Riding without a bit - Josepha Guillaume - ebook

Riding without a bit ebook

Josepha Guillaume



This book thoroughly covers with all aspects of bitless bridles in general and specifically with bitless riding. The author focuses on giving the reader a general overview of the range of bitless bridles available and the purpose and function of each of these. The main part of the book however deals with the subject of Riding without a bit including an extensive discussion of many of the preconceptions surrounding bitless riding. Individual exercises are explained in detail with reference to both the biomechanics of riding and classical riding methods, clearly setting out the advantages of riding with a bit. This book is an all-round guide for anyone wanting to find out more about the subject of bitless riding.

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(Photo: Anne Binnendijk)

Josepha Guillaume




The author, the publisher and all other people involved directly or indirectly with this book will not accept liability for any accidents or damage of any kind that arise as a result of using exercises given in this book. In this book a number of riders are shown who are not wearing head protection. We do not recommend following this example Always ensure you use appropriate safety equipment: sturdy shoes and gloves when working horses in-hand, as well as riding hat, riding or jodhpur boots, riding gloves and (if necessary) a body protector when riding.


Copyright © 2017 by Cadmos Publishing Ltd.,Richmond Upon Thames, UKCopyright of original edition © 2014 by Cadmos VerlagGmbH, Schwarzenbek, Germany

Cover design and layout: www.ravenstein2.deDesign and setting: Pinkhouse Design, 1140 WienCover photo: Ralph SchefferContent photos: Anne Binnendijk, Fotolia.de, Stéphanie Kniest, Ralph Scheffer, Shutterstock.com, Starbridle.com and Tierfotoagentur.deTranslation: Claire WilliamsEditorial: Victoria Spicer

Conversion: S4Carlisle Publishing Services

British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented without permission in writing from the publisher.

eISBN: 978-3-8404-6925-1



Why ride without a bit?

It is more logical

It is safer

It has been proven to work

The bit as an emergency brake

Suitable tack

Initial thoughts before we start: Aims and objectives

… for in-hand work

… for lunging

… for dressage (Classical/Baroque)

… for dressage (competition)

… for show jumping

… for hacking and trekking

… for Western Riding

… for driving

Selective shopping

Correct adjustment

Going bitless

On the safe side

A word of caution

Building trust by working in-hand

The change-over

Bitless for the first time

The aids

Bitless riding

A word of caution

Basic lesson: Halt

Basic lesson: Rein back

Basic exercise: Transitions

(Photo: Ralph Scheffer)

Basic exercise: Turns and work on the circle

Cementing the basics

For the more advanced: Leg yielding

For the more advanced: Turn on the forehand

For the more advanced: Turn on the haunches

For the more advanced: Shoulder fore and shoulder-in

For professionals: Travers and Renvers

For professionals: Piaffe

Ending prejudice

Relaxing the jaw

Going on the bit



Unlimited possibilities

Hacking out

Flying high: Jumping

High School Dressage

Riding with a neck ring


Many thanks...



The author with her Kinsky gelding, riding shoulder-in. (Photo: Ralph Scheffer)

I have been helping horses with problems for more than 20 years. Every horse I have helped has been a source of new information, and this has enabled me to help the next horse even more effectively. My former bullfighting horse Don Jamie added the 'bitless' part of the puzzle.

'Jamie' taught me the High School work, such as piaffe, terre à terre and the backwards canter. Although he was very talented, he remained nervous and did not trust the bit. I had to always work him on a loose rein so he didn’t explode. Dr Robert Cook, who developed one of the first, modern, bitless bridles was kind enough to send me his bitless bridle to try. I was impressed by its positive effect. From then on I tested bitless bridles on a number of different horses and achieved an extraordinary level of success. Now, however, I use a cavesson with a soft section across the nose, which I have developed myself based on the cavesson used by the great riding master Antoine de Pluvinel in the seventeenth century.

Using a combination of a soft cavesson, cordeo (sort neck rope), careful gymnastic suppling work and positive reinforcement, my pupils and I have helped innumerable horses that other trainers have completely given up on, to work in a way which is healthier and more enjoyable for the horse.

I hope this book provides you with answers and inspiration. I have written it for all those people who love their horses and who constantly strive to become better riders.

Bon voyage!


(Photo: Ralph Scheffer)

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are riders. For me the easiest answer is this: because you want to. In my case, I ride without a bit because experience has shown me it is safer, easier, more logical and healthier, and above all is more enjoyable than riding with a bit.

It is more logical

Apart from the comfort that a soft, bitless bridle offers, we have to also ask ourselves whether it is logical to want to control a horse by inflicting pain. This applies especially in the case of the most important command: the halt. When we pull on the reins to stop a horse, we put pressure on the horse's mouth through the bit - on his jaw, teeth and tongue. Horses react instinctively to pain with flight; we have conditioned our horses to halt when this pressure is exerted. That is not exactly logical.

A further problem that occurs because the bit is causing pain becomes obvious in situations in which a horse panics and bolts. When this happens, it is virtually impossible to stop a horse by pulling on the reins. If you try to, instead of stopping the horse is likely to pull even more on the reins and just keep on running. The bit can no longer control the horse but conversely causes it to gallop even faster. This is because of the increased level of adrenalin triggered as a result of the pain caused by the bit (which in turn is caused by the rider pulling on the reins). The horse is not only trying to get away from whatever scared it in the first place, but is also running away from the pain it is feeling in its mouth.

