The bridle is one of the most important parts of horse equipment and as its the source of direct communication between the rider and the horse when ridden. A range of bridles exist today, where the biggest difference is whether they are bitted or bitless bridles. The English Bitless Bridle comes in a wide range of designs, including the side pull, bitless micklem bridle, cross-under and the hackamore. In the most recent years - many styles of bitless bridles have been designed and the material used for the bridles range from leather, sheepskin, metal, rawhide, ropes, nylon well as webbing.
Hackamore Family: These bridles put pressure on the horse's nose, chin, the region of the poll and use the pressure to restrain the horse. Shanks create leverage which increases pull - which makes the bit more harch and painful on the horse. It puts pressure around the nose rather than encouraging it do put its head down. When 2 points of the bridles are squeezed, the horse's head is squeezed in more than one direction. For example on a bosal hackamore the horse is encouraged to pull its head down. On a mechanical hackamore a horse is encouraged to pull its head down due to the pain it causes from the chain.
Side pulls: A sidepull bitless bridle is made up of a noseband, cheek pieces, and reins made up of leather, rope, or rawhide whereas nylon and some type of webbing can be used for curb straps. The rein attaches at the cheek piece which increases the control on lateral sides while the stopping controls decrease significantly. This type of bridle is popular amongst both english and western riders. The side pull bridle is definitely a softer option for bitless bridles as it only works on poll pressure (no chains or metal used). However with the side pulls leveraging the side of the horse it doesn't encourage the horse to drop its head so can be more challenging to make a horse work more rounded without extra tied down reins to help. The horse tends to pull its head up, as you're pulling on the side.
Jumping hackamore: It is a modified form side pull that allows the rider to communicate softly with the horse as the metal pieces and chains are removed.
Micklem Bitless Bridle This bridle can be converted to be ridden both bitless and bitless. The bitless version is very soft on the horse and many rider experience they have less control. This bridle can still be very effective when working younger horses or sensitive horses.
Cross Under Family:
The cross-under bridles are a relatively new invention, it puts pressure on the horse's nose, cheek, jaw, and poll. It also uses rings along with long reins which go back into the horse riders and cross under the jaw creating a type of jaw strap. Riders like it because it is seen as a softer bitless bridle, which it is indeed as it doesn't contain any metal or chains. However it still constrains pressure underneath the horse's face which is still a sensitive area - and its not clear for the horse where to put its head so can be difficult to make a horse work rounded and in a frame. The leather straps under the chin tightens when reins are pulled and there is no immediate release. And since there is no immediate release (which horse's learn from) it can be less effective as a training tool. Horse's tend to be less sensitive in a cross under bridle. It can still be a great option for a very sensitive horse that responds to minimum pressure and that doesn't like poll pressure.
Mechanical Hackamores: They are also known as English Hackamore or hackamore bit. The shanks and reins attach while the shanks are attached to the region between the curb chain and the noseband. Similar to the curb bit, the pressure is applied to the poll joint, jaw, and nose of the horse. This type of bitless bridle is very strong and should be ridden with more loose reins. Its a pressure-release type bridle so it can be effective. Just be careful to not create bad habits in your horse such as rooting or running through the bridle (if used on a daily basis and they stop respecting it).
Simple Rope Bridles: These are usually called emergency bridles in which different styles of bridles are made up of thin rope which either gains leverage by putting pressure on the nose or the mouth. Even though they are not as popular amongst english riders as they are in the western world, they are still used on a small scale by english riders. More suitable for simple hacking or trail riding.
Rope Halters: If your horse can LEAD in a halter, then you can ride in a halter. If your horse is sensitive and trained enough to be tied, led etc in a halter then why wouldn't in work in riding? A rope halter can also be used for riding horses but some extra elements of design are added to it for better support and control. The design elements include knots which are done at the nose, use of rings along with reins, and heavy knots placed at the bottom. The pressure is applied on the nose and only a small of leverage can be attained. It is also a great option for emergency uses and in the absence of a proper bridle.
War Bridle: War bridles use thin ropes which start from the poll and goes under the upper lip or around the muzzle. Increasing rein pressure causes a loop to tighten over the head and makes this bridle a perfect fit for the horse. Pulleys are also used to decrease the amount of force needed to apply. The leverage is attained by putting pressure on the lip, jaw, and poll. Its not used too often anymore but was the bridle native americans used. As there is no headstall attached to the rope people get quite confused when they see it.
English Bitless bridles are becoming more and more popular worldwide, and the rules and regulations are also changing. Who knows - will we see bitless dressage riders by year 2030?
English Bitless Bridles for Young Horses
Normal Snaffle bit bridles are usually used to train young horses. However bitless bridles can just be as effective, especially when you are trying to train your horse to be soft. We do not recommend mechanical hackamores for young horses as they can make horses numb and cause bad habits, rooting, bucking and rearing (worse case scenariou). Make sure you work with an experienced coach when trying to figure out the best bridle for you and your horse!