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Horse Behavior and Training

Bits vs Bitless

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Hello all,
I am very confused about a certain subject; the horse's mouth and biting.
Are bits cruel? Surely the horses' mouth is very sensitive. Being very wary of dentists myself and having experianced braces i know all too well how sensitive the human mouth is. Surely the horse's gums must be very sensitive also. I would think that a thin piece of metal in a horse's mouth pressing against his gums, even if it is only during a short aid, must be very painful. The bit must also be very uncomfortable and forgein in the horse's mouth, (i know from having the braces that having a strange object in your mouth is awful) and i feel a bit guilty putting a bit into my horse's mouth.

Is bitless riding a kinder, more effective way to ride?

I am inexperianced and know very little about bitless riding so please correct me if i am wrong.
Any input would be appriciated.

Equus Student

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Any tool can be harmful in the wrong hands. Like whips and spurs. In the correct hands, they are great tools for communication. In the wrong hands, it can easily turn into abuse.

Soft hands on a bit is perfectly humane and comfortable- in my opinion at least.

Some horses do like bitless bridles and some don't. (Also make sure you are comfortable bitless. I personally am not. I feel like I lose a good deal of communication without feeling his mouth... Then again, that was when I rode a pony that would twist his mouth around the bit slightly before he tried to run out so that might have just been me lol)
I would personally just experiment. If the horse doesn't like your current bit, try a softer metal or try bitless. It really depends on you and your horse

And also remember that after a while, you get use to braces (ugh. Too many years of wearing them.) and then it feels strange without the braces. I wouldn't worry to much about it feeling foreign to them. Everything feels funny at first, but then you get use to it and you feel completely comfortable with

Just my personal opinion ^.^

she popped

hello Equus Student, weather or not a bit is cruel depends on the rider. used responsibly it has many advantages and as you can see Monty himself uses a bit, unfortunately many people abuse horses with bits, but the bit itself is not the problem it is the person, because if that person were to ride bitless they would just find other ways to be cruel. my trainer starts riding all of his horse without a bit because he wants them to be responsive to his seat before he moves on. i have ridden both with and without a bit. the horse i am riding know is from my trainer and i was riding her bitless. just recently i introduced her to the bit because i am training her in dressage. she seems perfectly happy with it because know one has ever mistreated her, yes it was new to have something in her mouth but not scary and it didn't hurt so it was just another thing to learn about. my other horse is a rescue and he was abused with the bit so didn't like it, but horses are smart and he quickly realized that i never made his mouth hurt consequently he no longer had a problem with it. in my opinion the bit when used responsibly is just another way to communicate with your horse. in advanced riding it gives you a whole new range of aids with which to connect with your horse and bring him to higher levels. i really appreciate your concern and think with your attitude you would never misuse the bit. it is refreshing to hear someone putting the horse first.

God bless,

Kicki -- Sweden
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I agree with both posts above, so I just wanted to add - for the sake of comparision - that a bitless bridle of any kind can be just as cruel and uncomfortable as ever a regular bit - when wrongly fit and/or in insensitive hands.


Depending on the bit type and the hands that hold the reins, the answer to the question is half a dozen of one and six of the other. A bitless bridle acts on poll pressure and has a curb chain working on the chin groove, depending on how long your shanks are (english hackamore) depends on how little it takes to apply pressure. These bridles should be used by experienced folk and whilst they have their place in the tack room they can cause immense pain if used incorrectly. A bit works on different parts of the mouth depending on the type and my personal rule of thumb is the more complicated the bit looks the harsher it will be. Also many people use stronger bits for brakes etc instead of improving their riding and learning the basic aids first.

At the end of the day if your horses mouth and teeth are OK and your riding is up to scratch it really is what your horse is happiest with.

Equus Student
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Thanks all for your comments, i found a quote from the guy who designed Dr Cook's bitless bridle which i though was very true:
"In the hands of a master horseman who has learned to ride with seat and legs and who hardly uses the reins when riding a fully trained horse, the most severe bits may be completely pain-free," Cook states. "Conversely, a supposedly simple snaffle in the untutored hands of a novice can become an instrument of torture."

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I agree what a refreshing approach...what is best for the horse and not just the rider. As a child I rode around in a head collar (often bareback) with one rope rein and never thought about not stopping it wasnt until an adult said it wasnt safe did I think about it!?. I am not advocating this style its just what I did hanging out with horses.I use my seat, legs and more importantly my energy to stop and to go. I ride in a dually now and it works for my fidgety part arab/andalucian who head shook and does so rarely now. Enjoy your riding and your horse...