With a soft, bitless bridle it is more unlikely that you will inflict pain on your horse. In the situation described above, as a rider you will cause no further increase in adrenalin levels which makes it much more likely that the horse will calm down faster.

It is safer

Riding without a bit is not only safer for the rider, it is also safer for the horse - or more precisely for the horse's health. Many horses are afraid of the pain a bit can cause. This fear often accompanies them throughout their entire life and leads to so many problems. It also often results in the horse using its body in an unnatural way, which consequentially may lead to health problems in the long term. This can cause damage to a horse's back, neck, forelegs and shoulder. Ultimately it can mean a horse begins to resist being ridden or worked.

This has nothing to do with disobedience or laziness, which is often the (incorrect) assumption made, but rather we have to view this as a horse's defence mechanism caused by pain, trying to protect its body from further harm.

Taking all these things into consideration, it should be obvious a bit should only be used by experienced hands if we want to avoid inflicting pain inadvertently on our horses. It can take years until the necessary experience has been acquired. Many leisure riders, however, are not in a position (or simply don’t have the time) to gain this experience and expertise.

This young mare is being trained totally without the use of a bit. (Photo: Ralph Scheffer)

It has been proven to work

In some sections of equestrian sport bitless riding is seen as a new trend. Bitless bridles are, of course, widely used in western riding but, in other areas of equestrian sport, riding without a bit is not as new as you might think.

Since the time of the Renaissance, horses have been trained without the use of bits both for war and the art of equestrianism. The cavesson would be used from the start of training until the ground work had been completed. The next step was for the horse to get used to a passive and experienced rider on its back. Only once the horse had found its balance with a rider and was able to collect under saddle were reins attached to a bit added into the equation. Initially, the reins would hang loose so as not to interfere with the horse's balance and the reins aids were applied sparingly. The aids from the seat and the legs were more important.

In general I think that it would be much easier if we equipped every horse with a soft and gentle bitless bridle. It would then need have no fear of the bit and the rider would not need to direct all his attention to his hands, for fear of hurting the horse. I am not saying that when riding without a bit you do not need to pay attention to what your hands are doing, but it does mean they won't be the cause of pain quite as quickly.

The bit as an emergency brake

You might well ask why bits are used at all. Well, bits were developed to provide a means of control and obedience. Since horses are much stronger than humans we can't solely rely on our physical strength. There is a reason why many bits have a leverage action.

By taking advantage of this leverage action, we are making use of one of the laws of physics that allows us to lift things we couldn’t lift if we relied solely on our own strength. Early bits were so strong that there is little doubt the horse would stop when you pulled on the reins. Simply put: ropes or leather straps that were attached to a solid object in a horse's mouth offered the best way of using a horse in everyday life. But in the past mankind were reliant on the use of horses in so many ways. Think of the role the horse played in transport, or its significance for agriculture. Today the horse is so much more: it is a pet and a family friend that we communicate with in a variety of ways. I would advise you to build your and your horse's training on a foundation that does not rely on the use of a horrendous emergency brake.

My experience has shown it is much more fun, more logical and above all safer to work on communicating with horses and building trust, than simply trying to control a horse through the means of a bit.

With the noseband pulled tight the horse can't escape from the pressure exerted in his mouth. (Photo: Stéphanie Kniest)

Only use in an emergency

The bits used in the past can best be compared with a train's emergency brakes. The name says it all: they should only be used in an emergency. If the emergency brakes were used to stop the train every time, it would be dangerous for all involved. In this context, I would like to highlight the considerable damage that could be done to the train itself. Since a train is an expensive piece of equipment and a lot of money can be spent on constant repairs, the normal brakes should always be used to slow down the train. Exactly the same applies to the horse. The bit should be the emergency solution in case all the other methods of braking fail. It is for this reason that such great value was originally placed on careful training without the use of a bit. Only much later would the bit be added into training (and then with reins that hung loose).


(Photo: Ralph Scheffer)

Today there are almost as many different types of bitless bridles as there are types of bits. How are you supposed to know which bridle is suitable for what?

This chapter gives you an overview of the most commonly-used types of bitless bridles. With the information gained here you should be able to decide which bridle you would like to try, as well as getting an idea of how it should be correctly fitted. Ultimately, you and your horse have to find out which bitless bridle is the right one for you both. When your horse appears to be settled and happy with the bridle and reacts well to your aids, you have found the right one.

Initial thoughts before we start: Aims and objectives

Before buying a bridle, you should first of all consider what you would like to do with your horse both now and in the future. In my opinion, every single rider should carry out at least basic gymnastic training with their horse so it remains fit and sound, and allows them to build a willing and safe riding partner.

Basic gymnastic training, which was used originally to train horses for war, offers an excellent basis for all of today's disciplines. For this reason, in the sections following, I will be introducing the best types of tack for gymnastic, suppling work and - following on from this - the tack that is suitable for the wide variety of equestrian disciplines that exist today.

At the back of your head you should also keep in mind that some trainers from former times would often recommend a return to working without a bit when problems were encountered during training - for example, if the horse was very unsettled or responded poorly to the aids. Only after the problem was solved would a bit be used again.

… for in-hand work.

Thorough basic gymnastic training done in-hand is essential if you want to prepare your horse for being ridden. This is not by any means my own clever idea. This approach has been used for centuries, and was also followed by the classical masters - with good reason, I would add. Thanks to this initial training, when you later come to start riding your horse, it will be less demanding and - in addition - it enables you to establish a better and deeper level of communication more safely from the ground.