As with any tack, fit is essential when choosing a bitless bridle. A correctly fitting bridle improves comfort and ensures that the mechanism of the bitless bridle can work as intended. Many points that will be covered in this post apply as much to any bitted or bitless bridle, however these are always worth reiterating.
Headpiece and browband
Many bridles now have a ‘comfort’ headpiece that is padded or shaped so as to protect or avoid the sensitive area over the poll and behind the ears. However, this is rendered obsolete if the browband is too small and pulls the headpiece forwards. Ensure that the headpiece does not apply pressure to the ears, especially if using a leverage-based bridle.
Bridles with an ordinary throat lash (such as the Transcend) should be fastened as normal, with enough space left for four fingers’ width next to the horse’s cheek. Bridles with a jowl strap rather than throat lash (for example, C-bit and Micklem bridles) are usually intended to be fastened a little tighter. This should still allow the horse freedom of movement, but if this strap is quite snug it can help prevent the bridle from slipping on the face, ultimately improving comfort. Of course, cross-under type bridles (such as the Dr. Cook) have straps that tighten upon rein tension, so do not need a fastening throat lash.
As bitless bridles defer most rein pressure to the top of the nose, it is essential that the noseband is comfortable and correctly fitted. Just like a cavesson noseband or headcollar, the noseband should be adjusted to sit the width of two fingers below the protruding cheek bone. This should allow the noseband to sit over a well-supported part of the nasal bone, also avoiding any chance of putting pressure on the outside of the nostrils.
The noseband on bitless bridles varies in function, but as a general rule, they should be loose enough to fit two fingers’ width between the top of the nasal bone and the bridle. Even this guideline does not allow horses to move their jaws normally during exercise without pressure from the noseband, so where possible I prefer to keep them on the looser side. Some bridles might need the noseband a little tighter to stay in place, and it should be borne in mind that any bitless bridles that use leverage need the back strap of the noseband to act as a curb chain. While a loose curb chain may seem to be kind, a tighter one blocks more of the the poll pressure applied by a hackamore (of any type) – find a happy medium that suits you and your horse.
Finally, check that the functioning and/or metal parts of your bitless bridle sit comfortably on the horse’s face. This might be the wheels/flowers/stars/shanks of a hackamore or cross-under straps of a Dr. Cook. I have found that traditional hackamores can just be too big for a smaller horse, as adjusting the noseband to the right position always leaves the metal sides of the hackamore too close to the protruding cheekbones and likely to rub. Make sure that no straps that are going to tighten are twisted or likely to become stuck, and that buckles will not be pressing into sensitive areas.
Above all, remember to listen to your horse. A bridle that seems to fit perfectly from the ground might still move or rub or pinch or squeeze once in use. As this area of equestrianism is still so new and growing, there is a lot still to learn and discuss, and plenty of trial and error to be had. Please share your thoughts if you have had any experience of fitting bitless bridles!
P.s. The image above shows the Micklem Multibridle being used as a scrawbrig (although the strap/reins are not those that are sold with the bridle).