Reinless Riding

Last week the interwebs/blogland blew up over an article about a rider in Great Britain making a call for Bitless dressage. I didn’t spend a lot of time investigating but my general feelings are that just because something is different does not mean that it is wrong.

I do not personally think that a Dr. Cooks bridle or a hackamore with leverage would be appropriate for dressage – and honestly wouldn’t put a Dr. Cooks on one of my horses regardless of discipline. That said I do not understand what the violent opposition to a side pull or even a Micklem bridle is (though admittedly I find the Micklem to be hideous on 99% of horses).

This conversation was perfectly timed with the arrival of my Reins For Rescues neck rope. There is nothing quite like trying to ride without touching the reins to really call you out on bad habits. If you think you are totally independent of your hand and ride “primarily off your seat and leg” I urge you to prove it by attempting to ride without touching the reins. Annie and I were cruising around at the walk and trot (making figure 8’s, small circles, turn on forehand, controlled halts…) but holy hell did the wheels start to fall off the bus when I tried to come off the rail at the canter. I do have to say though that the few jumps we tackled riding with just the neck rope were so relaxed. This shouldn’t be surprising to me given how opposed Annie is to contact of pretty much any sort right now. Baby steps! IMG_0442

I am going to continue to ride with the neck rope as often as I can. Even if I am pretty sure it is just a safety blanket to make be feel slightly less insane for dropping my reins on the little dragon. Riding with a neck rope is a totally different ball game but something I would encourage others to try because it will point out your weaknesses under saddle in a jiffy.

Where do you all fall on the bitless dressage front? If you are opposed personally why do you take such offense to the rights of others to make that decision for their horses? Do you not care one way or another? I am curious about the logic behind these thoughts because I really had no idea so many people felt so strongly about the topic until last week.


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  1. The horse world is steeped in tradition. I understand. A lot of the world loves to cling to traditional values. Bitless riding is considered by a lot of people to be unconventional and a danger to the traditional methods. That is probably why it experiences such revolt.

    I think a sidepull is perfectly acceptable and incapable of exhibiting enough pressure on a horse’s nose to feign an ‘on the bit’ headset. That being said, allowing items that use nose-pressure into UDSF sanctioned dressage shows then opens up a slew of problematic areas and areas that could be extorted. So, in that case, would nose pressure be acceptable to people also using bits? How would we go about circumventing the tack differences/the grading scale/etc? It would require quite a bit of work to make it actually work as intended, and I highly doubt that the bitless community is large enough to cause USDF/USEF to willingly enact these changes. Especially when tradition is at stake.

    I understand the history of dressage and the thought behind it. I get the intent. But I am not opposed to side-pulls. Primarily because I enjoy change.

  2. I am starting to think I want to try a neck rope!

    The way I see any bitless riding (excepting the leverage stuff) is that many sports have evolved over time. Equipment and rules changes constantly–equestrian sports should be no different if the changes open doors for people and don’t harm the horses. I am sure there are bad examples of bitless riding, but I have seen good ones, too, because of the recent discussion and how many people have openly contributed to it.

  3. Everyone seems to really feel strongly about…everything lol and can be pretty mean about it. I have not seen that article yet, but I am going to go have a look see. I think people should be able to do what is right for their horse and their partnership, no matter what, bit or no bit. None of my business because it does not involve me. With that said…people can be pretty…dumb. They see someone doing something they think is cool with something different than what they have, and they want to give it a try without any background knowledge or preparation. Usually, to the detriment of the horse, themselves, the people around them, or any and all. I have seen it with my own eyes. It is still a wonder to me how neither the girl nor her horse were hurt. However, that can be said about anything and that girl had no business not being monitored (or on that horse, but that is a story for another day). Maybe I am completely off base. Just my take.
    I have tried the Micklem on my young horse. I did not like it at all. Did not fit well or feel good. So much hype around that bridle that I bought into. I kept thinking well if I change this part about it, it might work better. No, I will just find something else that works for us. Less is more, for me. I do not have a neck rope, but I often run tests on my communication with my mare by dropping the reins and seeing how solid we are…or not! ha! The canter is where I lose it too. Always something to work on!

  4. I’ve tried a Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle and it just wasn’t the right bitless bridle for my particular horse. Nothing against it, but the leverage part of it just made the communication with my horse not so great. I’ve recently bought a western style side pull and plan to start riding my horse in that, once we’re back at a point where he is listening reliably. I like to play with different tools and see no harm in bitless or reinless riding. Maybe I’ll get brave and pick up a neck rope someday.

  5. Yeah I just don’t care enough to get into that debate, lol. My discipline (hunters/eq) we use a bit and thus I ride with one most of the time.
    I love to try new and different things though and have ridden P in a springer short shank hackamore semi regularly and now we play with a neck rope too. I love zeroing in on gaps in our communication and making sure we are in tune with each other.

  6. I love neck ropes, and have been known to horrify my fellow boarders by riding my wild creature around bareback in halter at the canter. I think you’re totally right. There’s a lot to be learned from taking away reliance on the reins. I also think Megan (A Enter Spooking) made a great point the other day about ensuring you don’t hold your horse together/up/forward/whatever. Awareness is such a huge part of training. I don’t ride regularly with a trainer, so I really use these methods to figure out where my holes are.

    All that said, I think competition in dressage (only! I don’t know enough or am vested enough in other disciplines to make a statement there!) is different. I take the judging guidelines to indicate training of the horse with and to a bit, and thus I think it remains in the showing.

  7. Yes. Thank you. I find that people who rely heavily on gadgets to get their horses “round” or “on the bit” are the ones who are most vocally opposed to bitless dressage. Are they afraid the bitless riders will make them look bad? (Comment made tongue in cheek, of course.) I do think that if someone can’t do a basic circle without tying their horse’s head to its chest, they probably shouldn’t be arguing one way or the other about rules of dressage, especially at the upper levels.

    I did see Austen’s good points about keeping a level playing field, and I can see that end of the argument. I can also appreciate the fact that traditionally building a dressage horse relies on the concept of communicating through the bit and reins. I agree that it is easier to communicate finite principles through a bit that without one. However, I do not think that dressage “requires” a bit to be done correctly or competitively, and I love your use of the neck rope in conjunction with this post.

    I think most horses do well with bits in dressage, but not all of them do (and it’s not always due to rider error or medical problems). I think it’s not fair to eliminate those horses from the sport entirely. I think allowing bitless riding, especially at the lower levels, won’t hurt.

    I also think the types of bitless bridles allowed would have to be governed just like the list of legal bits is. Some times of bits aren’t conducive to dressage, and the same is true for some bitless options. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed at all.

    As for the “tradition” argument… I am much more interested in moving forward in terms of horse welfare and communication (hello, it’s 2017!)