Bridle-Less Riding - Overview

Now that you have worked through the Foundation Training modules, it is time to have even more fun!

Slip the bridle off and discover how you can still have all of that 'bridle control' without the bridle!


The purpose of this lesson is to teach the horse to be ridden quietly, calmly and under control without the bridle.

The Basic Elements:

The cues you have taught the horse during Foundation Training remain the same when the bridle is removed.

Our job with this lesson is to break it down so that the horse is guided through the process and remains under our stimulus control the entire time - keeping both horse and rider safe.


As leg cues appear to cause the horse so much more stress than rein cues, we have minimised their use during the Foundation Training your horse has received. This is going to further benefit the horse now as you will not be tempted to simply increase your leg cue if the horse does not respond without the bridle.


Why I Minimise Leg Cues:

The trainer I studied with in USA, John Lyons, rode his stallion extensively without a bridle until he found that the horse developed stomach ulcers. He thought this might be due to the increasing number of leg cues required down the horse's sides to signal those things that the bridle had been doing.

I have also found that horses display more conflict behaviours, such as tail swishing, ear pinning and kicking out, with leg cues than rein cues. It is for this reason that I teach hindquarter and shoulder control off the rein.

Legs are used together to mean go forward (a verbal cue then a touch with both legs followed by a tap with the whip if both cues are missed) and I only begin to use one leg at a time to mean 'whole horse move sideways' for lateral work, starting with leg yielding.

Horses desensitise quickly and easily to leg pressure. Have you ever found that you need to 'kick' your horse every stride to stay in trot or canter? Such a horse has been desensitised to the leg, is not in self-carriage and is experiencing relentless leg pressure which will in turn mean you require even more pressure in future.


Your horse needs to have worked through the following lessons (be sure to do the lessons here and watch the full length training DVDs in the Resources section):

  1. Bridling and Give to the Bit
  2. Shoulder Control
  3. Stops
  4. Stop and Back Up
  5. Hindquarter Control
  6. Canter
  7. Hips to the Fence (especially if you are going bareback!)


With good Foundation work, this lesson should not take long at all, about 20 minutes to get started.

Break it down into steps for the horse as shown in the following video and do a little each day or at the end of each riding session you have with the horse.

Be sure to start in a safe area such as a round pen or arena - just in case your Foundation Training isn't everything you thought it was.....This is certainly the ultimate test of that!

Have fun!

ISES Training Principles:

  1. Release the pressure immediately when the horse responds. We teach the horse to respond to the pressure of the rope on his neck to turn and when you see him turning the rope must be removed to signal to the horse that it was the correct answer.
  2. Use signals that the horse can differentiate. This is even more important now that the bridle has gone! The verbal speed and gait cues that you installed during Foundation Training will be very useful here.
  3. Train and initiate responses one at a time (shaping). We are not just going to whip the bridle off and hope for the best. We need to shape the behaviour by moving from the bridle to the head collar and finally to the rope around the neck (which can then be removed altogether).
  4. Train habitual responses using consistency and repetition. You are teaching the horse a habit - each time you sit back and say 'whoa' for example he stops moving his feet (halts).
  5. Train only one response per signal. We need to be terribly clear with the horse and never want him to have to 'guess' which response to give.
  6. Avoid fear during training. This is always important but critical for the safety of you and your horse in this situation. The horse should remain calm throughout the lesson and be engaged and attentive. Controlling the horse's emotional level is essential.
  7. Train persistence of responses.Throughout his Foundation Training the horse has been learning self-carriage. This is not just about headset but also about maintaining gait and speed until being signalled to do something differently.
  8. Check for relaxation. It is so important that the horse is relaxed and calm. By the time you make it through the Foundation Training to this stage you will know your horse very well and be able to instantly recognise any tension or anxiety in him.
  • ISES Training Principles Poster
    ISES Training Principles Poster

    Download your copy of the International Society for Equitation Science's (ISES) Training Principles Poster here.

  • ISES Code of Conduct
    ISES Code of Conduct

    Download your copy of the International Society for Equitation Science's Code of Conduct. Parts of this document are particularly applicable to those of you that compete or hold events.