Q&A with Dr. Robert Cook, Creator of the ‘Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle’ (Part 1)
Robert Cook, FRCVS, PhD graduated as a veterinarian in 1952, from the Royal Veterinary College, London UK. Subsequently he earned a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and gained a PhD from Cambridge. Apart from six years in practice and eight years as a senior scientist at the Equine Research Station of the Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, UK, he has been a clinician, teacher and researcher at university schools of veterinary medicine in the UK and USA. He was appointed Professor of Surgery Emeritus of Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 1994. His focus of research is diseases of the mouth, ear, nose and throat of the horse. He became Chairman of BitlessBridle Inc. in 2000.
What led you to develop your bitless bridle?
The crossunder feature of bridle design is one that has been known to a few horsemen for many generations but has never become mainstream. It appears, for example, in the bitted McCleod bridle, patented in 1894. As part of a bitless bridle I have traced its existence back to the 1950s but it is probably much older. George ‘Ink’ Grimsley of Spink Colorado was making a few of these bitless bridles in the 1950s for ‘bulldogging’ friends on the Philadelphia rodeo circuit (Fig. 1). They needed a bridle that prevented their horses’ mouths being damaged by eager riders and they turned to him for help. Leon Manchester of Fairhill, Maryland, who showed me the Grimsley bridle in 2005, was one of ‘Inks’ friends (Fig. 2). These were hand-made bridles – never mass-produced or marketed. Perhaps George Grimsley was a descendant of the family that gave its name to the Grimsley saddle, which would explain his reputation for making bridles. In 1874, the Grimsley saddle was the enlisted man’s saddle in the Mexican War.
In the 1990’s, Allan Buck of Ramona, California attempted to market a bridle that was essentially the same as the Grimsley bridle. In 1997, I was introduced to Buck and his Spirit Bridle by Lady Sigourney Richmond-Darbey, a dressage pupil of his who had read my book “Speed in the Racehorse: the Airflow Factors.” She recognized that my research might provide the evidence Buck needed to persuade the horse-owning public of the benefits of the crossunder design. I liked the bridle and for a couple of years was glad to help Buck promote it. Sadly, for reasons that had nothing to do with the bridle, his venture fell apart. In 1999, to prevent the concept from dying, I modified the design and marketed it myself through a company I already owned.
Some people may find it strange that a retired academic, at 82, should be selling an item of tack but this is simply a continuation of a veterinarian’s work. My research tells me that the bit causes much pain and distress, over 40 diseases, and countless accidents. As a surgeon, I treated one disease at a time but by providing an alternative to the bit I can treat and prevent dis-eases by the score.
Click here for more information on this question.
How does the bitless bridle differ from a hackamore or bosal?
Traditional bitless bridles depend on their ability to cause pain or the threat of pain, whereas the crossunder bitless bridle is virtually incapable of causing pain. It also provides a fully comprehensive method of signaling and is applicable to all disciplines, both Western and English. Being painless and more effective, it is also humane and safer (Figs. 3 & 4).
Fig. 3. The Dr.Cook® bridle. The diagram on the right is a worm’s eye view. The gradation in color shows how the pressure of strap on skin, though never painful, is greatest over the nose, less under the chin and along the cheek, and least of all at the poll. Pressure and release on one rein (thick arrow) nudges across the bridge of the nose and up the opposite side of the head from E to A providing a cue for steering. Intermittent pressure on both reins provides a cue for slow and stop.
‘Hackamore’ is a description used for any bridle the action of which depends on nose rather than mouth pressure. Collectively, they have been referred to as ‘nose bridles.’ But there are actually three categories of such bridles: bosal hackamores, mechanical hackamores, and sidepulls (including rope halters and jumping hackamores).
A summary comment on how the crossunder bitless bridle differs from traditional hackamores is to say that bosal and mechanical hackamores depend on neck-reining for steering. Sidepulls with rigid or thin nosebands, though less painful than a bit, have similar disadvantages to a bit, especially in their limitations as a cue for stopping. For a more detailed response to the question, click here.
Though the question asks for a differentiation of the crossunder bitless bridle from the traditional hackamores, the greatest indication for use of the crossunder is as an alternative to the bit (Fig. 5). Click here for an article on its differentiation from the bit.
And here for why members of the Pony Club and 4H organizations should not be compelled to use a bit.
And here are two more documents explaining why the crossunder bitless bridle would be good for racing:
For more information about Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle, see his website.