In the Absence of a Bit

I am going to be completely honest here—a friend of mine who half-leased Ax a few years ago used a Micklem on him and I was disgusted. Don’t ask me why, but something about putting my precious horse into a bitless bridle brought up a giant red X in my brain. I’m pretty sure I gave her a nasty sneer and rudely said, “Ew, why would you do that?” to which she probably should have slapped me. I’m sure you can imagine the satisfaction in her voice and the sheepishness in mine when I suddenly changed my tune a year later and asked her what size she had bought for his puny head.

Towards the end of last winter I was struggling with Ax fiddling with his bit and thought about just taking it completely out of the equation. Plus, I was about to have a half-lease on him and if she ended up being handsy I was fully prepared to take away the bit. A trip to the Smartpak attic later, I found one on sale and showed up at the barn the next day with what I had once sworn I would never put on my horse.

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Our first ride was far from smooth and to tell you the truth, I dismounted feeling grumpy and ready to return the thing. Ax was completely on his forehand, distracted, and ignoring every aid I gave him. My legs flailed to no avail while trying to get him to bend, collect, or simply pay attention. The end result was me tossing the bridle into the corner of my room for a few days before I decided to give it a second chance. I hadn’t thought about how much a learning curve this would be. Wasn’t it the same thing, just without a bit?

Wrong. When I dusted the Micklem off and re-bridled Ax sans bit, I went about things a bit slower. I took the time to learn how the different pressure points effect his movement, worked on keeping his attention at each gait, and figured out how my aids had to be altered. Voila! All of the sudden I was riding a horse that was focused, correctly collected, and—best of all—happy. Because I couldn’t fiddle with his super-sensitive mouth, he was solid and consistent. There was no more head bobbing (not lameness, more of a my-mom-wont-quiet-her-hands bobbing which is thankfully now fixed), our lead changes were quiet, and our jumps were cantered to without the head-raised-and-bracing stance.

Now my Micklem has become a staple and hangs under my saddle for easy access, no more tossing it haphazardly into my tack trunk. I find myself reaching for it whenever I am going on a light hack or just need to simplify things (aka I am getting to handsy and Ax is an angry buffalo). Whenever I get a weird look and someone says, “are you riding bitless?” I say, “YES! My horse loves it.”







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Bravery level increased 💪🏼

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collection, correctness, bitless

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(P.S. – I offer no apologies for the amount of photos and videos in this post.)

Published by Terisé

• New England Equestrian Blogger • • Photographer • • Editor •

10 thoughts on “In the Absence of a Bit

  1. Very cool. My mule hates bits as well, but they’re unfortunately required in dressage or I’d go bitless as well. I do go bites for trails and hacking though.


  2. Very cool! I’ve always liked the style of the miklems but not so much the quality of leather. Glad it’s working for you both – Ax looks great.


  3. I have only ridden Estella bitless, for a few reasons. Not that I am totally against bits, but I think horses can be happy without one and at this time I don’t feel like I can think of a reason why I would “need” one.

    I love how happy Ax looks and am really impressed by your courage to try something new :).


  4. I ditched the bit and went with a Micklem for the entire winter last year. At the time I was struggling to find a bit that didn’t make Sydney chomp, and toss her head, and flip her tongue. I had tried every metal known to mankind with no luck, and I was kind of tired of playing with bits. There was a learning curve, but she had been broke out in a side pull, so it wasn’t too high, mostly just brushing off the dust. Once we got rolling it was actually a lot of fun. Thankfully somebody mentioned rubber to me, the only type I hadn’t tried yet, and it was the perfect fix for Sydney.


  5. I have been wanting to try Collin bitless also! Borrowing my western barn buddies hackamore and if he approves I think I will buy him the PS of Sweden hackamore 😁 great post!


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