feel like my horse does well in the Dr Cook but I must agree, sometimes responses seem delayed especially working with bending and circles. We tend to use this bridle exercising in the arena.
    The Sidepull is probably both of our favorite type. He does very well, is quickly responsive and I feel like I have more control. There are also many different styles you can get. I use this most of the time for all types of riding. I choose to ride my horse bitless for personal reasons and to be kind. He does not have any mouth or face issues.

  6. Hi Callie,
    I loved your bitless bridle video. I am trying the Dr Cook one on my older mare. I’m not really seeing a big difference in riding with bit or without. Since she had some teeth pulled I just thought it is friendlier :-). I know there is another bitless bridle out there called LG Zaum (german) and I was wondering what people thought of that one versus the Dr Cook one.
    I am a beginner rider and the less I hurt their mouth the better.
    Also I love your arena 🙂

  7. I’ve been using the type of bitless bridle that crosses under the chin for a few years on all of my four Arabians. Each one of them took to it like fish to water. There was no trying out period, not even a minute. I didn’t walk them around the ring previous to going out, or anything like that. I put the bridle on my horses and we hit the trails. That simple. I have seen people that are very cautious and uncertain when changing to this type of bridle, and can’t help but wonder if the rider’s anxiety contributed to the horse’s misbehavior.

    1. That definitely may be true, Robert. I think it may also depend on how many cues are coming from the reins and how much contact the rider uses.

  8. its great to hear the information.i use a rope halter .however these are realy used togethar with the appropriate training.i have seen people using rope halters with horses that have no understanding of pressure and release and this is sad as they can be severe if not understood.thanks for the info.

  9. Hey,
    I’ve been using a simple leather sidepull with a broad band (3+cm) on my horse for about half a year now. I started using the sidepull when I needed a cavesson and wanted to try riding with it. Until then I had only ridden either with a bit or a ropehalter. I now ride dressage with it and I find the connection I have with the nose isn’t nearly as fragile as it is with the mouth when I ride with a bit. So far I haven’t run into an exercise that I can’t do without a bit, so I don’t think I’ll be changing back anytime soon!

  10. Hi Callie,
    My horse and I have been bitless for 10 years, both riding out and long-reining. We use a side-pull from Sunset Halters who can be found via Google. I’ve thought of a couple of things that might be worth adding to your excellent presentation:
    1. The cartilage at the end of the top of the horse’s nose starts about halfway between the nostrils and the eyes. So when fitting a bitless bridle, one should be aware of fitting the nose band across the bone, as the cartilage can more easily be damaged.
    2. When using a direct side-pull, we are pushing the horse’s skin tissue against the teeth, so these need to be handled with the same finesse as any bit.

  11. A couple years ago we were in Ireland and met a couple that used the Micklem bridle in the bitless configuration and thought they were very gentle on the horse and still provided good control. Just wondering if anyone else has had experience with the Micklem.

  12. I bought a bitless bridle for Tobiah because I want to be as gentle on him as possible. His bitless bridle is rope with a 12 ft. lead rope attached. I purchased this from Missy Wryn. a gentle horse trainer. I am new at owning a horse, so I really can’t compare this to a bridle with a bit. I love the fact that Tobiah does not have a piece of metal in his mouth. He seems to respond very well to riding bitless. I am working on riding with my seat and trying to use the bridle/halter just to reinforce what I have asked as needed.

  13. I have been using bitless bridles for many years. I have tried several types- S-hackamore, Cooks, Nutural and one similar to one showed with the squeeze just under the chin. The one I rely on for starting my young horses- Arabs- and riding long distance is the basic sidepull in beta-biothane. It is essentially a halter with extra rings for reins and softer noseband and a lower set throatpiece for better stability on the face. You can also get these bridles with bit hangers to use both a bit and the side pull using 2 sets of reins. This can be a great transitional piece for people who are hesitant about going without a bit completely for the first few rides. You could engage the bit if you are feeling things are not understood by the horse off the nose, otherwise just have a loose rein on the bit and give the cues through the sidepull rein.
    I had someone ask me last year as we were heading out in the forest for a long ride if I thought I could stop a horse with my sidepull if things got crazy. My answer was that no matter what is on the head ,the horse has to understand and have confidence in the rider. Adding pain to a worried situation for a horse via a light bit, strong bit or whatever form of hackmore does nothing to help the bond with the rider or understanding. Thats not the sort of riding I want to do. So far so good after 35 yrs.
    Also, there is more recent research investigating the effects of the bit on the sensitive structures of the mouth and interestingly how the bit breaks the vacuum formed by the mouth to allow high performance air intake.

