|My husband Michael's first time riding Obie, then 4 yrs old. Obie responded beautifully to his Nurtural bridle.|
Enter my good friend Josh Nichol, who gave me a lovely, soft, leather sidepull. Gryphon loved it and was much more relaxed, and he was just as sensitive and responsive to it as to the bit. However, when we would go out on the trails, Gryphon -- who is never allowed to eat any grass due to his insulin resistance -- would occasionally make a "dive" for the grass, reefing my bad back in the process. This was not a big problem in the bit, as he didn't dare hit his mouth that hard. However, in the sidepull, he could do it with relative impunity, and he decided it was sometimes worth my less-than-pleased response. After he tried it once at the trot, downhill, I decided something had to change. I was loathe to go back to a bit, but wasn't sure I had another choice.
Fortunately, I did some research and came across the Nurtural Bitless Bridle (available at http://www.nurturalhorse.com/). This bridle is similar in many ways to the older Dr. Cook bitless bridle, but with some significant, if subtle, design differences. I had ridden a horse once in a Dr. Cook and had not been impressed: the horse responded to pressure from one rein by twisting his head and getting crooked, while pressure from both reins caused him to raise his head and invert his spine. I worried that the Nurtural might have the same effects, but it does not. Basically, the Nurtural is a Dr. Cook with all the "kinks" worked out of it -- and Gryphon goes BEAUTIFULLY in it. He is comfortable and doesn't worry about the bridle, responds like a feather with lovely self-carriage -- yet if I need some real controlling power (in my case, to stop the grass diving), I have all I could desire. I feel safer than I did in either my bitted bridle or my sidepull, and at my age and with my physical challenges (and spirited horse), that is very important to me.
I have also convinced some students and friends to try this bridle, and they are all extremely pleased with it -- even my friend with the big, powerhouse draft-cross whom she was afraid would drag her all over kingdom come if she tried it. Not only did he not drag her around, but he became lighter, softer, more relaxed and easier to stop -- and he is actually learning to get off his forehand and carry himself properly. She now rides him up in the mountains, alone on the trails, all over the roads -- all in her Nurtural. She says she would never have believed in a million years that she would ride a horse without a bit at all, let alone "out and about" in the big wide world, but she now says she can't imagine why she would ever go back to the bit.
There is also the fact that bits can and do cause damage to the horse's jaw bones and teeth, and even the "bit seats" carved into the horse's teeth to supposedly make carrying a bit more comfortable can cause severe and ongoing pain (see: http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/aaepfocus/2006/johnson4.pdf for more information). The Nurtural Bitless Bridle provides great control, without causing any harm to the horse. This is especially beneficial for horses ridden by beginning or intermediate riders who may not have perfect control over their hands. It should be a law, in my opinion, to use a bitless bridle when a person is learning to jump!
Lastly, the Nurtural comes in a variety of styles and materials, with a price range that can accommodate virtually any budget. The quality is excellent, as the whole operation is overseen by Zoe Brooks, the designer of the product and co-owner of the company. She takes a personal pride in the product and will make sure your horse is properly fitted, and that your needs as a customer are met.
I now have Nurtural bridles for all my horses: a black English-style one for Gryphon; a really cute, brown Western-style one for Obie, and a wee one for my pony, Twister.
So, if you are having trouble finding the right bit, or you just want to do something really nice for your horse and your partnership, I highly recommend giving the Nurtural Bitless Bridle a try.