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Talk to me about bitless solutions

As you saw on Monday, Tristan’s mouth is kind of a mess right now. Hopefully it will just be a small mess for a short time, but no matter how bad and how long it gets, I’m going to take this moment to explore bitless options for him.

Step 1 will be an English-style hackamore, for two reasons: the barn has one I can borrow immediately and on Friday I’m planning on heading down to a local tack store’s tent sale, and they have a cheap hackamore in stock.

I’ve never ridden in a hackamore. I’ve ridden in sidepulls and halters, and some bits with leverage, but never a true hackamore. I’m not looking for anything with a ton of leverage – just a mild communication device until we can see where we are with his teeth.

So: any advice from anyone on riding in one? I figure I will use soft hands and let him seek it out in our first experimental ride, and I do have a lesson on Sunday that I can use to get more experienced feedback.

Step 2 I’d like to be a true bitless system. In a perfect world, that would look something like this converter from Thinline. (If I could find it in stock anywhere, this would actually be step 1.

Or, even better, something with a bit of under-chin leverage like the Dr. Cook system.

I’m not ready for a whole new bridle, though, and at $100 it’s just expensive enough (especially with looming and potentially quite large vet bills) for me to not want to give it an immediate try.

Does anyone out there regularly ride with a bitless solution? What do you use, and how do you like it? Any special advice on hackamores?

8 thoughts on “Talk to me about bitless solutions

  1. I ride every day in a setup like your Step 2. I don’t have the Thinline version, just the cheap Tory Leather “jumping hackamore” that’s like $40. It’s served me well for 6 years now. I jump in a mechanical hackamore with leather curb strap. I think the leverage is a bit much more my horse for everyday/flatwork, but they’re all a bit different. The sidepull style is the most mild and the mechanical hackamore with chain is obviously the most severe. As you’ve seen, there’s a lot of variation in between depending on whether you have a horse that prefers nose or chin or poll pressure. I personally have not liked the Dr Cook style bitless bridles, but I know other people do.

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  2. I have the plain leather converter. If you cover shipping I would totally send it to you. Only used a few times. My issue was that it provided to be insufficient brakes and P also learned he could slam his head down for grass and I couldn’t stop him from doing it, lol. I have a Spenger short shank hack with a leather chin strap that I had good luck with on P. Warning would be not to buy the cheap version, I’ve seen friends have those break. Lastly, unless you are really low on your cheek pieces to make your bridle fit now, you may need to get new cheek straps for everything to fit. On Phoenix I ended up having to have cob cheek straps on his oversize bridle.

    Hopefully the antibiotics do their job and you won’t have a large vet bill in your future!

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  3. I used to ride Brisa in a bitless sidepull and she seemed to like it. She was light and responsive but never very forward, so it worked well for us. I tried it on Trinity, however, and she did NOT seem very comfortable. I think it confused her, honestly – she’s a horse who seems to gain confidence with light bit contact. (No exaggeration: she will literally GRAB the bit from my hand). Right now Cricket is in a snaffle, but I may try her in a sidepull too since she’s steering and stopping so well off my seat. But I’ve never ridden in a hackamore and will be curious to know what you think. (I did try a Dr Cook system once but it made both Trinity and Brisa fling their heads in the air and flip their noses, no matter how soft and light I kept my hands.)

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  4. Unless I’m nuts (always possible), looks like Riding Warehouse has that thinline converter? Depending on the size/color you want. I looked at it a few times when I was putting together my trail hackamore setup. but ended up going in a different direction. I use a hackamore/sidepull for trail riding Ruby (and right now, with my husband’s horse who had a molar pulled and still has packing in his mouth). My original go-to was a little-S hack but it has way too much leverage for me to consider it for actual dressage-focused flatwork — it serves its purpose for me to hack out on a loose rein and only use the leverage in an “oh shit” situation if I really need brakes. I bought a Kensington rope halter sidepull (I tried to look it up on RW which is where I think I bought it, but came up empty, but it’s this one: https://kensingtonproducts.com/products/rope-halter-with-side-pull) to start trail riding her in with the goal of eventually turning my husband loose on the trail in that. I don’t trust his hands with the leverage of the little-S hack, and frankly I’m not even sure I trust him with a bit in her mouth, lol. FWIW, I had an actual leather Dr. Cook’s that I bought for my obnoxious TB back in the day, and I finally sold it. I don’t feel like any of my horses every went well in it, although obviously YMMV 🙂

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  5. I played around with hackamores during the endurance era because the mares were so much more likely to eat and drink on trail without a bit in their mouths. I tried an S-hack but it was too much leverage. I ultimately used a basic aluminum English hackamore with short shanks with Lily (this one: https://www.smartpakequine.com/pt/english-hackamore-4412?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=nb_shopping_tack_dsk_) and Gracie went in a flower hack like the one in your first picture here. I really love that flower hackamore: it works more like a sidepull with the tiniest bit of leverage.

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  6. My TB HATED. HATED. the Dr. Cook’s bridle. HATED. I think it created poll pressure or something but he was not a fan…

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  7. I’ve gone slightly crazy the last year and often ride Fetti around the barn in a halter with reins clipped to the sides. For Polly, I have a halter-bridle that functions as a sidepull. Same idea, slightly more stable.
    I don’t like the Dr Cook’s as I’ve found it doesn’t release pressure well, but YMMV.

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  8. I tried the Dr. Cook with two horses. Both hated it. Not enough release. I ended up with a leather hackamore with my last horse. It had long shanks but was just braided leather. He loved it. Using a bit with my current horse. He prefers it.

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