BITTED to BITLESS in 3 EASY STAGES!
If you lead your horse in a headcollar your half way there already.
Borrow a bitless bridle or buy a noseband fitting to transfer your existing bitted bridle into a bitless.
Fit the bitless bridle ensuring at least 2 fingers gap on all areas – pay attention to noseband, ensure the cheek attachments don’t rub against the protruding cheekbones, the noseband must not lie over the infraorbital nerve and to be well above the free edge of the nasal bone 1″ (the horse must be able to perform normal functions, eating etc) Make sure the browband, is not over tight as tension here can pinch the ears.
In-hand/groundwork. Work in a place of safety that your horse finds relaxing, such as his barn, arena etc., with his horse friends in sight
Bitless Bridle Fit and Ground Work Video
Stand in front of your horse with a hand on either side of his head, a hand ready on each rein – your hands should be light, you should stand relaxed and smiling. The reins are loose over the midpoint of the neck.
Very gently with only two fingers on one rein first gently ‘cue’ a pull to the side – allow the horse to ‘feel’ the movement and move his head (remember to let go off the other side hand!) as soon as your horse begins to move his head, immediately loosen/release/drop the cue pressure on the rein. Praise your horse. Let the horse take his head back to the centre and repeat after a 30-second interval.
Repeat this at least 4 times before switching to the other rein and repeating the process.
Remember this is a task of lightness and relaxation the horse is following the cue indicator to move with the light pressure of the rein.
Praise often (*as soon as the horse offers the correct movement and why not offer food reward)
Now that your horse understands ‘turn the head’ begin to teach ‘back up’ do this by standing at the side of the head, gather both reins in one hand and gently lift upward (this might be quite high as your horse begins to feel his head being cued upward (and slightly backwards) if you have a verbal cue for back up, USE IT NOW, just before the rein cue so that the rein pressure reinforcers your verbal “BACK UP”. If you have a pressure cue of hand on chest simultaneously USE IT NOW. As soon as the horse steps back one step, release the cue rein, praise and reward.
This is also training STAND so wait at least 30 seconds before repeating, do this at least 4 times until the horse responds to the lightest pressure and steps backwards – only look to achieve a MAXIMUM of 1 to 3 steps ‘back up’ in the initial training.
To teach GO stand in front of the horse – leaving a good space between you, with hands either side of his nose on each rein , cue pressure toward your body (you can use a verbal cue of “WALK ON” immediately prior to the rein cue) as soon as the horse moves slightly forward, drop the pressure/release, so that the rein is in a neutral position. To progress GO, Next time the horse moves forward you step backwards for a step or two keep only a guiding hold of the reins.
Repeat the light “WALK ON” cue 3 – 4 times.
Your horse now understands light pressure cues from the rein.
Practise walking turning, stopping (STAND), backing in a relaxed and contented manner, take your time, break it down to little steps, reward and praise your horse consistently – see how light and responsive your horse can be too the pressure cue and to the verbal cues. Back, Walk on, Right, Left, Stop and Stand. In learning theory terms – These are known as the ‘Basic or foundation behaviours’ from which all other movements are derived.
The Stand is probably the most important of behaviours – train it when your horse is in a calm emotional state. Stand well trained ensures that you are always able to bring the legs of the horse under stimulus control – in the event of any situation or emergency.
When you are happy at your horse’s response, repeat the same cues in the saddle, move to the saddle ONLY after you are sure the horse understands the cues on the ground. It’s helpful to have a friend on the ground to help you, who has followed your training they can help assist the horse if needed to help avoid confusion.
Try BACK UP first (NO LEGS/NO BUM Shuffling!) sit quietly and lift the reins upward and simultaneously use verbal “Back”, your friend may need to reinforce this from the ground with gentle pressure to the chest. As soon as the horse moves, drop the reins to a neutral position. repeat 3 – 4 times only 1 step at a time and rest between (this is not a race – its learning new experiences).
Turn is quite hard from a standstill so ask for “WALK ON” and then move your hand in an exaggerated lift/pull to the side (don’t use your legs) use your voice Left or Right prior to the move if you want to use verbal cues and see if the horse responds. Make sure that as you turn you give the outside rein first – forward before asking with the inside rein cue (think about the handlebars of a bicycle or a wheelbarrow, push the movement, not pull!. If you use any leg it should be the slightest flexion of your calve muscle so the hairs of the horse’s body are brushed slightly upward or nudged by your leg.
Practise gentle turns and stops (lift of the rein upwards) try the odd backup. Please try this wisely, for the benefit of your horse, for at least a couple of sessions before you try this at a trot or higher paces! And BEFORE you leave the place of practice and safety.
Make sure your horse is light, responsive, calm and listening!
Remember a single cue for a single signal – so communication is crystal clear and consistent – “Hands NOT legs & Legs NOT hands!”
Always ensure your training begins in a safe place and slowly shape the behaviour you want, keep your horse calm and quiet, in a ‘contented’ emotional state – this is optimum for learning. Teach verbal cues (it’s amazing to say Right and have your horse turn right!) and practice to see how light in the communication you can be. Always use praise, rubs and stroking and food reward to motivate your horse.
*Don’t over-train – Go at the horse’s pace – it pays dividends.
*Be sensible before riding outside an arena, your horse needs to be responding reliably to all cues in the saddle from a walk to a canter at the lightest lift of the reins – as demonstrated in the videos.
Lastly, check out the links below to help you see the different bridle types and explanations on fitting. It’s not ABOUT the particular style of bitless bridle its really ALL about the depth of communication and training.
Disclaimer World Bitless recommend for all new training applications you follow strict safety protocols. Please stay safe – wear a hard hat, gloves etc.
IT'S NOT what you use - IT'S the WAY that you DO IT!
Horses are individuals and have personal preference there are all types of bridles from side pulls, cross under’s, Scawbrigs etc., so do try more than one style and see how your horse responds.
The World Bitless Association has a variety of affiliated supportive & friendly qualified professional trainers around the world to help assist you and your horse, either face to face or by long-distance video assessment or with a variety of continual learning opportunities find them here *World Bitless Association Representatives
Helpful videos and more information:
Riding with Bitless Bridles video by CRK Training
Orbitless Bridle Review by The Willing Equine
Fitting the LightRider Bitless Bridle – traditional styles by Cynthia Cooper
Bitless Sidepull by Justin Dunn video
Bitless Bridles Guidance…World Bitless Association
Haven Horsemanship Food as a Tool Video
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT/CLICKER TRAINING with ARI & ‘FRIDAY’ video
DONATE TO SUPPORT THE WBA Here https://worldbitlessassociation.org/donate