The Traditional Bridle With A Snaffle Bit
Horse bridles have been around for thousands of years and in the history of horse riding It is unknown which ones was introduced first - bitless or traditional snaffle bridles. The earliest evidence of bitted bridles dates back to dated about 3500–3000 BC  and bitless bridle 1400 BC. There is no question about whether we can ride horses without bits as many top riders in all disciplines have shown great results even without bitted bridles. However why do we continue to use the bit decade after decade - The simple answer is: CONTROL. It is generally easier to ride a horse with a bit in their mouth as its a sensitive part of the horse's body and the mildest movement will make the horse stop/turn etc. However is doesn't mean its the best solution. A horse can be just as responsive in a bitless bridle the correct TRAINING. If you teach a horse to be sensitive to the aids it will listen to the smallest of commands. If you treat the horse rough and jank their mouth - they will become less responsive and 'impossible to ride bitless'. This is not a horse problem, its a horse trainers problem. In saying that a bitted bridle doesn't have to be harsh if used by a rider with gentle hands. The problem lies in riders riding too rough with a heavy hand or horse's not educated properly to be soft and responsive to the smallest aids. As the horse’s mouth
is a very sensitive part of the body hence bitted bridles should be used with very soft hands combined with voice/seat commands. Also please note just because a bridle is bitless doesn't mean that the bridle is any less harsh.
Types of Bitless Bridles
There are a range of different types of bitless bridles available and they become more and more popular every year by riders who believe in a more gentle approach to horse riding and look at their horse as a friend and not a tool to win competitions on etc. We have listed the most popular bitless options to help you on your bitless journey. Checkout the most popular bitless bridles used today in our comprehensive guide below. Please note they are all stated in a random order and not by popularity. Bitless bridles comes in a range of design that distribute pressure in different place. The best option for you depends on the type of horse and the rein tension of the rider.
The rope halter is a type of bitless bridle used by western riders. The nylon material makes it a very affordable option and a simple design. It is worn lose around the horse's head and the horse is trained to respond to nose pressure rather than a constant pressure in the mouth. It can either be ridden with a leadrope attached to both sides of the horse's jaw or with clip on reins.
Rope halters are a hot topic though as depending on the amount of pressure used its can cause pain to the horse's head if put in the wrong hands of a jerky rider.
Photo Credit: Valley Vet
A Mechanical hackamore is the most common hackamore used worldwide. The mechanical hackamore increase pressure on the nose, jaw, and poll of the horse  due to its curb chain. This makes this option for bitless bridle alternativies a bit more stronger alternative. The mechanical hackamore is however approved in the show ring hence is a popular option for bitless riders. The shorter the shanks of the hackamore the less severe is the pressure. Lateral movements and turning can also be a bit more difficult. The mechanical hackamore should not be confused with the original true hackamore.
Photo credit: Equiniction
Side Pull Bitless Bridle
A side pull bridle is a fairly simples design when it comes to types of bridles. Its a bitless bridle where the reins attach directly to each side of the noseband and horse's muzzle. Because there is no curb strap under the horse’s jaw this makes a softer alternative as it provides more gentle pressure on the horse’s nose. Its a popular option for riders training young horses as it doesn't put harsh direct pressure. This makes it also a good choice for riders with sensitive horses. Side pull bridles comes in a range of different styles so it all comes down to the horse owners preference. As long as you go for a good quality leather you can't go wrong. A simple sidepull bridle is a combination of a side pull bridle without the throat lash. Be aware that it can be more difficult to stop a horse in a sidepull bridle as the pressure is not as strong as a bitless bridle with a curb chain. Turning is however fairly simple in a sidepull bridle.
Photo credit: SS Tack
A natural hackamore is a western style hackamore, its simply a rope halter tied to mecate reins. The reins are tied to bottom of the halter chin strap rather than on the sides with riding with a normal bitless rope halter. The rein aids are therefor a bit different as all communication with the horse happens from the lower jaw and horse sides of the noseband.
Bitless double bridle / Bitless Dressage Bridle
A bitless double bridle combines the effects of a curb bit or a curb chain bitless bridle and a normal side pull bitless bridle. The reins can be used different ways, either be used in combination with both buckles or separately depending on the riders preference. It has the appearance of a normal snaffle bridle on the horse's head as the bottom buckle almost looks like a bit. Its a bridle type that is not as popular yet but on the rise due to its simple design and options for different settings. It has a hanoverian type of noseband which makes the best bitless bridle for a dressage rider.
Photo Credit: Trandscend
Western Style Bosal
A bosal is a different bitless option made up of braided rawhide that hangs lose around the horse's muzzle with a heel butt at the bottom of the jaw. The heel but knot provides weight so that when a rider touches the reins the shift in weight is enough for the horse to respond to the lighest pressure. A bosal is usually ridden with a standard headstall and mecate rein, For slowing down and stopping both reins are lifted. Please note riding with a western style bosal require the rider and horse equal levels of prior training.
Photo Credit: SS Tack
Cross-Under Bitless Bridle
The cross-under bitless bridle distributes pressure over the whole head. As its over the whole of the head and not just the bridge of the nose makes it a more gentle bridle. Some people find turning a bit more difficult with this type of bridle but as you can control the horse's movements with your seat only you should be fine on a trained horse. For english riders it can also be more difficult to get your horse to work in a frame, especially on a green horse. However for a light hack or on a sensitive horse its a great choice.
Photo Credit: Happy Horses
English bitless bridle
An english bitless bridle is simply any type of bitless bridle made with the english discipline in mind. English bitless bridles always have browbands and a cheek strap. The most newest trend in english bitless bridle is the ergonomic shape which shapes around the horses ears and side of the face.
Different Bitless Options with Unique Design
Here are some bitless bridles that are quite unique but not as popular (yet). Which one is your favourite?
Which one is right for you?
In conclusion there is no one solution that works on all horses. Try different types of bridles and keep the one where you feel you get better communication and connection with your horse. Make sure you stay safe in the saddle and do a lot of ground work before and work with an experienced coach with trying bitless riding for the first time. It doesn't matter if you do trail riding, endurance riding, dressage etc there is a bitless bridle that should fir your needs suitable for beginner, novice rider and experienced riders. My guess is that we will see a lot of new designs and takes on bitless bridles in the next few years as peiple become more and more aware how we treat our horses and question why we use bits/whips/spurs and other harsh tools to communicate with our horses.
- Wikipedia, "Bit (horse), accessed May 25, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bit_(horse)#:~:text=To%20date%2C%20the%20earliest%20known,BC%2C%20originally%20made%20of%20bronze.
- Wikipedia, "Mechanical Hackamore, accessed May 25 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_hackamore