Bitless Dressage: How to Fit the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle

I consistently receive emails from riders interested in trying the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. One of the most popular questions is how to properly fit the bridle. I wanted to make a how-to video for you with my horse Douwe but it is just TOO cold here in Maine! I did find this wonderful video made by Cathie Hatrick-Anderson, another bitless bridle instructor with many years experience using the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. She did an excellent job explaining how to adjust the bridle and I have also included information from the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle website.

"The Bitless Bridle's action depends on leverage applied from a firmly positioned 'O' ring on the cavesson noseband." -Bitless Bridle website

Common Mistakes:

  • The most common mistake in fitting is failure to place the noseband low enough.  If the Bitless Bridle's noseband is at the same level that is used for a bitted bridle, it is far too high. The bottom edge of the noseband should be not more than 1.5" or 2" (for a small or large horse respectively) from the corner of the horse's mouth.
  • The second most common mistake is failure to cinch up the chinstrap sufficiently. Once the level is correct, now cinch up the chinstrap so that only one FLAT finger can be inserted between the back of the jaw and the chinstrap. The noseband should not slide far up the face when tension is applied to the reins. If it does, leverage will be lost and the rider may have to work harder than necessary to communicate. Also, during prolonged use (during an endurance ride for example), a sore place could be rubbed on the side of the horse's face.
  • To help keep the noseband snug but also comfortable I use a sheepskin cover or a foam piece under the noseband buckle.  The leather bridle has a nice tab that covers the buckle but on the Beta the buckle is exposed to the horse so I like to put some padding there, it also helps to keep it snug without making it uncomfortable for the horse. You can use a Cashel cusion (they sell one on the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle website) or any chin pad that is meant for a regular bridle.

Before mounting, always check that you have not inadvertently trapped one or more of the crossover straps UNDER the chinstrap. 

I started riding Douwe with the bitless bridle quite low, it almost looked like a drop noseband. But over the past two years I have been able to bring it up a little higher and keep the noseband slightly looser. If you have a really sensitive horse that is light in the hand you can keep the noseband a little looser (just one hole) than a stiffer, heavy horse. Just keep an eye on the cheekpieces, if they are bowing out too much then the noseband is probably too loose.

If you have any other questions please post a comment down below or send them to my email: beginthedance@gmail.com

Here is a video of me riding Rovandio in the Dr. Cook English Padded Leather Bitless Bridle. You can see me put on the bridle in the very beginning. Rovandio is very sensitive so I don't need to have it very low on him.

If you are interested in purchasing a Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle you can visit the Training Tools section of my online shop. I have been carrying their Beta and Leather English Bridles for a few years now and have many happy customers! Click here to visit the product page.

2014 Equine Affaire in Massachusetts

I am so pleased to report that both Douwe and Rovandio did AWESOME in their demos this year! I also had my own booth and was so thankful to have the BEST helpers during the event that not only made everything go smoothly but we had a BLAST, lots of laughs and memories! So here is a daily run through of what we did at the Equine Affaire 2014!

Thursday: Demo at the Youth Pavilion
I schooled both horses in the morning and was really happy that Rovandio had settled in okay and was eating and drinking a lot. This was his first time to the Equine Affaire and only his second time being away from home overnight. Both horses were energetic when I exercised them. Later in the day, Douwe was the featured horse in the Friesian breed spotlight in the Youth Pavilion. He performed many of his tricks including smile, Spanish walk, rear, and standing on the pedestal. He was wonderful! What a ham! Both horses were in the Breed Pavilion to represent the IALHA Booth (International Andalusian Lusitano Horse Assoc.) and the IFSHA (International Friesian Show Horse Assoc.) Booth. Rovy was very tired and mostly just chilled out in the stall but Douwe was a big HAM and smiled for the passing crowds for over two hours! He loved it! Click on a photo for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Friday: the Andalusian Demo
Today was the big day for Rovandio! We had a four-minute time spot in the Andalusian Breed Demo all to ourselves. Originally we were supposed to perform with my friend Lydia who usually dances with us. I thought that would give Rovy more confidence in front of the audience and be more exciting with the veils and dancer. Unfortunately Lydia found out she couldn't make it only days before we left! So I changed songs and made up a simple routine to the song "Sway" from the movie Shall We Dance. I have always loved that song and it matched the Spanish-themed costume I had for Rovy. I tried really hard to get into the Mallory building in the off-hours to let Rovy look at the arena but the schedule was tight and it didn't work out. But, he went into that unfamiliar ring with the big crowd all by himself and was excellent! I was so happy with him and we had a lot of fun performing. We had so many wonderful comments from people about how we were really dancing together and how awesome it was to see a dressage horse being ridden bitless. We were riding in the Beta Bridle by Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle, who generously helped sponsor me at the Equine Affaire. Click on a photo for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Saturday: the Friesian Demo
Douwe's big day! The Friesian Demo! I decided to use our pedestal as a way to help keep him focused if the audience made him nervous. It worked really well because when we first trotted around the arena he was tense and strong. After I had him step onto the pedestal he seemed to be more focused on me and his tricks rather than on spooking at the audience. He was expressive in his Spanish walk, reared a few times, and then I hopped off so that I could ask for the lay down. I am SO happy with him and how he performed throughout the event. Thank you Elisha Harvey for taking a video clip of the demo for me! Click on a photo below for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Thank you to my sponsors!
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle
They have supported me ever since I started riding Douwe and Rovandio in their bitless bridles. I have used their Beta bridles and the Padded English Leather bridles on both horses and like them both for different reasons. The Beta is easy to clean and is soft right out of the box. The leather bridle is awesome once the high-quality leather breaks in and has a lovely shine. I sell these bridles on my website in the TRAINING section. Click here to see the bridles.

El Sueno Espanol
Lisa Oberman has made two gorgeous bridle & breastcollar sets for me that I have used in two films that my horse has been in, one called Essential Realism and the other Falcyyr. You can read about these films in the Film & TV category on my blog. She is able to make custom bridles for me so I can keep riding them bitless in films and performances. She posts some gorgeous spanish saddles and tack on her Facebook page, click here to follow her.

Aanstadt-Das Deerskin Breeches
I have worn Sonya's deerskin breeches for many years and she recently made a custom pair for the film I am acting in called Falcyyr. To see photos of those breeches click here. I also wore a black pair of full seat deerskin leather breeches in my demos at the Equine Affaire. You can't really see them in most of the photos because I have big skirts on but the breeches kept me comfortable in the saddle. Click here to check out their website.

Thank you to my friends & family at the Equine Affaire!
Without the help of my friends/grooms Elisha Harvey, Sue French and Hannah French I think I would have gone crazy! There was so much to do with a booth and two horses at the event. Elisha does an excellent job trailering my horses to special events and she is also a dressage trainer and does cowboy mounted shooting at her stable Elysium Sport Ponies. Sue French operates Lincoln Pony Pals, lesson barn in Lincoln, ME and her daughter Hannah is an excellent rider and trainer. Having experienced help is so important! I am also very lucky that my mother Peggy and my mother-in-law Bethanne were able to come for the weekend. They helped sell products in my booth and Bethanne had a great time watching her horse Rovandio be in his first big demo at the Equine Affaire! And a big THANK YOU to Danielle Barrasso for letting me stable Douwe and Rovy in her aisle in the C-Barn. She also organized the Friesian Demo and helps me a lot at the event. Thank you to Brenda Hammer for organizing the IALHA booth and I had a great time chatting with her when Rovy was in the breed pavilion. Overall the event was a huge success and I had a great time!