To achieve controlled bridleless riding you must rely on your entire body to steer your horse instead rein cues. To start teaching this, you need to use your legs and seat to cue your horse before using the reins on a regular basis. Even if you never plan to ride your horse bridleless, teaching him to stop and steer using your seat and legs can help you advance and eliminate the need for strong rein cues.
Are You Ready?
If your are one of those riders that constantly goes to the reins to ask their horse to do anything you must recondition yourself first if you want to ride bridleless. Being too quick to pull on the reins causes your horse to become reactive to the bridle. To change this, you will have to think seat, legs then reins. The subtle aids must always be given before the reinforcing aid which are the reins.
Test your horse to see if he is ready to even begin bridleless training. You should be able to ride at all gaits, make upward and downward transitions and steer mostly from your seat and legs cues, only using your reins occasionally. You will know that you need some work if it takes multiple rein cues to preform basic exercises. If you feel like you have a long way to go before you can ride bridleless continue practicing as horses learn new cues quickly if they have consistency and reinforcement.
Lesson One Straightness
Keep slack in your reins to simulate not having a bridle on. Your horse should go in the direction you decide until you ask him to go somewhere else. If when you let slack in the reins your horse changes direction redirect him back to your path by first looking where you want to go, then push him over with leg pressure from the leg that he is drifting toward, if he still doesn’t move back on track keep cuing with your leg and use your reins to steer. Once he is traveling where you want, put slack back in the reins and release your leg cue. You must require obedience from your horse at all times. After awhile your horse will understand that slack in the reins means that he is in “neutral” and that he should continue at the same speed and direction until told otherwise.
Test your horse by riding on the rail with slack in the reins at all three gaits, stop, and back. If he does well, ask for the same exercise in the middle of the arena on diagonals and quarter lines where he won’t have the fence to help him stay straight. Remember to keep slack in your reins, but always be ready to reinforce your leg and seat cues with them as well. Be aware if your horse is leaning or pushing out with any part of his body. Move him back to the desired path with your leg pressure as he should remain on course at all times. Practice this for as long as needed until your horse can stay consistently straight and on the path you choose.
Lesson Two Speed Control
The goal is to maintain a steady speed on a loose rein. When your horse speeds up, correct him with your seat by sitting down in your saddle and slowing your body movement. If he ignores this subtle aid use your reins then release when he slows down to the speed you dictate. Continue correcting him in the same way until he maintains a constant pace. Only move on to the trot if he is preforming well at the walk, the same goes for the canter.
Lesson Three Turning
The order of cues to teach your horse to turn without a bridle are: look, leg, rein. First, look at where you want to go. Horses can feel the slightest shift in your weight, and when you move your head to look at where you are going you are also moving the heaviest part of your body. This causes horses to want to go in that direction to stay balanced. Next, gently press your leg against your horse’s side at the girth (use pressure with your left leg to cue the horse to move to the right, reverse your cues for a turn to the left). If your horse continues not to listen, pick up your reins and tell him where to go while still keeping your leg on. Release the cues when he moves in the direction you asked for. Consistently practicing these cues in order encourages your horse to respond to the first cue you give him. Your horse will soon learn to follow you eyes without having to use your reins.
Horses learn new cues quickly, but only if he has consistent cues and reinforcement. Correct within a few seconds of the first cue. Because of the sequence your horse knows what to expect. Once your horse is obedient traveling straight at all gaits and during turns, you can start teaching more advanced cues you will need once the bridle is off. The time it takes to learn these lessons depends on the horse. Start off by practicing the first lesson every day for a week. At the end of the week test your training and see if you are ready to move on to the next lesson. If your horse isn’t quite there yet give him a few more days before giving him another test. Keep doing this until you feel he is solid at the first lesson, then move on to the second and so on.