Q&A with Dr. Robert Cook, Creator of ‘Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle’ (Part 3)

HR mug shot with CarlosRobert 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.

This post is the final segment of my Q&A session with Dr. Cook.  To read the entire interview, see Parts 1 & 2 as well.

Do most horses need an adjustment period when switching from traditional bridle with a bit to the bitless bridle?

No.Horses make the adjustment easily, quickly and with obvious relief. A few riders may take five minutes longer but most riders are entirely happy on day one about their bitless maiden voyage. After a week they will often vow to never use a bit again.


Will the bitless bridle work for any riding discipline? Is it better-suited for certain disciplines?

On the evidence of welfare, safety and effectiveness, the bitless bridle ‘works’ for every discipline, including driving. It cannot currently be used for some disciplines in competition but this is because administrator’s rules have not yet been updated in the light of published research. I presume that, after 15 years, they have heard of the bridle, seen it work and consulted their advisors. Being responsible for the safety of both horse and rider I imagine that they will also have read the primary source literature. Yet only the Dutch national federation has taken steps to give the new bridle a trial.

In 2009, the United States Equestrian Federation rejected a rule change proposal filed by a member to allow the crossunder bitless bridle for dressage. Subsequently, at the USDF Convention 2009, Hilda Gurney talked about an experiment she did using a regular bridle and the crossunder bitless bridle on several of her horses. She found that they went ‘no differently’ in the bitless bridle and encouraged everyone to be open minded in the discussion about whether they should be legal to use when showing. Sadly, four years later there has been no word from the USDF or the USEF of any movement on this topic.

HR X-ray curb

Fig 12. The double bridle, mandated by the FEI for upper level dressage

Sport horse organizations and racing jurisdiction worldwide are ‘big ships’ and need time to change direction. Yet these organizations do change their rules on an annual basis, so I have to wonder why there is this delay in introducing a simple rule that could so advance welfare and safety. Science too has its rules. They are not written down but this is how science works. Hypotheses and research results based on observation or experiment are submitted to peer-reviewed journals and, if accepted are published. Other researchers can repeat the experiments or bring forward their own observations and hypotheses. If they have the evidence, they will subsequently publish a refutation. The original authors may publish a response or other researchers will enter the field with additional evidence to support or refute. In this way, a dialogue takes place and the topic is on the table for discussion. After a period of time, if the original hypothesis and results cannot be refuted, the hypothesis is accepted at the present state of knowledge and provides a foundation for action.

Since my first peer-reviewed article in 1999, indicting the bit, I have published many more both in peer-reviewed and other journals. None of these articles have been refuted yet ample time has passed. It is my contention that members of committees who have the responsibility to oversee rule changes should themselves either file rule changes to approve the crossunder bitless bridle for dressage and other disciplines or publish their reasons for not doing so. At the very least, a dialogue should be taking place.

The FEI mandate use of the bit for dressage and some other disciplines and have done for nearly a century (Fig. 12). This would be regrettable enough if the inhumanity was confined to FEI competitions. Unfortunately, FEI rules are widely adopted by national federations and followed by Pony Clubs and 4H organizations. The result is that unskilled adults and youngsters who wish to compete are obliged to use a Bronze Age signal that is harmful, dangerous and, in many countries, illegal.

Click here for more on the legal and ethical aspects of inflicting avoidable pain.

To read my article, “New tool benefit denied by an old rule: Rider/horse safety trumped by tradition” click here.

The current crisis in USA racing over the debate as to whether or not the continued use of Salix on race day should be permitted can be settled by acknowledging the correct answer to the question, ‘What causes ‘bleeding’?’ As the evidence points overwhelmingly to bit-induced asphyxia, a simple rule change to permit the crossunder bitless bridle is all that is required. The same approach is recommended to racing jurisdictions worldwide. Removal of the bit would do much to prevent catastrophic accidents on the racetrack, reduce wastage and improve the image of the sport. To read my article,“Bitted mouths cause waterlogged &‘bleeding’ lungs: Racehorses need management, not medication” click here.

For another article about “The Pain-free harness horse: Promoting performance by demoting the bit” click here.


For more information about Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle, visit his website.


Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. November 19, 2013

    […] To read Part 3 of my interview with Dr. Cook, click here. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *