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.

Bareback Dressage, Safety Tips To Get Started and My Top Bareback Pad Choices

I have many people ask me how they can start to incorporate bareback riding into their dressage work. I wanted to share some of my advice for getting started, including safety tips and also bareback pads to try.

Before You Begin:

How Is Your Balance?
Before you try riding bareback you should be able to comfortably, and confidently, ride in a saddle without reins or stirrups at the walk, trot and canter! Do you have independent balance from the reins? [To learn more, CLICK HERE]. If you ever catch your balance with the reins, it is not a good idea to try riding bareback. [To learn how to improve your riding position, CLICK HERE].

Does your horse have a good "WHOA"?
If you have a horse that is hard to stop, rushes, or is resistant or disobedient, I do not recommend riding bareback. Make sure to refresh your horse's response to your "whoa", on the lunge line or on the ground, before you ride bareback.

Has your horse been ridden bareback before?
Some horses have sensitive backs and may react the first time they are ridden bareback. Do not assume that your horse will behave the same as he does with a saddle. Have an experienced rider test out your horse if this is your first time. You may also want a person on the ground to hold your horse when you mount and to lead him.

Things You Might Need:

  • Full Seat Breeches: I recommend wearing full seat breeches to help you "stick". Horsehair can be slippery so you may feel more secure wearing full seat breeches. I love wearing deerskin breeches because the material breathes with the horse and provides stick without being too tacky. Check out Aanstadt-Das Breeches for an awesome selection of full seat deerskin breeches.
  • Mounting block: Unless you are super flexible and have the ability to leap onto the horse from the ground, then you will need a mounting block. Try a three-step for extra height. You need to have good balance and confidence to mount a horse bareback.
  • A helper. Make sure you have someone with you to hold the horse when you first get on. They could even lead you around at the walk to see how it feels and to help keep the horse relaxed and slow.
  • Enclosed riding area. PLEASE do not attempt riding bareback for the first time in an open field or arena with no walls. The best place to start is in a small indoor arena or a round pen, with all the gates closed.
  • A bareback pad. A good bareback pad helps with padding and "stick". The horse's withers can be uncomfortable unless the horse has a very round barrel. Having a bareback pad can help with horses that have pronounced withers. Usually the material on the underside has some stick to it, like a synthetic rubber. Be careful with the all fleece pads because they may slide around on a well-groomed horse. Do not use a bareback pad that has stirrups! The tree of a saddle distributes the stirrup pressure and without it you will be placing all of your weight into one spot on the horse's back.

Here are some great bareback pads:

ThinLine Bareback Pad:

I currently use the ThinLine bareback pad. It offers padding and has a rubbery material on the underside of the pad and the girth to keep it from sliding. It is simple and elegant. I have been using this pad for my Art on Horseback with Rovandio and in recent performances. There are a few places online that you can purchase this bareback pad. In my opinion, it is a great pad for people to get started with at a decent price. 

 

 

Sheepskin Bareback Pads:
You will find top-of-the-line sheepskin bareback pads online at HorseDream.co.uk. They have a variety of colors and sizes, including this beautiful Iberian style pad. They are in a much higher price range and I have not ridden in one yet but I would love to try one in the future. If anyone else tries them I would love to get your feedback. Just leave a comment below or send me an email at beginthedance@gmail.com.
 

Now What?

Now, get out there and ride! Once you have a good bareback pad and all the other suggested items, it's time to give it a try! Riding bareback will help improve your balance and reveal weaknesses in your riding that can be hidden by the saddle. I love to feel the horse's back muscles and check that I am sitting evenly on my seat bones. The horse's spine will help you feel whether you sit centered or not. Be sure to stay aware of whether your horse is enjoying the bareback experience, or not. You will feel the incredible sensitivity of the horse and the amazing connection you can have without the saddle. Even if you just practice at the walk, try lateral work and transitions. Feel how you can transition your horse from your seat and have the horse follow your weight in turns and circles. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or email me at beginthedance@gmail.com. Be safe and have fun!

Hide your helmet hair, protect yourself from the sun, AND make a statement all at the same time! Let everyone know that you love horses and believe that riding is a dance.