Today we have an e-mail from a reader in Washington asking me about the on-going issue of bits vs bitless bridles.
Q: I've seen so many people brag about using a bit less bridle on their horse and saying that they would never dream of using a bit on their horse. I know you support the use of bits and was wondering what you thought about the people who say this.
A: I've seen these people too and let me tell you, it PERPLEXES me. What they fail to realize that in using something like a sidepull, hackamore, bosal, or something like Dr. Cook's bitless, they are actually bearing down on MORE nerves than if they are using a bit. Consider the following diagram:
Note how it shows all but one or two nerves and nerve endings where the bit goes, yet DOZENS where the nose band of a hackamore, sidepull, and bosal goes. If the diagram went back farther, it would show a cluster of nerves behind the horse's ears where the pressure is focused on Dr. Cook's bridle.
The point of the matter is that the people who act all self-righteous about it because it's "not as harsh as a bit" have absolutely no idea what they are talking about it. It is, in fact, HARSHER than a bit.
That being said, I am in no way against the use of bitless bridles. Like curbs, when used properly they can be very effective and not harsh at all. My first horse was bit shy and I rose her in a sidepull. My current project was severely abused with a bit, and so I have never ridden him in one, instead using a sidepull (which is, by the way, legal in show jumping for those of you who have a horse who just won't go in a bit).
However, I've ridden countless other horses in bits. I've ridden in hackamores, bosals, halters, curbs, snaffles, and once in a gag bit (I didn't put it on the horse, they insisted the horse need one and it was painfully obvious he most definitely did not).
There are some things such as chain bits and cathedral bits that I absolutely do not support. I do not support gag bits and I do not like the Dr. Cook bridle simply because the sliding head piece has too much opportunity for an accident.
In the end, it comes down to what the HORSE prefers. Ignoring what all the NHM nuts say, and ignoring what your cowboy horse trainer says, you have to find out what YOUR HORSE DOES BEST IN. The extremists can argue until the cows come home, but that will never change the fact that some horses just do not respond to certain things, but work well with others.
Some horses will blatantly ignore bitless contraptions and set right up against them, making them hard-headed. Others will toss their head and constantly play with a bit. It's all about what's best for the horse.