SidePull - A Bitless Bridle

At clinics I am often asked about the sidepull that we use. A sidepull is a bridle that has no bit. But it is not one those bitless bridles (aka Dr Cook Bitless Bridle and NoBit Bridle) that have become popular and have the cross-over chin straps for pressure under the chin and over the poll. I don't like the cross-over types of gadgets because the pressure on the horse is non-directional, they do not release properly when the reins are released and the poll pressure encourages a horse to twist at the poll when he tries to flex in a turn - they are probably ok for a trail ride, but I don't recommend them for training and serious riding.

However, a sidepull is a very different beast. It acts just like a snaffle bit except that the rein acts on a noseband instead of a bit. They are like riding in a web halter when you attach the reins to the side rings of the noseband.
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These are photos that I took the other day of one of our sidepulls on Chops. You can see the reins are attached to leather slobber straps which in turn are attached to a ring on the side of the noseband. The noseband is held in place by a loosely fitted chin strap.

You can also see that the noseband is made of thick leather. Some sidepulls have stiffened lariat rope for the noseband - I don't like them because they can be abrasive on the nose and cause the horse pain if you need to be firm with the reins. The leather noseband has the advantage of never causing pain no matter how much pressure you have on the reins. The other advantage of a sidepull over say a rope halter is that because the reins are attached at the side of the noseband they give much more directional aid in the turns compared to a rope halter where the reins are attached under the chin. In this way the sidepull acts similarly to a snaffle and helps give a meaning to the reins which is easily translated if and when you use a bit.

So the question is... why use a sidepull on a horse instead of a bridle with a bit?

There are a few good reasons for why we use a bitless bridle such as a sidepull or lunging cavesson or web halter.

Firstly, we mouth all our horses using a sidepull because we can teach the horse the meaning of the reins without ever risking causing him pain. So he never learns to be afraid of the bit during the breaking in. Each horse gets his first few rides in a sidepull before graduating to a snaffle.

We also use the sidepull on "hard mouthed" horses during their re-mouthing so again we don't cause them pain - this includes horses that come to us for a bolting problem. Often you find a "hard mouthed" horse goes instantly better with a sidepull because they have had so much hardware put in their mouth in an attempt to control them that a sidepull offers them such a different feel that they don't know how to respond against it.

We will use a sidepull on horses that have anxiety issues about a bridle. They may be hard to bridle or they put their tongue over the bit or they roll their tongue out of their mouth or they head toss in response to the reins. Again, the sidepull offers them a different feel so their response is often different to the reins. It gives us a window in which we can start to break a habit that is often fairly ingrained.

Once a horse is going well in a sidepull they are then worked in a snaffle bit. Every horse is worked in a snaffle bit eventually - even if the owner tells us they will never ride with a bit.

As a horse's training advances I will always prefer to ride a horse in a snaffle. The first reason is that there is a high probability that somebody is going to want to ride that horse in a bit some day. And the second reason is that a bit allows me to add refinement to the meaning of the reins - I can do less with the reins to get more - with a sidepull this is more limiting. But there is nothing wrong with riding your entire life in a sidepull if that's what lights your candle.