image014At 18 I started riding in a hunter/jumper barn and then was drawn into the racing game, where I exercised, trained and actually jockeyed.  I left racing as I started to consider it was abusive. After a break of about 10 years and now in my late 30’s I returned to riding for recreation and started to develop an interest in dressage. I’d often heard from advanced riders that it was all about being in harmony with the horse, yet these same riders used a “gadget” in their horse’s mouth which by design can inflict pain on their mounts.

About two years ago my horse Fetra foundered and this led us to going barefoot.  Removing the steel from our horses’ feet made me question why we put steel in our horses’ mouths.  I determined to go bitless.

The greatest difficulty in making this transition was to get the support of my husband, BSHAI and our trainer Michael, who is Portuguese School.  I had to listen to the inevitable arguments from these two Classical riders, as to why you needed a bit, especially to ride the haute école moves such as the passage.  Finally, I issued it as a challenge to see how far we could advance the horses using the Dr. Cook bitless bridle.

Angelus is rather green, so his feet were all over the place and he tended to go on the forehand.  The first 6 weeks of training has been to get him off his forehand, driving more from behind and going “long and low”.  Michael schools the horse every Monday and Kevin did most of the riding in this first phase of training.  We did see a comment on a web thread where somebody said they didn’t think the bridle released properly.  Here are some comments from Kev…

Also this morning I had a closer look at the “release” question. I placed my fingers between the jaw and the cross straps. Asked Deb to take a contact, hold for a moment and then release. I did the same thing between the straps and the cheek. While the straps don’t go completely slack, there is minimal pressure after the rider releases. I should point out that we do have a PVC (plastic) version of the Dr. Cook bridle that was made about 10 years ago. They no longer make this version. I’ve never used it. I don’t like the material. I think it can be hard on a horse and may not release as well as the fully padded, English leather versions we are using. (This is the most expensive model)

The biggest problem I’ve had with the bridle so far is my own mentality. When I first started riding with it I was still looking for the same feel as a bit. Duh… blink.gif When I stopped “thinking” about it and just rode things became a bit more normal. Obviously techniques like” finger vibrating the rein”s does not work. Over all, I find the bridle sluggish by comparison. I’m finding that to get a similar flexion, where I used to use my fingers, I now flex my wrist.

In turns I can’t find the inside leg to outside hand. The use of my outside hand tends to turn the horses head outwards, however with a slight inside lateral rein, I can get the head position and bend I want. (Michael seems to be doing better and I’d be interested to see what he has to say about the feel)

I don’t seem to have the difficulty using the bridle that Kev and Michael has, or thought they would have.  I believe it is because I’m not as advanced a rider so didn’t get distracted by all these classical theories. Here’s a couple of pics of Angelus and I…


image007Angelus has been becoming lighter and more collected steadily over time.  May arrived and Michael started the lateral work.  He was a bit dubious about how he would go in this phase with the bitless, but it looked pretty good from where we were on the ground. (See pics)

Here’s his comment on the bridle after the first lateral session.

Anyway for the first time he did actually very well. Now about the bitless of course when we rotate around the shoulder it is the quarters we work more so there is not much contact automatically. On the normal work I found he responded better to the aids but the other way around i.e. when he tried to nosedive he would not respond to lifting the outside rein but responded well to lifting the inside rein. On the bent however he would accept nicely the outside rein inside leg. Anyway I just got back and will sleep on this experience and write more about it tomorrow so far it is going better than expected.image017image015