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 bitlessbridle.com) 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 (http://www.crazyropes.com/bitless.html) 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 http://www.statelinetack.com/. 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 runningbear.com 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!