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Comparing The Bitless Bridle Vs Hackamores

What’s the difference between a bitless bridle and a hackamore? Are these types of bridles really better than bridles with a bit? In this article, we explore these questions and briefly describe some of the more popular bitless bridles. We also provide sound advice on deciding whether or not you should use a bitless bridle with your horse. Read on to learn more.

Why Use A Bitless Bridle?

Proponents of bitless bridles say that these bridles are kinder to horses and do not inflict pain. In fact, all bridles – bitted or bitless – apply pressure to the horse’s head, face and/or mouth. No matter what kind of bridle you choose, if you are heavy-handed, you are going to hurt your horse.

Bridles with bits apply pressure to a horse’s tongue, roof of the mouth and/or the corners of the mouth. Depending on the type of bit, pressure may also be applied to the chin and the poll (top of the head). Bitless bridles work by applying pressure to the poll, the nose, the jawline and/or the chin.

Some people who swear by bitless bridles say that applying pressure to the poll, jawline, nose and chin cannot hurt a horse, but they are wrong. All of these areas are sensitive, and any bridle or halter incorrectly used will hurt.

Some bitless bridles work through leverage. This means that a small amount of pressure from the rider can result in tremendous pressure to the horse. This can cause problems in a number of ways:

  • Pressure to the poll is quite painful for some horses and can cause problems such as rearing and pulling back.
  • There are many nerve endings along the jawline, and excessive pressure in this area can cause a horse to toss his head.
  • Horses are only able to breathe through their nostrils, so pressure applied to straps across the nose can cause real distress.

Are Bitless Bridles And Hackamores The Same Thing?

are bitless bridles and hackamores the same thing

The term, hackamore, is often used to refer to any bitless bridle, but most people use it to describe mechanical hackamore bits, which are horse bits that work on leverage but are not worn in the horse’s mouth. For this reason, it is really more correct to use the term, hackamore, to refer to a mechanical hackamore and “bitless bridle” to refer to one of the many other types of no-bit bridles available today.

These days, with the popularity of bitless bridles, there are lots of choices in this type of tack. In addition to some of the more modern riding halters and other iterations, there is the traditional bosal. Other choices include the side-pull bridle, the cross-under and riding halters.



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What’s The Difference?

a. Riding Halter

This type of halter is different from a standard leading halter because it has rings set low on the noseband where reins can be attached. This ring placement is intended to prevent having the noseband slide around and ride up on the horse’s face. This detail provides a little more control than simply attaching reins to a standard halter.

b. Sidepull

This type of bridle is made of leather or rope and applies pressure through the noseband. When made of rope, this type of bridle may have knots in the noseband and the poll for greater effectiveness. In the wrong hands, these knots can be very painful and this type of bridle can be quite cruel. In a horse that is not well-trained, use of a sidepull bridle can cause panic and can be quite dangerous.

c. Bosal

This is a traditional bitless bridle that has been in use since the days of the “Old West”. This type of headstall is made of leather, rawhide and/or rope.

The noseband is called the “bosal”. This is a teardrop-shaped piece that loosely surrounds the horse’s nose and applies pressure to the chin and nose, and to a lesser extent, the face.

A bosal is a good tool to use in training because it is quite gentle, yet it delivers consistent pressure that communicates rider intention clearly to the horse.

Mechanical Hackamore

The mechanical hackamore works on the same principle as an in-the-mouth bit. This tool has a noseband, shanks and a curb strap or curb chain.

When attached to a standard headstall, a mechanical hackamore applies pressure to the poll, the chin and the nose. Because of the shanks, the pressure can be greatly exaggerated and can be quite painful to the horse.

This type of bit is a good choice for a light-handed rider on a very well trained, responsive horse who may have become hard-mouthed through heavy handed riding. It delivers the same sorts of signals as bitted bridle without mouth contact. This type of bit should only be used by an experienced and light handed rider.

There Are Many Types Of Bitless Bridles And Hackamores

This video provides a good review of various types of bitless bridles. The presenter is rather extreme in his hatred of bits and mechanical hackamores. Nonetheless, the video contains good information.

How Do You Know Your Horse Needs A Bitless Bridle?

If your horse is under stress while being ridden, he will exhibit a number of signs, including:

  • Carrying his head high
  • Tossing his head
  • Pulling on the reins
  • Opening his mouth

If you notice these or any other signs of rebellion while riding, you might try changing your bit or going bitless, but if the problem continues regardless of tack, then you know your technique needs improvement.

Your skill, your horse’s training and the bond you develop are all key to a positive riding experience for you and your horse. A bitless bridle, a hackamore or a traditional bit are all just tools. If you are heavy handed, all of these tools can damage your horse.

In addition to seeking out the best fit in bridle and other tack, you should also work closely with a riding instructor, trainer and/or your vet to perfect your riding skills and your horse’s responses.

How Do You Get Started With A Bitless Bridle?

Always consider safety first. Start out in a quiet, familiar, enclosed area. Choose a still day. You may wish to try a little bitless riding after your regular ride so that your horse will be warmed up and settled.

Transition gradually in a safe, controlled setting. Be certain that your horse is entirely responsive and comfortable before setting out on the trail with a bitless bridle.

RidingWith Bitless Bridles

Are Bitless Bridles Always Better?

Remember that every horse is an individual. A one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach is no more appropriate for horses than it is for people.

If you are light-handed and have a good relationship with your horse, the type of bit you use should not make much difference, within reason. There are some deliberately cruel bits that should never be used under any circumstances.

Ideally, you should be able to ride your horse comfortably and successfully with any properly fitted saddle or bridle. The flexibility to use different types of equipment for different tasks is desirable in both horse and rider.

A bitless bridle can be a very good choice for training, and it may be the bridle that works best for a given horse throughout life. On the other hand, older horses that have been trained with a bit and are used to a bit and are not having problems with a bit may not like a bitless bridle.

To determine what works best with your horse and in your hands, pay close attention to your horse’s response when riding. If he takes to a bitless bridle and responds well and you feel comfortable with that choice, then that’s a good choice for you.

If not, don’t allow bitless bridle zealots to guilt you into making a choice that is not suitable for you and your horse. In the final analysis, the comfort, safety and effectiveness of your tack choices for both you and your horse must be the deciding factors.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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