You may think that you control your horse with the bridle and bit, but that assumption is actually only partially true. After all, your horse's "engine" and turning apparatus are in his hindquarters. Control the hindquarters and you control your horse.
Bit-and-bridle pressure simply cues your horse to go forward, whoa, turn, back, etc. It's a way of communicating to your horse what you'd like for him to do. However, your seat and legs, when fine-tuned, also provide excellent cues. When your horse understands your seat and leg cues, he doesn't necessarily need a bridle to be under your control.
Here, world champion trainer Lynn Palm, along with her husband, horseman Cyril Pittion-Rossillon demonstrate how you can begin teaching your horse to respond to your seat and leg cues only, so you can ride bridleless.
You'll need: An experienced helper (to longe your horse while you ride and to provide feedback); a halter and longe line; a longe whip; a riding helmet; and your usual tack (including your bridle).
Before you begin: Outfit your horse in a saddle and bridle. Then apply a halter over the bridle. Attach the longe line to the halter's side ring. Lead your horse to an enclosed arena with good footing. Put on your riding helmet, mount up, and ask your helper to move you and your horse out onto a wide circle on the longe line. Warm up for about 20 minutes, then follow the video tutorial.
Ride Without Reins
To learn to ride bridleless, you'll first learn how to ride without the reins. This will teach you to "ride from the waist down," says Palm. It'll also refine your balance in the saddle.
On the longe line, you'll drop your reins, and learn to use your seat and legs to cue and control your horse. You'll do this as you perform upper-body balancing exercises at the walk, trot, posting trot, and lope or canter.
You'll change direction so you'll develop both sides evenly. (Change of direction also helps your horse develop both sides evenly, which helps to prevent muscle and joint soreness.)
After you're comfortable dropping your reins on the longe line, your helper will detach the line, and you'll perform the same steps. You'll ask your helper to stay in the arena with you to provide feedback
and in case you need assistance.
At this stage, you'll pick up the reins when needed to cue your horse.
Next, you'll learn how to use a neck rope and leg aids, along with the bridle, to teach your horse to respond to neck-rope cues. (Your horse will need to know how to neck rein with a bridle.) You'll teach him to turn in both directions, stop, and back.
You'll work the rein and the neck rope at the same time. You'll start at the walk, then stop and back. (The stop-and-back cue will help you put on the brakes as you move on to the faster gaits without a bridle.)
You'll then ask your horse for a turn on the forehand, a turn on the haunches, and a leg yield (a lateral move with some forward motion) in both directions. Finally, you'll progress to an extended trot and the canter.
When your horse does well executing these maneuvers with both the bridle and neck rope, you'll remove the bridle and repeat the maneuvers with just the neck rope. You'll ask a helper to stay in the arena with you in case you need assistance.
For more on riding bridleless, visit www.lynnpalm.com, and order the "Bridleless Training" DVD.
Lynn Palm is the founder of Palm Partnership Training. She's shown more than 34 Quarter Horse world and reserve world champions, competing in both English and Western disciplines. She's won a record four American Quarter Horse Association Superhorse titles and was the first rider to win the prestigious Superhorse title twice on the same horse, Rugged Lark.