There are a number of bitless bridles on the market. Popular types include hackamores, bosals and sidepulls. Each of these three bridle styles uses a different type of pressure on the horse's face and head to elicit control. As with any type of bit, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, and no one type is suitable for every horse or every discipline. Each style of bitless bridle comes in varying degrees of severity.
Reduced Stopping Power
Without a bit in the horse's mouth putting pressure on the bars, there may be reduced stopping power when using a bitless bridle if the horse is not trained to halt using the seat and voice aids as well. Because some types of bitless bridles are less severe than many bits, it will make it easier and less bothersome for the horse to ignore the aids, thereby reducing the braking power of the bridle.
Reduced Turning Ability
A common complaint of bitless bridles is the reduced turning power. The horse may require further training in order to achieve the same level of control that the rider had when using a bit. This is because with a bit such as a snaffle, direct pressure on the mouth is used to turn the horse. A bitless bridle may require the animal to respond to additional aids like the seat and legs to understand what the rider is asking.
Bitless bridles rely on pressure points on the horse's face and head and some horses may object to this pressure, particularly if they have been trained using a regular bridle with a bit. Poll pressure is a common spot that may bother some animals if they are not accustomed to it. The poll, located just behind the horse's ears, may be sensitive, and when pressure is put on this area, the horse may become upset and start tossing its head. In addition, pressure under the chin and across the nose may cause the horse to fight.
If a horse is being ridden only for pleasure, it is solely up to the rider which type of bitless bridle to use. But if the horse is going to compete in a horse show, the show's governing body will dictate whether a bitless bridle is or isn't allowed. For instance, a bosal is only suitable for some western disciplines. The hackamore is allowed in most jumper competitions, but not in the hunter ring.
Some bitless bridles, such as a long-shanked hackamore, are actually considered more severe than many bits. As with any training device, the bitless bridle should be matched to the horse on which it is being used. Avoid using a more severe bitless bridle than is required for effective control of the horse or you will risk having the horse become sour and uncooperative.