by Wendy Newing
Following a severe injury to my horse’s tongue, which was nearly severed, I was left after her recovery with the realisation that I would never be able to use a bit in her mouth again. There are several types of bitless bridle available but my veterinary surgeon suggested that I try a Dr Cook Bitless Bridle, designed by Dr Robert Cook, a U.K. trained equine veterinary surgeon. It has been marketed in the U.S.A. since 1999. Another of his clients here in Devon was using one very successfully and praised it highly, so he suggested I might like to try one on my Lipizzaner mare, Saringa. She is a very sweet natured horse but a real hot blooded individual and strong. I have to admit that the thought of riding, especially on roads with no bit, filled me with apprehension but as it turned out these concerns were groundless.
While I am not advocating going bitless for everyone this solution for my problem has been successful. I also ride her in a Monty Roberts Dually Schooling Halter with the same amazing results. In fact I rode her out in her Dually, with reins attached to the training rings, long before I introduced her to the Dr Cook Bitless Bridle.
Both methods suite her nature and anatomy incredibly well and I have to say that she goes freely and happily and shows no signs of discomfort, if anything she is much happier without a bit in her mouth. By means of a system of two loops, one over the poll and one over the nose, the bridle embraces the whole head. It provides communication by applying painless pressure across the poll, behind the ears which is a very sensitive region, down the side of the face, under the chin and across the nose. What is does not do is injure or frighten the horse in the way that a cold metal bit in the wrong hands can. Fitted properly it does not restrict the horses breathing and it is obvious from my horses attitude to life when being ridden in either this bridle or her Dually that she enjoys the freedom while I enjoy still being in control. The aids are the same as with the bit method of control. I am a firm believer in riding with light sensitive hands whatever you use on your horse.
I followed the advice for both the Dually and the bridle and schooled her in the confines of her paddock first. I have to say that initially I found steering a bit of an issue. Any subtle take-and-give of the inside hand when turning seemed to go unnoticed. Seat and leg aids are much more important when riding bitless, but we both improved as we became familiar with this new found freedom. Because the cross-under straps of the Bitless Bridle put pressure along the horse’s cheek, which may press against any sharp edges of teeth, it is best to have them checked out before using it for the first time. This was not a concern with the Dually Halter and as I said, she goes beautifully in both.
Horses bolt because of fear or pain. By removing the bit one of the most common sources of pain is removed. I have heard many accounts of going bitless stopping problems with head-tossing when being ridden and for any horse with this problem it would certainly be worth trying. Saringa is very head and ear shy but she moves confidently, obediently and freely bitless.