Showjumper Nicole Pavitt has come up with a novel way of transforming the headshy mare Festiena Van Texelhof in the ring — by ditching her bridle.

Spotted at the recent South Of England Show (11-13 June), 27-year-old Nicole rode the 10-year-old mare in to the ribbons with a new piece of tack, a bridleless leather bit.

Nicole Pavitt

It requires absolutely no headpiece, just the reins, and is manufactured by French former international rider Michel Robert. Nicole bought it while she was competing in Portugal earlier this year. The item is similar to the Meroth leather snaffle that was originally designed and patented in Germany in the 1980s by inventor Erwin Meroth.

“She’s really sensitive around the ears and we have to tie up her forelock and the top bit of mane into bunches,” Nicole told H&H.

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“The vet suggested we use a cut-back headpiece for the bridle but that made her even worse. When someone suggested this, we thought they were crazy but actually since we tried it she’s been so much happier. Her ears are forward now instead of back. This is only the third show we’ve used it at, and the first time in a big grass arena, but I’ll be sticking with it now.”

Unsurprisingly, competing without a bridle has caused a lot of interest from her fellow competitors, but Nicole is quick to point out that the gadget wouldn’t work for every horse. She first spotted the idea when Portuguese showjumper Luciana Diniz went bridleless with As-Taro at Olympia in 2010.

“We’ve taken advice from vets and had her head X-rayed but I saw Luciana Diniz use it at Olympia so knew a bit about it,” said Nicole. “Luciana used a normal bridle in the jump-off, however, and I haven’t had to do sharp turns on her yet. I just keep hoping she doesn’t drop the contact. But it’s secured by a [curb] strap under the bit and I was surprised by how safe it felt. Everyone’s been asking about it though!”

Read the full report from the South of England Show in the 18 June issue of Horse & Hound magazine