Friday, September 18, 2009

Trying Something Different

Here is Maisie yesterday posing in our new Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle:

I've been following with interest the work some of our fellow bloggers are doing with their horses in bitless bridles - if you would like, identify yourselves and mention the bitless you're using in the comments so people can look you up. A lot of people seem to find the Dr. Cook's particularly good - I like the way it applies distributed pressure on the poll and cheek as well as the nose. I've used other bitless bridles - there's an English one around with rings on the noseband and of course there are sidepulls and bosals. I'd describe the action of the Dr. Cook's as closest to the sidepull, but I like the addition of the cheek and poll pressure - I'm thinking this might improve the horse's relaxation.

Now I'm not against bits, properly used, and will likely continue to use them. But I also don't believe that a horse can only learn to be soft through the head, neck and whole body by using a bit. Bits are just traditional in certain disciplines, but that doesn't mean that they're inherently better or worse. I've seen beautiful self-carriage and softness in horses that were ridden in sidepulls and bosals, and in horses ridden in bits. All the bit or the bitless is, is a communication device with the horse. A bit, or bitless for that matter - some bitless options can apply painful pressure - used as a control device isn't about softness.

So Maisie and I ground drove a little in the Dr. Cook's - that was just fine. I had somewhat more ability to be subtle with my cues than when ground driving in the halter. Dawn and I also tried it - just by chance, as with the saddle, she and Maisie wear the bridle on the same adjustments. Dawn and I just did a little lateral flexion and softening work in hand - she was very responsive to it. I'm thinking that with Dawn, the bitless may help her to relax and worry less - we'll see.


  1. I too have the Dr. Cook bitless bridle and Gilly really likes it. We use is a lot when we are just riding on the road, just out for a stroll. Gilly likes the change from the bit, I haven't done the work that you do so I can't comment.
    But I think it gives the horse a nice change every so often.

  2. I have a Dr. Cook bitless bridle. I bought it for a certain horse 7 or 8 years ago. He'd been ridden previously with a lot of heavy hardware and I was trying to just take the worry out of his mouth completely.

    It worked fairly well for him but I only did flatwork in it. IMO there just wasn't the level of sublety and precise communication as there is with a bit. I wouldn't hesitate to use it again if I felt the situation called for it but I personally didn't find it the right communication tool for jumping (hopping over little stuff yes) but not say for a jump off over 4' fences or galloping at cross country jumps at 400mpm.

  3. Ooh Keep me posted. I still have not ordered mine, but my barn manager has and she will get it in next week!

  4. Do you think this would be something good to try for a horse that's very chompy? I don't think it's related to discomfort or tension; he's an extremely mouth-oriented horse. He loves to put EVERYTHING in his mouth (the grooming box contents will end up all over the floor if it's within reach!)and he seems to just love to chomp on it, even when he's just standing around with his bridle on. I'm interested to see how this goes for you!

  5. Chiming in! I am a dr cook bitless bridle user as well. And really like it. Ive used it on a few horses over the years and they all did well in it. I currently ride my QH mare Daisy in it, just flatwork and our baby jump. She does well in it.

    I also use it on my 2 year old ground driving. He also does well.

    I'm glad your initial use of it was good! I will be eagerly waiting to hear about the next time you use it!
    What type did you get? Leather, beta?

  6. Grif and I have ridden bitless on and off for ...Oh, about the past 7 years or so. Most of the time it was just to do something different, give my boy a break from having a bit in his mouth.

    As you probably know from reading my blog, I am now attempting to ride Grif almost permanently without a bit.

    I am not against bits at all and I definitely agree that there is a time and a place for them (although I DO feel that some bits are way too harsh and shouldn't exist at all...but I'll save that for another day). I want Grif to go bitless primarily because he is retired from hard work and I really want him to enjoy his golden years. (While I don't feel that horses dislike or even mind wearing bits- I DO think if given the option, most would choose to be bitless....wouldn't you if you were a horse)? I am also pursuing my life-long ambition of riding completely bridless.

    I feel that going bitless is the first step to riding without a bridle, as I will have to work out a way of communicating with my horse without the use of my hands.

    The bridle I am using on Grif right now is called a Nurtural Bridle. I think it's an off-shoot from the Dr. Cook Bridle. It works pretty much the same way, but has a large keeper under the jaw for the straps. A good friend of mine bought the bridle for her horse, but didn't like it much -- so she gave it to me when she found out I wanted to work towards my bridle-less goal.

    The website for the bridle I have is:
    if anyone wants to check it out.

    Grif has had several good rides with it and just recently we had a ride down the road with it (which I hope to post about soon).

    It think it's really great that you and Maise are exploring the bitless option. I wish I had stuck with it myself more consistently when Grif was younger...I might have less work ahead of me now if I had that..LOL

    Good Luck and I wish you many happy, bitless rides together!

  7. I've never actually tried this but I'll be interested to know how it works out.

  8. I too use a Dr. Cooks" Biteless Bridle"-a syntetic one, on and off. I like it for trails mostly, not for the arena...makes bending difficult.
    The only time I will not use it again is when we gallop...she will not respond to it and I hear her snorfing for air.
    Mostly like it alot though...a nice break for the mare~

  9. I'm interested to see how this goes for you, Kate. I've considered trying bitless but I do worry about it not being "enough." Ninety-nine percent of the time I think we'd be fine, but there are times that I worry if Panama panics I won't be able to bring his attention back to me as quickly in a bitless.

  10. I've used the Dr Cook BB and agree with Melissa that communication was a little "fuzzy". It gave me plenty of control (whoa) but the release wasn't as subtle or immediate as using a bit (snaffle). I will continue to use it for an occasional change, or with any teeth issues, and may now try it for line driving (hadn't thought of that).

  11. I ride both my horses in Dr. Cook's bridle and feel much safer than I ever did with a bit. In a "spook" situation I know that I'm not adding pain to whatever spooked my horse, and I can get things back under control much faster, usually within a few strides.

    If the bridle doesn't seem to be working as well as you think it should, you might want to check their online user manual to make sure it's adjusted correctly:

    The fitting instructions are about halfway down the page. Having the noseband too high or too low can make a big difference, and keeping the chinstrap snug is pretty important too.

    I used Dr. Cook's bridle and the Nurtural bridle, and liked Dr. Cook's better. That "keeper" thing on the Nurtural bridle tended to catch on the crossunder straps every now and then and wouldn't allow them to release - not something I would want to happen in a dangerous situation.

  12. Thanks for all the comments - I really appreciate them. I have some more thoughts about the Dr. Cook's but I'll save them for a post in a few days.

  13. Hi Kate - as you already know, I've been riding Sunny in a bitless from Moss Rock Endurance (I think it's pretty similar to the Dr. Cook model, except it's biothane not leather) and he likes it. Hope it works out for you and Maisie!

    One thing I have noticed - when he's very forward (which isn't often, thank goodness!)it's important for me to remember not to hold him back or use a lot of half halts to rate him.

    Too much of that and he starts popping his head, as I think the pressure bothers him. Alternating rein pressure and bending works much better and doesn't trigger the same reaction. But you see the same thing with a bit, too, so not that much different :)


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