Witless bridles (the cross under design) are fine for trail riding. You cannot properly collect a horse in one (yeah, I know the people in the cult say otherwise, but there's a reason show organizations don't legalize them, and it's not because there's a conspiracy).
You are not a true rider if you don't have steady, gentle hands on a bit. The bit, properly used, is the most sophisticated and subtle form of rein communication, and you need to learn how to work with one to be considered truly able to ride.
The basal and the simple snaffle are the two tools used to start young horses. And no, a basal will not damage a horse's nose if properly adjusted and not used in an abusive fashion.
(yes, it can if abused, but so can anything) What I think you are talking about is a “mechanical sycamore,” i.e. a nose band with shanks and a curb chain. As far as I am concerned, all those do is teach a horse to flip its head.
Those CAN, if adjusted too low, cause problems with breathing or damage to the nasal cartilage due to the leverage the shanks add. Frankly, I'm surprised the show allows bareback in warm up, they are taking a risk.
I read awhile back that witless classes were being considered in dressage, but haven't followed up to see what happened to it. If you are pursuing dressage, though, you will most likely have to be capable of performing both fitted and witless.
Regulation snaffles, Pelham and full bridles, all with caves son nose bands, are recommended. Truly it depends on the circuit and its rules, but typically you would not be able to use one for hunter or dressage, but would be able to use one for cross-country, but I believe the regular hunter over fences classes you would need a bit.
However, in an Open Jumping class, you CAN use something called an “English Mechanical Sycamore”. Source(s): Over 40 years of training horses, riders and making/repairing saddles and tack.
Freedom models a Dr. Cook's Witless Bridle which features the cross under design.Currently, bitlessbridles are not allowed in dressage competitions and are considered unconventional tack for hunters. You do see them in eventing (for the show jumping and cross-country phases), in jumpers and in endurance competitions.
Increasingly I’ve seen discussion about the merits for changing the rules, especially in dressage, to allow the cross-under style witless bridle to be permitted as an alternative to a bit. In 2008 the Dutch changed their rules to allow a variety bitlessbridles in competition and now there is a motion in front of the USED.
In the best of dressage, the double bridle offers the most nuanced and subtle way for the rider to communicate with his or her horse. Yes, it sickens me to see the power of the double bridle abused, and I’m completely against the hyperflexion that is so commonly seen in warm up rings around the world.
I strongly support the idea that riders and trainers be sanctioned for using abusive training techniques, but in my opinion it is not the bit that should be blamed, but the human using it. Krone did best in an LG bridle set either as a simple side pull or with mild curb action. Let me clarify that I have nothing against riding witless.
He had a low palate and a thick tongue, which made many bits physically uncomfortable for him. However, his issues with the bit disqualified him (in my mind) from being a competitive dressage horse.
It may benefit them to school the movements, but if the horse doesn’t have the gaits, the obedience or the ability to accept a bit, why not find a job that suits them better rather than changing the rules? The second reason I am so skeptical about this petition and the surrounding publicity is that it seems to be a product driven recommendation rather than a philosophical one.
Likewise, a witless bridle is not necessarily painless or effective. To make sure the nylon version wasn’t causing a problem by sticking during the release, I borrowed a leather Witless Bridle and tried it too.
I don’t have heavy hands but even just the lightest pressure on his poll caused my boy to get angry and then get light in front. But seriously, this wasn’t a study that any research organization would call comprehensive: five judges evaluated four school horses who did a 27-minute demonstration ride, first with a fitted bridle and then with the witless bridle.
Traditional witless options include the Sycamore, side pull and basal, with the cross-under design gaining popularity recently. Often seen in barrel racing and jumping, the Sycamore provides tremendous control, but must be used with a light hand as it can be quite severe.
The basal and side pull, commonly seen in Western riding, work by applying direct pressure to the nose and are great witless options for neck reining. Most horses tend to be more relaxed and free moving when ridden without a bit, and evasive behaviors such as head shaking, bucking, and bolting are reduced in a witless bridle.
As a training device, a witless bridle can be used to retrain a horse who has learned to fear and evade a bit contact. For horses with dental issues such as mouth, tongue or jaw injuries, the witless is a great solution to ease discomfort while they heal.
While increasingly commonplace in trail, endurance, jumping and cross-country disciplines, they’re prohibited under US and Canadian dressage rules, are considered “unconventional” in the hunter ring, and not allowed in English pleasure classes. When used properly, an experienced rider can achieve a level of finesse and refinement with a bit which is usually not possible with a bitless.
