Of all the bitless solutions out there, this bridle is probably the best known. The Dr. Cook’s bridle is a cross under solutions: in addition to the normal cavesson, there are two straps that cross under the horse’s jaw and are then run through two rings on the noseband. The reins attach to these straps. Other bridles that use this configuration are the Nurtural bridle (which I haven’t tried) and the Micklem Multibridle (see my review).
The Dr. Cook’s bridle controls the horse primarily through poll pressure. When you put pressure on one – or both – reins, there is also a squeeze (or hug, as they define it) to the entire head, but the most pressure is applied to the poll. When the pressure on the reins is lessoned, the pressure on the horse’s head is reduced/released.
Herein lies the rub: if your horse does not respond to poll pressure. This is not the bridle for you. Lots of horses don’t seem to be bothered by the pressure. I’ve met many people who love this bridle and whose horses worked well in it from day one. My horse does not like poll pressure one bit. His reaction to the bridle was to get very light in front at the slightest pressure and to half-rear when any more pressure was applied.
I did give this bridle a chance. I rode in it repeatedly and he was fine provided I never took any contact. I had bought a nylon version of the bridle to try and at first, I suspected that this might be the problem, that the nylon didn’t release quickly enough so that the pressure was prolonged beyond my initial contact. This particular horse does not like to feel trapped. However, I borrowed a leather version of the bridle and had the same response. I really like to ride my horse with contact — in my other bitless bridles I am able to get him to reach into the bridle, maintain a steady contact and swing through the back. It’s not that I don’t know how to ride him in this way, I simply could never get him to take contact in the Dr. Cook’s bridle.
Since trying the bridle, I’ve read about horses that are very sensitive to poll pressure and suspect I just have one of them. In fact, there are a growing number of bridle manufacturers that are selling “comfort” bridles with extra padding over the poll specifically marketed to horses like mine.
I think the signal from the Dr. Cook’s bridle is just very direct. If you read my review of the Micklem Multibridle, you’ll see that one of the configurations that it offers is a cross-under. The difference there is that the strap over the poll is placed on top of the cavesson, thereby mitigating the pressure. If you want a bridle that uses this method of control but your horse shows a lot of poll sensitivity, that bridle might be a good solution for you.
One thing I don’t necessarily buy into is the hype that goes with this bridle. I have been riding bitless now for several years and it has been a much better solution for my horse. But I don’t necessarily think that putting a bit in your horse’s mouth is inherently wrong or that it’s necessarily harsh or inhumane. Some horses just prefer a bitted bridle. I’ve tried several different bitless solutions, as well as a hackamore on my TB. He goes much, much better in a simple loose ring snaffle. He’s happier, he’s more relaxed and he’s easily controlled. In the end, it is the hands of the rider that makes the solution soft or harsh, not necessarily the bit.