    1. That is really interesting about the bit breaking the vacuum formed by the mouth, I was aware of research about the bit damaging mouth structures, but had not heard about the air vacuum research…

      1. Yes there is a fairly recent with both racehorses and endurance horses – so high anaerobic and aerobic exercise. it shows that the mouth needs to by tightly sealed- even at the corners by the lips, tongue and cheeks to have more efficient airfow through the nasal passages, less likelihood of epiglottis entrapment and possibly less pulmonary hemorrhage. The blood O2 levels were statistically higher in the horses when they were not wearing bits.

        1. This is very interesting. The reason I’m considering trying a bitless on my OTTB is because she’s incredibly sensitive and does not always want to take her very light nathe bit. I often use either bit butter or a small piece of fruit roll up on it to make it more palatable. But, while she doesn’t avoid or pull away, she’ll just keep her mouth closed and when I have to tweak it open with my fingers — I can actually hear her break the seal! So she gets a vacuum before she takes the bit. And afterwards, her lips are not always sealed around it. She’s got a low pallet and I’ve tried other bits — can’t use metal or anything thick. Also dislikes ANY noseband pressure, so after watching this, I’m not sure a bitless would work. She does work nicely in a halter and lead ropes, but I’m sure not taking her cross country in that!

  14. I use the side pull bridle and she does very well with it, from the day I put it on. She used to chew constantly on the bit in her mouth and throw her head around but doesn’t do that anymore. Thank you for the lesson on the different kinds of bitless bridles very helpful.

  15. I just bought a rope style bitless that has the piece under the chin. I was concerned that if I pull on one side, then the other that the rope would cause irritation as it slides under her chin. Fortunately it does not seem to do this. It took her only about 3 or 4 minutes of confusion (about the lack of a bit) to figure it out, but now she loves it. I’ve been on the trails, ridden bareback and even jumped in it.

    1. I have since cut out the chin strap and just use it as a side pull. I continued to worry about irritation from the sliding strap and didn’t like the delay in response it seemed to cause while waiting for it to slide the other way to engage. It’s easier to get on now and works great.

  16. I used a mechanical hackamore on my own horses a few times but my best success was with the horse of a friend who wanted me to ride her horse while it stayed with me for a while. This was a sweet older mare but I was warned that she was miserable to ride because she tossed her head all the time. After a longer than usual ride one day I discovered that her bit was too narrow and had actually rubbed the corners of her mouth raw. Change to mechanical hackamore and the head tossing vanished forever. Happy horse, happy rider

  17. Hi ! I chose about 5 years ago to use a bosal. My little Arab was always fighting the bit, constantly working his mouth and tossing his head. Now he is quiet and very responsive. My hands have become much more quiet and a lot softer. No more bit for us

  18. I ride just in a halter and rope reins on trail rides to give my ponies freedom to use their neck and back muscles. I have also used an Orbit bit less in transitioning a young horse from halter t o which worked well.

  19. I switched to a Dr. Cook bridle about 5 years ago because I thought it was a kinder way to ride. One day I put the Dr. Cook bridle on my mare – no other transition. No problems with control. However, after recently realizing that the Dr. Cook didn’t release immediately, I have ordered a side pull bridle. Waiting for it to arrive!

  20. Hi Callie,
    Thanks for a nice video on bit-less bridles. I have enjoyed riding with them the few times that I have had the opportunity. They seem a bit more gentle to the horse. Nice to see Mojo~ he makes a beautiful model 🙂


  21. I really enjoyed this video, and I thought your observations were spot on! I have used the Dr Cooks bitless bridle on several horses, and have had really good experiences with it. I think the older design of these bridles were more inclined not to release promptly… my newer leather bridle seems to release much better. My horse registers his approval for this bridle by lowering his head into it every time… he is a good boy with a regular bitted bridle too, but you can see his enthusiasm for the Dr. Cooks 🙂

  22. Like the video Callie,I have learned some good stuff watching horse people on youtube and you are my favorite, I am a western rider, and use Argentine bits and some curb bits,Argentine is my favorite but I know English riders are a different style all together,I cringe at any bridle with a nose band ,a horses nose is easily damaged if to much pressure is applied,but I think if your horse is ok with it then no harm as with any rig, it depends on who is using it!

