Caroline riding Friesia
Caroline riding her 18 hh Friesia bitless
Your success in riding bitless, safely and with control, lies in the development of your horse’s
foundation. A foundation means dedicating at least two years of time, consistency, education, and relationship building with your horse. A solid foundation builds the mindset within your horse that governs the level of emotional and mental engagement needed to keep them tuned in to you and on a powerful level—strong enough for trust and respect to flourish at all times. In the end, developing a solid foundation is what earns you the privilege of riding bitless, bareback, and bridle-less with control and safety.
Many equestrians ask me about riding in a rope halter, or bitless bridle, and whether or not I have the same control as riding with a bit. My answer is always Yes! You can ride just as safely with a rope halter, or bitless bridle, as you can with a bit. So many people, trainers included, think safety and control is all about the equipment or the bigger, harsher bits. The key to riding safely and with control is in the training—developing your horse’s mindset of trust, respect, and partnership.
Is your horse prepared?
While it’s important to know which technique to use to regain control, in the end it’s all about your horse’s level of training and temperament. I’ve ridden many a horse that knew how to bend to a stop from a canter when excited. And I’ve ridden many a horse that reacted to scary, seemingly life-threatening situations with total panic and adrenaline. At this point, the level of adrenaline outweighed any technique I taught them, making stopping them in a bit almost impossible.
The biggest mistake most horse owners make is they think that technique, paired with forceful aids, will keep them safe. Meaning, if they fit their horse with a painful bit and teach them an emergency bend—quickly and harshly pulling their horse’s nose around—the rider will gain the control needed to either safely get off or stop the horse. The reality is that no matter how quick you are, how hard you pull, or what size bit you use, your horse won’t give when triggered into flight or fight mode. Abruptly pulling and yanking only worsens the situation because, at this point, your horse wants out-of-there, and any pulling and grabbing will only escalate the situation, creating total panic because your horse feels trapped. There are those horses, too, that don’t panic and decide to take off because they can. Their will is to outsmart you, their instinct to get rid of you, and no amount of force or strong aids are going to deter them from taking off, ditching you, and heading back to the barn. Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: The key to riding safely and with control is in the training.
The order of each area is important as it is designed to be a building block, making the next area easier to develop. ( It’s recommended you start in a secure, confined space, eg., a round pen.)
- Mounting: Does your horse come to the mounting block and “pick you up” with attentiveness and relaxation? Does he stand still while you mount, and can you adjust yourself when mounted without having to hang on the reins and keep your horse still? If not, get this block solid; it is the essential building block.
- The importance and value of CONTACT: This is where you teach your hands to ask your horse to follow a “feel” or a contact—not fight it—and where your horse learns to accept the contact, become responsive and relaxed, not stressed, resistant, or defensive. Contact is not only about developing a soft and light feel, but also developing your horse’s acceptance of contact and learning to give in to it, versus push or pull through it. You will need this feel as you develop the flexion. You will feel this when the horse becomes more responsive and supple.
- Vertical Flexion: This exercise is about asking your horse to “break” at their pole and shoulder and wither area. This aids in softening and relaxing your horse’s topline so that his movement is open, fluid, and smooth.
- Lateral Flexion is about asking your horse to “break” at the pole FIRST, then the middle of the neck. Breaking at the pole aids in softening and relaxing your horse’s topline and both lateral and vertical flexion aid in developing the “bend to a stop” or “emergency stop.”
- Back up: You need all of the building blocks mentioned above for the back up to be effortless—to be smooth, fluid, and without tension, resistance and brace.
- Hind-end Control – Disengaging the hind end: This technique takes the power away from your horse’s “engine” and/or hind legs and gives you control over the horse’s power house.
I have created a video that further explains and demonstrates how to ride bitless safely, and with control:
This video covers six main techniques for developing and improving body control and safety. It also discusses the level and quality of training necessary to ride bitless and/or bareback with control and safety. These areas are part of your foundation and will help you develop the mindset needed for you and your horse to stay connected, focused, trusting, and respectful. It is equally important to develop your relationship and partnership through ground exercises and riding patterns.
Rider Horsemanship is owned and operated by Caroline Rider. Caroline Rider is an internationally recognized “horse whisperer” whose approach to training horses and teaching people combines 30 years of knowledge, application and development. She is best known for her “Intuitive Training Approach to horsemanship. This approach merges the Art of Horsemanship, Classical Dressage principles and a Taoist way of Being and interacting. It focuses on aligning and synchronizing both horse and rider in mind, body, and soul. Her method to achieving this is based on developing deep levels of connection and communication by combining mind-body awareness and Chakra energy with balance and harmony in movement.