This is a real concern for upper level dressage riders, many of whom find collection is more difficult to attain and maintain without a bit to guide the horse. As with introducing any new piece of equipment, start off in a secure and controlled area, such as a round pen or ring.
Begin with groundwork at a walk, adding plenty of transitions to allow the horse to get a feel for the new bridle before executing any moves at speed. Dust off those 20 m circles and serpentine exercises too, so the horse learns how pressure on her face, instead of her mouth, feels.
When you see undesirable behaviors like head tossing, rearing or evading the bit, remember to give your horse the benefit of the doubt. If you suspect your horse isn’t as comfortable as he could be, or you just want to mix up your usual tack routine, give witless a try.
When not researching or writing, she likes to spend time with a too-smart-for-her-own-good Morgan/Arabian cross mare named Bedouin. Depending on your point of view, the bit is either a tool to be used to communicate and achieve ultimate harmony with your horse or a device that inflicts discomfort on highly sensitive tissues.
There’s the camp for whom any mouthpiece is painful: “Bits cause extreme and unnecessary pressure against a horse’s mouth,” observes a commenter in an online equestrian forum. As an Amazon Associate, Dressage Today may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our site.
Yet Rolf’s willingness to work her horses without a bit has earned her a reputation as an outlier. Alien Foment of France has performed witless Grand Prix demonstrations to wide acclaim.
The USED Rule Book states that the main contact with the horse’s mouth must be through the snaffle bit. After a three-year pilot program, the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation announced last year that horses may be ridden without bits at the lower levels in recognized shows in the Netherlands.
Suzy Maloney of New South Wales, Australia, started a business called Happy Horses Witless, which promotes the use and acceptance of bitlessbridles. She did this after finding success using cross-under bitlessbridles, a design in which the reins connect to straps that cross beneath the horse’s jaw and slide through rings connected to the nose band, distributing pressure over the bridge of the nose.
“The most common feedback I get from people who transition to witless is, ‘My horse is now so relaxed and calm.’ It’s one of those lightbulb moments when they realize that the way we’ve all been taught to ride in bits may actually be what’s stopping us from controlling them.” In Edmonton, Canada, FEI rider Allegra Ohm prefers a bit for her own training, but she’s seen the turnaround a horse can make going witless.
Anne Ribbons isn’t convinced that a dressage rider can achieve correct contact in a witless bridle. Although she’s ridden her horses in sycamores on occasion, she says, “I missed the feeling that somebody was home at the other end of the reins.
Without a bit, she adds, the half halt is essentially useless as a tool to contain and direct the horse’s energy. “There’s nothing like the feeling of a horse with a great mouth responding to the slightest closing of the hand and a whisper with the leg by immediately engaging his hind leg and coming up under your seat in a power surge that carries you both forward.
Dressage only means ‘training,’ and a good trainer keeps an open mind,” Ribbons adds. Rolf doesn’t disagree with Ribbons’ statement that the bit can be a powerful piece of equipment.
Dressage rider Alien Foment of France has performed witless Grand Prix demonstrations to wide acclaim. “I use it on Mistral before the big competitions because he is always more relaxed, with a bigger canter without a bit,” Foment explains.
The developer of a popular cross-under witless bridle, W. Robert Cook, FR CVS, PhD, argues that bits place enormous pressure per square inch on highly sensitive tissue and, in turn, prevent the horse from breathing normally during exercise. Hilary M. Clayton, VMS, PhD, Diplomat ACV SMR, MR CVS, professor and Mikhail dressage chair emerita, has utilized fluoroscopic studies to explore how bits function and concluded that batting is dependent on individual mouth size and shape, palate shape and tongue size.
When Ohm tried riding her Swedish Warm blood, Rowan, without a bit, he couldn’t tolerate the pressure on his head. Jan Lade wig, professor emeritus of domestic animal behavior at the University of Denmark and an honorary fellow of the International Society for Equitation Science (USES), isn’t sure if a witless bridle used incorrectly could do as much physical damage as one with a bit.
In addition to the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation’s recent change to allow witless dressage in lower-level competition, there are also witless dressage competitions and schooling shows popping up from Michigan to South Africa. Developments such as these can’t come fast enough for advocates, who are petitioning their national federations to allow bitlessbridles in the show ring.
Others are rejecting traditional shows in favor of submitting a video for online dressage judging. Maloney is in the process of gathering signatures to present to Equestrian Australia, asking that dressage riders be able to choose to ride with or without a bit.