  23. I was excited to see this video and all the comments from people who don’t use bits. I have never planned to use one and wonder how the idea of a hunk of metal in a horse’s mouth even started, which I believe was for military on horses . I have always used a rope halter but plan to try a side pull. I also read the research mentioned above about the nerve endings in a horse’s mouth right where a bit rests, and the research about the interference with performance horses getting enough air because of bits. Thanks for this video.

  24. Hi Callie! Great video! Thank you for explaining the differences in the bit-less bridles and how they work. I have a mare that was handled roughly when she was being trained that refuses to take a bit. She is the reason I decided to go bit-less with all 4 of my horses. I use the one that crosses under the chin. So far I have been impressed with how my horses are responding to it. I work for a riding center for people/children with disabilities and we are going to start training the horses there to use them! Right now the horses use halters with rainbow reins attached. We feel the bit-less transition will be very easy for the horses.

  25. Haven’t tried bitless because I felt that I needed more info – this wonderful video and everyone’s helpful comments have provided that. Now on to next step. Thanks to you all!

  26. I have a cross-under bridle (Nurtural), but my mare is super sensitive and doesn’t like the pressure on her “whole” face.

    I finally found a headstall to fit my mare’s head, so I can now attach my Orbitless bitless noseband to it, and give it a try. You can adjust it in many ways, so that it applies pressure only to certain areas of the head, or you can use it like a side-pull.

  27. I use a custom made noseband attached to my regular bridle on my headstrong and pushy fjord. It’s made by Knot Just Rope, called a modified “o” ring noseband.
    It works off direct pressure on the nose only and has a good release. I requested one with 4 knots (like the halter we use for groundwork, so he is accustomed to the feel) and a wrap that makes the noseband quite stiff. You can get all sorts of colors, patterns and wraps to suit your style and needs, and it’s probably the least expensive option out there. My horse and I love it!

  28. Hey, Callie! My gelding has been in a hackamore (Reinsman SS rope nose hackamore) since I was leasing him. I’ve been playing with a nurtural (like the Dr. Cook) and the Lightrider (a sidpull style). He can do anything with the hackamore, but I’d really like to trasition him into one of the leather bitless like the ones I mentioned above. we’re going slowly. we jump, do trails and no one even realizes he’s not in a bit.
    thanks for all the education!

  29. hello again, Callie. Update on Blanco with the bitless. I tried him again with the Lightrider (it’s the one with the chin strap underneath.) The first two times I used it he responded, but there was that bothersome head tossing (although mild) when the chin strap engaged. I otherwise loved the quality of that bridle, so I used it as a complete sidepull this last time out (clipped the two rings together to mitigate the action of the chinstrap). He responded beautifully! In fact, he bent better and stopped much more squarely than with his usualy hackamore (Reinsman SS rope nose with sheepskin coverin). I think I’ll try him during his lesson tomorrow in the Lightrider set up as a sidepull. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    1. I recently bought the same style. I have since cut out the chin strap on mine and just use it as a side pull. I continued to worry about irritation from the sliding strap and I didn’t like the delay in response it seemed to cause while waiting for it to slide the other way to engage. It’s easier to get on now and works great. Good luck with yours.

  30. Till now I never thought much about it thinking it must be just one of the usual thing for the riding.
    I was really a knowledge for me. Thank you !

  31. I bought a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle for a blind horse who had been sat on a lot but not ridden previously with the idea that he wouldn’t be scared by a bit in his mouth. It turned out that it was a problem that the bridle did not give quick enough release for him to learn. We ended up just attaching the reins to it without using the cross-under straps, and we tried just using a rope halter. I also tried some inexpensive rope halters with rings attached for the reins. Those didn’t seem to work very well, so then I bought a Mustang rope bitless bridle for about $20, and that works nicely.

