Benefits of the Cross-Under Bitless Bridle
By Dr. Robert Cook
I am proud that my company, The Bitless Bridle Inc. is sponsoring CHA. Our objectives are so compatible that the ‘marriage’ might have been made in horse heaven. For 57 years, I have been a veterinary surgeon and teacher, with a research focus on the horse’s head. Eight years ago, my research spawned a product and I became a salesman. I declare this conflict unashamedly as I know that I am doing more to help horses and riders now than at any previous time.
Before you assume that the product is snake-oil, please read an independent opinion from Dr. Jessica Jahiel’s newsletter archives that contains the quote, “By giving up the use of the bit, you don’t sacrifice any control…” (read)
See also her article “What is this new Bitless Bridle?”.
The cross-under bitless bridle (CBB) is painless and it eliminates the fear and nervousness responsible for most of the hundred or more behavioral problems caused by the bit (click here). Without a bit there is also no impediment to breathing, so the horse performs more willingly and accidents caused by fatigue are less likely. Because a bitless horse can stride in time with its breathing, the gait is more rhythmic and graceful. It is also more efficient because the CBB doesn’t interfere with the energy-saving ‘head bob’. As bits frequently cause painful bone spurs on the bars of the mouth and problems such as headshaking (facial neuralgia), the CBB avoids both of these serious side-effects.
The mode of action of the bridle is simple but subtle. At no time can rein pressure be anything but trivial as it is always well distributed. For signaling to slow or stop, intermittent tension on both reins hugs the whole of the head. The greatest pressure, such as it is, occurs across the bridge of the nose, with less pressure on the chin and cheek, and least pressure on the poll. As seen in the line drawing for steering, tension on one rein (black arrow) nudges one half of the head (white arrows).
The longer stride of the horse translates into greater speed. Obviously, this is of special relevance to the racehorse, but other horses also walk and trot faster. The more energy-efficient stride promotes greater stamina. Freedom from pain allows a horse to focus on the job in hand, engendering confidence and courage. Absence of oral pain means that the horse’s neck is not tense. Consequently, the back too remains flexible and stiff, choppy gaits are avoided. Elimination of bit-induced head shaking allows a horse to perform better in dressage, show jumping and all other disciplines. Removing a steel rod from a sensitive body cavity eliminates a major physiological confusion. A bit triggers dominance of the digestive mode, whereas what is needed in the exercising horse is the respiratory and cardiovascular mode. Problems such as a gaping mouth, protruding tongue, excessive salivation and repeated swallowing are eliminated when the oral foreign body is removed (www.bitlessbridle.com/pathophysiology.pdf).
The key to success with a bitted bridle is ‘good hands.’ The term describes the minimal use of hands and, therefore, the minimal amount of pain. The less a rider depends on hand aids, the more her performance and that of her horse improves. The ultimate of ‘good hands’ is no bit at all. By definition, therefore, the CBB guarantees ‘good hands’ and focuses the rider’s attention on communicating by seat and legs, balance and breathing. It makes for better riders. It also avoids the need for riders to constantly correct a resistant horse. Instead they ride a compliant horse and can foster that harmony and partnership which is the goal of good horsemanship.
The bit – incorrectly viewed as necessary for control – frequently causes loss of control and a host of negative side-effects. For example, bit-induced pain triggers bolting. A horse that defends itself from the bit by placing it between its teeth or under its tongue deprives the rider of all control. Bit-induced problems such as bolting, rearing, bucking, and rushing or refusing jumps, are causes of serious injury to the rider or even sudden death. Bit-induced fear can be the cause of a horse becoming aggressive (biting & kicking) in the stable. A bitted horse may become dangerous at the moment of mounting. Hair-trigger responses to the bit or over-reaction to bit aids are to be avoided in an animal as powerful as a horse.
The CBB is easy to fit, versatile and universal (read more). It can serve as a bridle, lead halter and lunging cavesson. It is usable on all sizes, types and temperaments of horse and by riders of all ages and experience. It is a particular boon for handicapped, young or novice riders as they cannot hurt their horse. Apart from limitations on use of the CBB for certain competitions, currently imposed by FEI rules, there are no contraindications for its use in any discipline.