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BITS VS. BITLESS
Some Pros and Cons
Some veterinarians have stated that a metal bit in a horse’s mouth damages the sensitive areas, especially the bars, and the snaffle bit can have a nutcracker action, bringing direct pressure to the bars, tongue and roof of the mouth. Others claim that a bit causes pain, which develops into fear and makes the horse react dangerously in an emotional state. There are also claims that a bit inhibits breathing, and can also have a negative influence on the digestive system.
Many people are changing over to the bitless bridle with the belief that it is a kinder, gentler bridle. This is not necessarily true. The bitless bridle, as with the bitted bridle, can be harsh and cruel in the hands of an unskilled or insensitive rider. The noseband of the bitless bridle can be tightened to the point of causing pain, or the bridle made of a stiff rope that can also cause soreness and avoidance. The material that is used to build the bridle may be made of very small gauge material and can apply too much pressure in a very narrow area. If the noseband sets too low, it can hurt the sensitive parts of the nose or cut off their wind.
One problem with the cross-under style of bitless bridle is the time it takes for the rein to apply pressure, as it has further to go through rings and is not immediate. This also results in a slower release of the pressure and horses have learned to tilt their head to escape it. Ill-fitting bridles may also cause more problems, as it can create discomfort and pain for the horse. As pressure is applied to the poll, some horses may toss their heads, as they may be sensitive in that area. They may also fight against the pressure that is placed on the chin and across the nose by tossing their heads or tipping in their nose. As with the curb bit, some bitless bridles, namely the mechanical hackamores, can also have long shanks and cause pain and discomfort through leverage.
One of the main concerns for riders changing to bitless is if their horse will stop if in a panicked situation. Proponents of the bitless bridle say that yes, the horse will stop easier, as there is no metal bit in his mouth being jammed into sensitive parts and causing pain on top of his panic. Opponents say that if the horse is not well trained well it will ignore the less severe request from the bitless bridle and run through it. Another concern is whether the rider can obtain the collection and be “on the bit” when using a bitless bridle. Proponents believe that any horse can be collected or “on the bit” with training, and will actually more naturally be ‘in frame’ as he is not receiving pain from the bit. Opponents feel that riding with a bit may makes collection easier to achieve as the horse has something to ‘balance’ on.
If you would like to experiment with bitless riding, you can save money and try different styles by making your own bitless tack. Lisa Preston’s forthcoming book Bitless Bridles scheduled for sale in June 2013.