  32. I ride in a bitless bridle called an “enduro”. It is a modified rope halter that differs from others in that besides nose pressure, it also provides some chin pressure without being restrictive. My mare is very sensitive on her poll, so I was worried how she would react to the crossunder types. With halters and sidepulls she had trouble with direction and did not have a very light stop. She was trained western and is very sensitive to chin cues and the enduro was a perfect match. She is happy being bitless, cues from fingertip pressue, easy to disengage during trail spooks, and finally learning to stretch out and down instead of being in the false frame she associates with bit pressure. No mistaking it for a traditional bridle, however 🙂

  33. Thank you for the video! I am just now switching to Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle, and I am wondering what reins would work best. I have been riding my horse in a snaffle with loop rope reins with slobber straps. I think this might be too heavy for the bitless bridle, but I am also not used to using the leather split reins that are also offered by Dr. Cook. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Beverly,

      I agree the reins with slobber straps will likely be a bit heavy. Everyone has different preference when it comes to rein material. I personally love a thick (but lightweight) cloth circle rein. In this video, I have just a simple set of English braided reins on the bridle.

  34. My girl hates a cold bit! I tend to use my trail bridle with the bit in the summer. And in the winter I may just clip the reins on the halter type headset if the trail bridle or I use a direct pull bitless. The bitless originally had the piece the reins attached to that went through the side rings and under the chin. I never noticed any head tossing, but I did notice a delay in her response as it took a second for the piece to slide to the other side under her chin before it “pulled” her head to the side. I also worried about it rubbing on her. She is definitely a bit slower to respond to cues with the bitless, but not enough it causes me any concern.

  35. Thank-you Callie, that was very informative! I am curretly using a bitless bridle because my horse got stung by something in his lips and one side is still quite swollen and hard. I have a Rambo Micklem Multibridle (not sure if you can get them in the USA) which now has proved its value as you can use it with a bit and without (also functions as a cavesson and headcollar). Without is possible in 3 alternatives: mild: sidepull, medium: sidepull with a chin strap, and strong: with crossover straps (the first variation you showed). We are using sidepull. My horse reacts well to it but getting him to bend properly and loosen his neck and back don’t work that well as yet (he tends to stiff neck and hollow back, which we are working on successfully). Still, it is an excellent alternative until his lips heal. Your video explained the differences between the 3 alternatives very clearly and now I am happy to just use sidepull.

  36. Wondering what your thoughts are on the side pull with snaffle. Also curious if the same type of pressures would be felt with an interchangeable nose band and curb used with a regular bridle.

  37. Hi, I was watching your video about bitless bridles. The horse I currently lease used to go in a hackamore. She was switched to a bit when the owner’s daughter started showing. According to the owner, the horse prefers bitless. I can see when I ride the horse doesn’t seem to be thrilled with the bit. She opens and closes her mouth a lot, moves her tongue around, moves her head and neck around, does some funny stretching, but as I ride she eases into it and gets better. Her teeth and everything else such as bridle and bit fit have been checked. She uses a full cheek snaffle. Anyhow, the daughter doesn’t show anymore, I’m older and don’t show anymore, so I’m considering trying bitless on her but having some trouble deciding which one. Definitely not mechanical hackamore and not sure if I want Dr. Cook due to pressure release not being immediate. I did find a website called Knot Just Rope. I’m not promoting the site, I just simply like some of the options on there. There’s traditional sidepull, Modified O ring, and hybrid which kind of combines both. I ride english, do some really small jumps and trail ride. The horse I lease likes to move, she has done some fox hunting and eventing. She can get nervous, but she has never bucked or bolted on me. She has stopped and looked while on trail rides, but hasn’t done anything dangerous. Because she is forward (definitely not more whoa than go) I would like some control without being too severe. one time she surprised me on the trail by jumping a small creek. She walks through water, but her foxhunting and eventing past led her to think it would be better to jump, lol. If she had something severe in her mouth, I could have done some damage because it was unexpected. She wasn’t being bad, I just think in her mind she thought she should jump it. I will work with communication with her so she knows exactly what I expect her to do. We are getting better at this. Anyhow, Just curious what your suggestions might be and what you think of the site I mentioned. Again, I’m not trying to promote anything, I was just intrigued by the options provided at that site.

    1. This bridle was purchased a long time ago – I can’t recall the brand anymore!

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

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