Friday, September 10, 2010

Apologies to Dr. Cook

Today, Dawn and I tried out some modifications to our Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle, with a view towards improving our turns and also making it possible to have a softer contact. The part of the Dr. Cook's that I thought was giving us some trouble was the two straps that cross under the jaw to which the reins were attached. I think Dawn didn't like the poll pressure created by rein pressure through these straps, and I think she found the under the jaw pressure confusing whenever I used a direct rein. I think she also found the noseband a bit "sharp" in its action and was tending to duck and curl up.

So we modified the bridle in the following ways. I put a sheepskin over the nose, to cut down the feel of this - sometimes going with less is better than more. I took the reins off the rings attached to the crossover straps and simply tied the rings together with a bit of twine under her jaw, effectively inactivating this part of the bridle - the straps just became a glorified throatlatch. I then attached the reins directly to the rings on the side of the noseband. Here's how this all looked:

I did end up attaching the reins above and behind the "deactivated" straps (as opposed to in front of them), so as to get a better rein angle. We did a bit of in-hand work to check that all was well, and then I got on and we went to work. After we did some walk work, we moved up to trot, and our wonderful p.m. barn lady was kind enough to take some pictures.

We had lots of fun with our cones and figures:

And we got some moments of pretty nice softness, and I think my position bareback is better than it is with the saddle (ignore the dorky socks peeking through):

In this picture it's possible to see that the right cheekpiece is bowing out - this means I either need to tighten the noseband a bit so the nose part sits a bit lower on her face, or I need to shorten the cheek piece - I did shorten the one on the left and should have done the one on the right as well.

We may try a direct action sidepull like this one, or perhaps this one. Her turning is still a bit stiff, particularly to the right, but some of that may improve when she has a chiro treatment on Sunday - she's got to have some issues in her neck due to running into the fence full tilt last week. I'm also going to play with the Dr. Cook's some more and see if I can remove the straps with rings altogether and turn them into a true throatlatch - this will allow the reins more room to attach correctly to the rings on the noseband.

So far, our experiment with bitless and bareback is going very well, and I'd say that Dawn looks like a pretty happy horse:


  1. I really think there is a lot to be said for a regular old bosal and a horse hair macate (hackamore). It's the kind of equipment that's been in use by some of the best horseman in the US for many, many years. (These are guys who trust their horses enough to rope bears, think about that). My husband has already put my colt Hooch into one of the thicker beginning ones. The horse loves it and is more responsive than with the snaffle he was in for his first 60 rides. I don't quite understand the mechanics of it but they hold their heads better, more balanced and ready.

  2. Me again : ) I just wanted to ad, you sure sit your horse nice.

  3. Yep...great photographs and position. I have a Dr. Cook too...good ideas for modifying it. Isn't it nice to have a horse that needs so little on her face..happy indeed. Did you ever ride with a neck rope? With the right horse, it can be pretty amazing.

  4. She looks great Kate! You should wear socks like I do.. up to my knees and either hot pink with stars, or yellow with red horses...

    I'm at a strictly trail riding western barn now, so I when I show up in breeches with high socks they stop and stare.


  5. Here's one that similar to the halter I have - which you can just clip reins to.

    I like the location of the rings because you can give a little head lowering direction too.

    Dawn looks so different in these pictures! Her eye is softer, it seems to me.

  6. You looks great on Dawn barback.Stuck like glue! I am quite enjoying reading about the bitless bridles ,I have seen a few bloggers talking about them .The only "bitless I had seem before were mechanical hackamore or a Bosal.Bosal , is the way my Uncle always trained , and i know only that if you know your stuff it makes for a great easy to handle horse and if you don't ... don't do it you could wind up with a horse in your lap

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  8. As I was reading I was going to suggest a "side-pull" or one of the "English hackamores" , but you beat me to it.
    I've always liked working with a bosal style hackamore (hate the mechanical ones).
    A regular rawhide bosal works some from the weight and harshness of the rawhide across their noses. I prefer my softer bosal (not sure if it's truly kangaroo hide, or just a latigo facsimile). The other point of pressure is under the jaw, much like a curb strap. This is what encourages a bend at the poll, but it can easily be overdone. I have never had any formal training, but there is definitely a knack to using it right, without being abusive.
    Kate responds well to it, but on thin-skinned Maddie I also added a fleece noseband cover (and finally just stopped using it, as it was rubbing her jaw).

