Choosing the right equipment for your horse can be an overwhelming task. There are so many options: hackamore, bitless bridle, metal bit, curb bit, leverage bit, or bosal. What is best for the horse and rider? As with many things in the horse world, if you ask a dozen horse owners, you will get a dozen suggestions on proper equipment.
Honestly, the right choice comes down to the particular horse and rider, their Level, and their preference. As you begin your journey to find the right fit for you, we've simplified some of the most important facts to know about bits and bitless options.
Reasons to Go Bitless
Hackamores and bitless bridles can be great options for horses with mouth issues, such as damaged tongues or jaws. If the horse has a sensitive mouth due to damage, they won't want to give into pressure even from the softest hands. A bitless bridle is also a good option for an old horse with dental issues. In these cases, behavioral problems such as head shaking, excessive salivation, and rearing can also be improved. Hackamores are acceptable in Western and English but not currently permitted for dressage horses. Pat's Natural Hackamore is introduced in Level 2 Freestyle in the Levels Program.
When introducing new equipment, take things slow and let your horse adapt to the aids given through different pressure points.
What is a Bit & What is it Used For?
A bit is a piece of metal or synthetic material that fits in a horse's mouth between the incisors and premolars of their lower teeth. It's connected to the bridle and allows the rider to communicate with the horse through reins with softer hands. Bits come in many different styles, including snaffle, leverage, and curb. Each of these bits has a different function, applies pressure, and uses leverage differently in the horse's mouth or poll. Many horses work very comfortably with a bit in their mouth.
What is a Hackamore & What is it Used For?
Hackamores are one of the most popular bitless options and apply pressure to the horse's nose, poll, and chin, similar to a rope halter or bosal. Traditional bridles with snaffle bits apply pressure to the horse's mouth. Many people believe hackamores and bitless bridles are softer than traditional bits. However, this is not always the case. A horse's head has many sensitive nerves where the hackamore can apply pressure. Rough hands can cause as much damage with a hackamore as with a snaffle bit. Softer hands and gentle pressure should be used whether the rider chooses a bit, hackamore, or other bitless option.
What is better, bit or hackamore?
Should horse owners use a bit or a hackamore? The short answer is whichever is best for that horse and rider. What you choose to use on your horse's head is equally as important as how you use the equipment.
Hackamores and snaffle bits have a 1:1 ratio, meaning if you pull one pound, your horse will feel one pound of pressure. The length of the shank on the hackamore or a leverage bit increases the ratio, so if you pull one pound, the horse might feel three pounds. This is one of the reasons green horses and young horses are trained in snaffle bits and not leverage bits. Leverage bits are for more advanced horses who have completed a training program and are light and responsive to direct pressure.
Types of Hackamores
Many hackamore options have varying levels of pressure and leverage. Some hackamores can be added to a traditional bridle, while others are an all-in-one bridle hackamore combination. Hackamores should be fitted appropriately to the horse's head to apply direct pressure correctly.
The mechanical hackamore is a classic, with a partial noseband, curb chain, and shanks. It features shanks that provide leverage and apply pressure to the horse's nose, poll, and chin. Leverage means the ratio is different; if you use one pound of force, the horse feels more pressure. The difference in the ratio will depend on the length of the shank. Leather, rubber-covered cable, and stiff padded metal are common materials for the mechanical hackamore's noseband. Many hackamores are fleece lined to reduce rubbing and adjustable to fit the horse's face.
Anatomical hackamores have become more popular over the past ten years. These all-in-one hackamores feature a special headstall designed to keep the bridle and hackamore from moving on the horse's head. This headstall has an anatomical crown and additional straps under the throat latch. When a hackamore moves or shifts on the horse's face, it causes pressure to be applied in the wrong places, reducing the rider's control and frustrating the horse.
The S hackamore is closer to the 1:1 pressure ratio experienced with a snaffle bit. This shape allows the horse to eat and drink with the bridle, making it a good choice for trail and endurance riders. The noseband on the S hackamore is contoured for comfort and made with leather or stiffened rope.
The Flower hackamore has a very unique cheek design compared to the mechanical and s hackamores. This design gives people numerous options for increasing or decreasing leverage and pressure on the horse's poll. There are many configurations for this hackamore, but the standard is leaving one ring open between the noseband and headpiece while attaching the reins to the lowest ring. You can experiment with different configurations to determine the right setting for your horse.
Pat's Natural Hackamore
The Parelli Natural Hackamore is widely used for young horses and relaxed riding (Freestyle or on the trail). Made from the same, lovely subtle line as our halters, it's perfect for teaching horses to be soft and confident when riding, starting or re-starting horses that are afraid of the rider's hand or bit. Our Snaffle Bridles are a valuable tool for more sensitive and precise communication with your horse, and are designed to be easy to adjust, to provide long-lasting use, and to be comfortable for your horse.
Making the right choice about equipment comes down to the horse, the rider, and how the use of the equipment. It is essential to know the pros and cons of traditional and bitless bridles before making a selection for your horse. Consider your horse's training program, if they have any mouth issues, how much leverage is needed, and any behavioral problems when shopping for equipment.