There are a range of different types of bitless bridles available on the market today, so it can be quite confusing for riders to find the most suitable for their horse. For the purpose of this comparison, we have narrowed it down to Sidepull , cross-under bitless bridles and mechanical hackamores. Please note though that the bitless bridles options are endless and too many for us to compare in a single post. Bitless riding doesn't have to be as complicated as you may think, see our quick comparison guide below to decide which type of bitless bridle will be the best option for you.
BITLESS - SIDE PULL
The Side pull bridle is one of the more traditional bridles bridles available with a very simple design - neck piece attached to side straps and noseband which puts pressure on the horse's nose when reins are pulled. It usually has a leather noseband with buckles that attaches to the reins on each side of the horse's muzzle. Its a popular option for young horses as the side-pull bridle is quite gentle with no harsh pressure on the horse's face.
Great lateral/turning capabilities
Good choice for sensitive horses
Suitable for young horses and when starting young horses
Rider in less control than in a normal snaffle bridle
Not approved for most showing
Requires horse owners to do training before (Ground work required before as it should only be used on safe horses)
The mechanical Hackamore is one of the most known 'bitless' bridle options. There is a common misconception that this type of bridle is more gentle on the horse just because its bitless. In the wrong hands you can make a horse hard in the face (rather than mouth) pretty quickly as the soft tissues the curb strap is sitting on is just as sensitive as the horse's mouth. However this is not necessarily the case. The severity of the hackamore is determined by the length of the shanks and how soft the rider is with their hands. The curb strap makes it a stronger alternative for a bitless bridle. Long shanks are more gentle than short shanks. The metal shanks controls the curb strap, and can be very strong on the horse depending on the amount of pressure the rider puts on the reins. Hackamores should be ridden with more lose reins and not constant pressure. Western riders already do this, but english riders have to lengthen their rein length when adjusting from a bit.
The term hackamore is also often used in the wrong context as there are a lot of different types of hackamores. To make it even more confusing there is a large selection of them. Most common Hackamore bridles:
Rope halter hackamore
Approved for a lot of disciplines in the Show ring
Can be very effective when in good hands
The Loose rein allows the rider to ride more with their seat
Fairly easy to stop
Easier to work horse in frame
Lateral/turning can be more difficult
Curb chain can be harsh
Common mistake is to use the hackamore daily and make the horse's lower jaw become less sensitive
Horses can learn to 'run through' the hackamore and stop respecting it
Very different to regular bridle so takes time for horse to adjust
So which one should I use? A Bitless bridle or a Hackamore?
As there's a large selection of bitless bridles you may have to try a few before finding one that's the most suitable for your horse.
The best bitless bridle will be the one where your horse is the most relaxed and you are in control. In my personal experience I find the cross-under a bit too gentle, and I prefer the sidepull on a horse that I'm training from start or has a soft mouth to start. However if you have a strong horse or pony that's learnt to be strong then the hackamore might be a more suitable alternative. I would advice though to not use the hackamore daily as they can stop respecting it, use it 1-2 days per week when hacking to change things up for the stronger horse. And remember the use of a hackamore should only be done when an experienced coach is around.
Good luck on your bitless journey, let us know in the comments below what bitless options you prefer and if there's any new designs your fond of. And remember just because its bitless doesn't mean its more gentle - a snaffle bit and traditional bits can be softer than a hackamore bit.