Why You CAN Go Bitless
Today I want to talk about why the phrase "I need a bit" isn't valid in good horsemanship. It all stems from something I say often: if you can lead your horse quietly in a halter, you can ride them bitless.
Now, before you gather your pitchforks and torches, let me clarify something. This DOES NOT MEAN that bitless is the best option for every horse. Some do not like nose pressure, but are accepting of a bit. That said, these horses would also not lead quietly in a halter, so you should know this drawback without ever attempting bitless.
What this DOES mean, however, is that your training should be good enough that you do not require the bit to maintain control while in the saddle. I hear all the time "well my horse took off bitless and didn't stop so I need my bit". What they are effectively saying, is that they need to rely on overwhelming a horse who ignores seat, leg and voice with pain in order to achieve any semblance of control. A horse should stop and steer primarily with leg, with the reins providing minute and primarily directional guidance.
I have also heard "well when you lead a horse can see your body language and he can't in the saddle", to which I respond that from the ground the horse cannot feel your leg or seat. Each has different aids, but the horse can be taught to be responsive to both.
I should also mention that bitless riding is not achieved in one go. Just like breaking a horse or introducing something new takes time, so does changing equipment. Putting a bitted horse bitless once and failing does not tell us anything about whether or not they can be ridden bitless.
The moral of the story is this: Every well trained and responsive horse CAN be ridden bitless, save those with physical drawbacks. While it may not be the best option, the horse's primarily reliance on seat, leg and voice should make what equipment is physically attached to his face all but irrelevant. If you "need" your bit (not prefer to use it, but actually need), you have serious holes in your training that it is up to you to address.