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A bitless bridle is a horse bridle that does not have a traditional mouthpiece, or bit. A bridle works by using pressure to cue or signal a horse for the rider to control steering, slowing, and stopping. Rather than relying on the pressure points of the mouth, such as a bitted bridle does, a bitless bridle works with the pressure points on the nose. As with all bridles, the bitless bridle is made of various materials including rawhide and occasionally metal.
A bitless bridle has three primary traditional varieties: the bosal hackamore, the mechanical hackamore, and the sidepull. The way in which a bitless bridle fits a horse and provides control varies with each type. There are varying circumstances that may warrant a rider choosing one type of bitless bridle over another.
Primarily, regardless of type, the bitless bridle provides control utilizing sensitive pressure points on a horse’s head rather than in the mouth. For this reason, many riders will use a bitless bridle on a horse that has had a mouth injury or has dental problems. Similarly, some riders choose to start a young horse out with a bitless bridle. The bitless bridle is frequently used for endurance riding and trail riding. Though some horse show events, such as rodeos and jumping competitions, allow most kinds of tack, many events do not permit bitless bridles.
Though there is much controversy amongst riders regarding the use of a bitless bridle over a bitted bridle, much is left to the preference and experience of the rider along with the riding circumstance. Some people advocate bitless bridles as more humane than those with bits, though others believe all bridles are humane when used by an experienced rider.
Most novice riders prefer to experiment with different types of bridles until they learn to gauge their own responses and those of their horse. Experienced riders tend to rely less on bridle control as they learn to steer with their legs and body instead of relying on a bridle.