Friday, January 1, 2010

Bitless Choices?

I am on a search for a better bitless bridle. I am definitely looking for input - would love to hear your point of view!

When I handle Arabee from the ground, I use a rope halter and a thick cotton leadrope. She takes her cues from my body position, and there is a lot of slack in the lead rope. The only time she feels pressure on her head from the rope is if she is misbehaving.

My goal is to have this sort of feel from the saddle - where Arabee moves off of my body cues, and only feels pressure on her head from the reins if she needs correction.

So, I am looking for a bitless solution that will allow me to give Arabee consistent release from pressure as long as she is going as I ask her, but will give me enough "grab" to get her attention should I need to.

Arabee has been in the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle and has done well in it. She is responsive, will frame up nicely in it, and in fact does better in the Bitless Bridle than she does in a bitted bridle. (no head tossing, etc).

(photo from The problem I have with the Dr. Cook's is that there is never a complete release from pressure, even if the reins are completely slack. The noseband has to be done up quite tightly, and the cross-under pieces are always resting against the jaw - that is always an itchy spot when the bridle comes off. So, while very effective, the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle just doesn't offer the release I want, and doesn't seem like it is very comfortable for Arabee to wear.

So that brings me to this, The Ultimate Riding Halter ( This bitless bridle would definitely offer the release I am looking for, and paired with a heavy rope rein, would offer the same feel as I am used to when handling her from the ground. My concern however, is whether it would command respect and attention in a hairy situation. Will the rein attachments provide enough of an advantage over using a plain rope halter to be safe to ride in?

Another option is an English Hackamore, like this one from I have one that I used to ride my old gelding Jack in - he went very well in it, always happy. The one I have is so old, I'd need to replace the leather straps with new, and I'd probably go with biothane. I've never tried Arabee in it, but it seems that this kind of hackamore has more of a curb type pressure to it, operating on the chin and poll, and would not be as handy for direct reining, so if I needed to turn her quickly with rein pressure, the signal might not be as clear as needed.

Last but not least of the options I've been considering is the S-Hack. The one pictured is from and it seems that this type of hackamore is very popular in endurance. The S-Hack is significantly more expensive than an English Hackamore, though I am not sure why. It seems it would operate on the same principles (chin and poll pressure) as the English Hackamore, but the way the cheek pieces are curved, it may make it easier for the horse to eat and drink along the trail or at a hold.

I am kind of at a loss as to what I should do. Ideally I'd try each of these options until I found the one that worked best for Arabee. (which ultimately, I may end up having to do anyway) Since I'm not made of money, and every single option will cost something, I'd like to make an educated guess and try first the one that is most likely to fit the criteria.

Any input?? Thanks!


zach_rabow said...

I've had some very good experienced Endurance riders tell me to try to stay away from the S Hacks. it has something to do with how the horses holds its head and something else that i can't remember after new years eve :p

here is a link to one i have, but can't use on any of my current horses.

I've also heard great things about this

Happy New Years!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm not really a fan of bitless. But if I had too do it, I'd probably choose the S-Hack. We have something like the Dr. Cooks for Jazz. But it seems like it's always tight. And for that reason I don't like it. But Allen thinks he HAS to use it. She still throws her head with it and is a lot harder to stop than in a mullen mouth. (which is what I use on her when I get the chance to ride her or whenever we do an endurance ride)

Glad to see you got a ride in! Yeah! Come out and ride with me sometime if you want!


Endurance Granny said...

I love my S-Hack. On a loose rein she is free of my interference, but if I pick up on the rein, I instantly have her attention. The S-Hack does not replace training. I used to ride my Puddin' girl in one of those rope halter nose band set ups. In fact if I look around....perhaps I can find it and let you give it a try prior to a purchase decision. Puddin' was very sensitive and had some facial neuralgia, and she went well in it. But if you found your self in an UH-OH situation the whole thing tended to want to slide and the rope would go up under the eye, which I did not like. I started Phebes in the Dr. Cook and liked it, but she had no brakes in it at all. A person shouldn't need the rein for brakes...however, in a tight spot a one rein stop comes in right handy! I'd think you could buy an english hack and put on a "pretty" nose band and be just as good to go and save you some money at the same time. Many people like using a bit, but I have just never felt the need. ~E.G.

William Dunigan said...

Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: "Jesus"

There's tremendous power in that name. I'd suppose we'll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.

There's an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.

For you who have never come into this realization, if you're reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10

Much love,

Your brother in Christ Jesus, who is both our Lord, and Savior.

AareneX said...

I've used sidepulls for years, and generally like them--however, a sidepull does NOT have strong brakes.

Some sidepull models have stronger brakes, but less release (sigh)--I have seen horses with scar tissue caused by the harsher nosebands, and at that point, I question the use of this equipment!

My solution has been to start an endurance ride with the horse in a sidepull + bit (the model I use has bit hangers)

and when things calm down in 5 miles (the mares) or 55 miles (the gelding), I can remove the bit and attach the reins to the sidepull rings.

~ C said...

I meant to chime in earlier on this but it took your post today to remind me. When I bought my old endurance gelding, he was being ridden in a Tom Thumb "snaffle". Ugh, those are probably some of the WORST bits! I transitioned him to a snaffle with Kimberwick cheeks, and then eventually we went bitless (generally not for the first loop). I used the sidepull halter like what Zach mentions:

It worked very well for Sinatra, he was happy in it and I was able to use gentle rein guidance to get him to drop his head and round into the contact (I have a wonderful pic of him at Tevis going like this). But I think that was because he already knew those cues from having learned them successfully in a bridle. Which brings me to Diego.

Dig is my young colt who I'm bringing along. So far, most of his rides have been bitless. Our worst wrecks have all occurred when he's had a bit in his mouth, so for now we're going the bitless route. I ordered this sidepull from Crazy Ropes after the sidepull halter just wasn't making me very comfortable.
Like EG mentions, the halter set-up slides around on their head if you have to take up a lot of pressure for whatever reason (ie teaching a young horse to steer). =) I REALLY like this attachment from Crazy Ropes. You put it on your own bridle and add a curb chain. I do feel like I still need to transition Dig into a snaffle at some point, just so he can learn some of the finer cues with rein aids that are simply MORE clear with a bit, but for now he's doing well in his bitless.