What’s the Point of Riding Bridleless? A Q&A with Brendan Wise

What’s the Point of Riding Bridleless? A Q&A with Brendan Wise

This blog post is written by Brendan Wise's student, Laurie Berglie, and photos are provided by Brendan Wise. 

Brendan Wise began his bridleless work years ago while training with his mentors, John and Josh Lyons. Josh especially was an expert bridleless rider, and Brendan became fascinated by these principles. At that time, Brendan primarily focused on western horsemanship and reining, but as he moved into English disciplines, such as dressage and show jumping, he brought those same bridleless principles with him. Currently, Brendan is competing mostly bridleless on the winter circuit in Ocala, Florida with his jumper, Lyric.

Laurie Berglie: What is the point of riding a horse bridleless?

Brendan Wise: There can be many purposes for riding bridleless, but I’ll break them down into two categories.

The first is that it benefits the horse. Most of the time riders get in the way of their horses. That’s just the fact of it, and we as riders, for the most part, readily acknowledge that fact. We hope that over time we learn to be better riders, and, consequently, get in our horse’s way less! However, in the meantime, bridleless can be a way to free up our horses and allow them to move and learn to balance themselves more independently. It’s amazing how many anxious and stressed-out horses I run across that become relaxed and happy within a short time of my removing the bridle. I am not anti-bit. Never have been, never will be. But through time, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of cross training bridleless.

The second category is that riding bridleless benefits the rider. In my bridleless work, I have the same expectation for bending, balancing, collection, roundness, flexibility, movement...all of it! So when riders start to learn how to accomplish these things without a direct connection to the horse’s face, it opens up a whole new world of understanding and riding. Purely for their education, I believe all riders should at least learn to guide, bend, balance, and create round posture in a horse bridleless. We would all be a lot better for it!

LB: Why do you choose to ride some horses, over others, bridleless? Do you know of any who are bridleless full-time?

BW: There can be a variety of reasons to take away the bridle, either permanently or temporarily. I wholeheartedly believe that every horse should be able to walk, trot, and canter on the buckle, loose rein, and maintain its paces by itself in a relaxed manner. For some horses, taking the bridle away forces us to focus on that primary and elementary goal, and it’s an important one.
Horse being ridden bridleless
Also, yes! There have been circumstances where I have trained or coached students with horses that just went all around better bridleless, and they are full-time that way. So this is not out of the question! These horses are fully functioning members of society, training, trail riding, competing, all the things bridled horses do! For these horses, we have found that they are happier without anything on their face. If they can do the job well, then why not let them go the way they are happiest? Full-time bridleless is certainly not for all, but it is definitely an option for some.

LB: Why have you chosen to ride your horse, Lyric, bridleless?

BW: For Lyric, bridleless was not something he necessarily “needed,” but it is something that he enjoys, and has become quite proficient at. It takes a special horse to do the things that Lyric and I do, and he certainly is a special horse. For me, working to bring Lyric into the competition ring bridleless is personal. It’s never been done in history to the level that we have done it, nor to the level that I want to push to. Lyric is a sensitive animal who struggles with confidence and can be quite peaky on course. For him, being in the bridle in many ways is easier at times, because I can hold his hand a bit more. But the bridleless causes him to have to stretch himself and improve himself mentally, to become more independent, and to grow in critical thinking.

LB: Why are you competing bridleless? Is it more for the "wow" factor? Or are you using this as a teaching moment?

BW: Maybe a little bit of both? It’s a teaching moment and challenge for myself, and for Lyric. But it’s also a challenge to show the world it is possible, and that there are better ways to do things. Certainly, if I can go out bridleless and be competitive against horses that have all sorts of barbaric things on their face, maybe the world can start to ask questions about the way we ride. If I can at all spark a flame that makes some people think a little deeper about their riding, I think it’s worth it. So perhaps this is an opportunity to show the world something different. It also comes down a bit to Lyric. He’s such an incredible animal and is so brilliant in his abilities. I want the world to see what I see and to experience what I experience. I want him to be remembered for something spectacular because he certainly is.

LB: When the horse community sees you ride/train/compete bridleless, what are you hoping will be their ultimate take-away?

BW: I hope they take away the idea that we can do better. That there is always a better way, a kinder way. I want the horse to be relaxed, happy, and confident in their job, and that needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind: the integrity of the horse’s mind and body. So if I can make people sit back and think for a few moments, then maybe they will start asking questions. When we start evaluating and critically questioning ourselves, there’s an opportunity for growth. Sometimes that growth affirms that we are on the right path. Other times, it may challenge us to dig deeper and search for a better way. So ultimately, I want to challenge myself, and I want to inspire others to perhaps dig deeper.