  9. I think maybe the poll pressure was what bothered Tucker with the Dr. Cook I have. Somewhere in my tack collection I used to have a jumping hackamore. Wonder how that would work?

    Your seat does look good bareback. The saddles you've been using--at least prior to the dressage saddle--may not be letting you sit as balanced as you are here.

    Dawn seems to be enjoying the ride. She looks relaxed and soft for you.

  10. Good work Kate, you look well balanced bareback and your leg hangs better than with in a saddle :-)
    Dawn looks as if she is almost backing off the bridle, holding her head a little fixed but with some tweaks to the bridle it looks like a winner.

  11. trudi - yeah, she's still somewhat braced - we'll see if the chiro makes a difference.

  12. Bar loves his Dr. Cook's bitless, though we have had some of the same issues with the criss-cross under the jaw. Hmm. His head position is always better using it (or just his halter) than with the bit--even just a snaffle.

    I think sometimes the bit just gives him something to argue with and/or distract himself from the work. I do notice it is not such an issue on the trail, which would make sense.

    Of course people cannot believe I ride him without a bit or bareback, but I do. We mostly just walk, though. His spine and my tailbone are a bad combination. :)

  13. Nice! It's interesting that you think you ride better bareback. I ride better without stirrups than with. I wonder if that means our saddles aren't perfect for us. Hmm.

  14. Very creative with the bridle. I agree with the first post by CCC, except we call them jaquimas and they're a little bit different than the macates. You can take a look at them at under Bridles and Headstalls. They're the ones with the pisadors (convenient leadropes) attached to them. They're made out of super soft rawhide, if softness is the issue. You can also buy different interchangeable nose bands or chin bands based on what you'd like to use. They also have rings for attaching two sets of reins, if you ever needed to.
    Just some food for thought. =] Hope Dawn's chiropractic appointment goes well!

  15. Sounds like you modified it to act like a Micklem bridle. When I was googling it to give you the link below, I found a review of the Micklem by Dr. Cook himself that was less than favorable, but they are competitors, so I'd say take it with a grain of salt. We have a Micklem bridle at my farm and use it on a few horses that really seem to enjoy it. What I like is that you can use the bridle in many different ways, with a bit, without a bit, like a side pull, or with poll pressure. Might be worth looking into for Dawn.

  16. I love how soft and relaxed she is in these pictures. You make a great pair!

  17. I personally think you and Dawn look really great in these photos. I wanted to say that before with your other bareback photos - you sit so well bareback. You said before that you rode bareback for years - it shows! As far as the Dr. Cook's - I like it ok - I still want to order the Nurtural and try that too. I forget to order it when I get home from the barn so that must mean that the Dr. Cook's is working ok for us. I don't love it - I would rather have nothing! Our cheekpiece bows out on Sovey all the time, but not on Pie. No end of adjustments help for some reason. I just thought it was the way Sovey's head was made! Dawn does look happy to me!

  18. Another vote for the Micklem. Keil Bay hated the Dr. Cook but he is just fine with the Micklem, which I have set up as a sidepull.

    I agree with everyone that your seat is very nice bareback - in some of the photos with the close contact saddle I have wanted to ask if you ever thought of lowering your stirrups a notch or two. I think when your leg can hang lower it fixes the stiffness in the ankles/shoulders/upper back.

    I like that sheepskin noseband!

  19. You both look happy and calm! Yea on bitless and bareback fun :)

  20. I used to love riding bareback on Baby Doll. My body was much looser and when I dismounted, I felt all stretched out and relaxed over my entire body. You have a great seat, by the way.

    Baby Doll's Dr. Cook's also bowed out on the sides sometimes. I also felt there was too much pressure under the jaw, poll and especially on her nose. I think she tended to rest into the bridle, though, but she would end up with indentations on her nose.
    Your modifications look like they help with those problems.
    She loved the Dr. Cook's though and was much more relaxed. When I was preparing to sell her, the new owners tried her in a bit first and we're dissapointed that she acted so upset about it, tossing her head, mouthing, cowhopping, grinding her teeth, etc. But they were happily surprised to see how well she went in her Dr Cook's and how soft she was. They were planing on buying her one when they got her home.
    I still have my Dr. Cook's and would like to try it on Apache one day....


  21. I just got my Buckaroo leather sidepull! I'll be posting pictures of it this week.


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