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Main trouble with bits is that riders still use them to stop horses...yet another problem with horses who are heavy on the forehand ..If horses are mouthed and ground trained to bow off slight pressure in the beginning and are incrementally worked and trained as on the online Uni,a horse should have no opinion about a bit if it's the right bit ..Bits are the single most misunderstood tool in equitation .Bitless? Could a horse be trained to be as fully reponsive to a Dually as to a traditional rawhide bosal? I believe Monty is going to do some videos about bits.I hope! They used to be works of art,as were the horses who wore them ..


The problem nowadays is that people have come into horses later in life and so very basic skills around horses are having to be taught, which would have been acquired through experience before and the old adage 'You have Time' is often forgotten in favour of 'the quick fix'. Please read my articles in the Intelligent Horsemanship's magazine The Listening Post (Summer and Autumn 2010) and do get in touch if you would like help and advice.

Hello! 100 lessons completed

personal prefference I like bits because I think they communicate most effectively until the horse understands better. But I like to eliminate confusion and that is what works for me. however a bitless bridle works great as long as your horse understands what you are asking.


I used to think any horse could be 'happy' in a bit until I finally started to listen to my horse. I don't think all bits are cruel, and for many horses they are a viable option. For some, though, they are *not* and a Dr Cook's Bitless Bridle (or something similar, I only have experience with the Dr Cooks model) can be a welcome relief and really help you and your horse truly communicate in a truly non violent way.
My Morgan mare Argo was 'started' by a cruel, abusive trainer. I don't know what the heck they did to her, but it took me a long, long time to gain this mare's trust. I got her when she was just turned four, now she is sixteen so I have many years of experience behind my words. I am also a certified trainer and certified coach and have been working with and around horses since 1974 so I'm not a greenie. lol
I tried every bit I knew of, every gentle training method I knew as well to 'retrain' her to accept a bit. She would take it, but be very unhappy. Eventually head shaking would start, and true resistance would start. Then I found the BB, tried it and the very first ride the head shaking stopped, the 'attitude' (which was pain and fear!) stopped and for the first time in a long time we were truly partnered. (No, it was not my riding and not my hands being too strong.)
Now, will everyone have this experience? No. But did we? Yes. Will a bit work for my horse? No. Does that mean I believe all bits are cruel? Certainly not. But one of the things I do like about the Dr Cook's Bitless Bridle is that all it does is 'hug' the head, you can't be cruel with it. It just gently turns the head and where the head goes, the horse follows. It was designed so that if a beginner rider lost their balance and hung on the reins, the horse would not be hurt. If you would like to learn more,go to the main site for the BB and read the reports yourself.
Like many others have all ready said, very much depends on the rider and how they handle the horse. I would like to add it also depends on the horse. Always listen to your horse, and he/she will let you know what hurts them or bothers them and what doesn't. Remember, horses never lie. :)

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Great posts here. My mare was very used to a bit and responded well to it. I decided to go bitless and when I put it on her, she was pleasantly shocked it seemed. While bits are safe in the soft hands, that is a big criteria to go by. Soft hands come with many years of riding and more importantly, good riders. Just because one rides for many years does not mean she is a good rider. Since I knew I could have been softer with my hands but that I was not, I switched to a bitless bridle (Dr Cooks) and just love it. My horse now listens more to my seat perhaps because I dont rely on the bridle like I did before. My suggestion therefore is to start with bitless until one absolutely gains how to utilize the seat and leg cues, masters it and then can switch to a bit if she chooses to go that route. Of course, for some competitions, using a bit is a requirement BUT training at your own leisure certainly can be bitless.


Good for you, Horselover! I agree completely with everything you said. :)

Equus Student
Please upload your photo 100 lessons completed

I think that was a good point that you made, Horselover: don't ride with a bit until you are sure that you will not lose your balance and hurt the horse. Thanks everyone!

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I wonder now,having read these comments above, will a horse with a dull mouth from uneducated hands ,lean on the bit even more ..looking for conversation/direction that never comes,hense more heavy on the forehand.
Pre cars,children learned to ride lightly on hobby horses I think.

Amberpony - California, USA
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I have had to give my horses bitless times because my daughter used the bit for balance. When my daughter enrolled in pony club and they taught us to put an old Stirrup leather around the horses neck (a create a Handle)for her to hang onto until she was confident enough to stay off of the horses mouth. After that all my horses were soft mouthed again.