The Five F'S


'Aversion to the bit' has been generally understood to be an occasional problem manifested by about half a dozen different signs. But in the last few years, Dr. Cook's research has shown that the bit is the cause of over a hundred behavioral problems. Each one of these problems has been repeatedly solved by removing the bit and using the Bitless Bridle. The bridle's very effectiveness, however, brings with it a dilemma when it comes to providing information about the bridle. Anyone who describes the many problems solved or the huge number of benefits gained from using the bridle runs the risk of sounding like a snake-oil salesman, as the list is so long and - to most horsemen - so surprising. Nevertheless, many users have volunteered comments such as "All the benefits you describe are present." So - confident that we are not guilty of false advertising, let us proceed.


A bit frightens a horse. It causes pain or the fear of pain. Fear is expressed by one or more of the five F's; fright, flight, fight, freeze or facial neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome). Each one of these main categories has its own list of symptoms (see below). Collectively, there are over a hundred symptoms and they interfere with just about every bodily system. Interference with those systems that are vital to athletic performance (the nervous, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular systems) means that the horse is not only in pain and feeling mentally distressed but is additionally handicapped as an athlete. For example, the presence of a bit in the mouth leads to obstruction of the airway in the throat. As striding is synchronized with breathing and as normal striding depends on normal breathing, anything that interferes with breathing also interferes with striding. A horse that is unable to breathe and stride properly cannot run and jump to its full potential. A horse that is in pain and mentally distressed cannot learn in the first instance and neither can it perform with confidence and safety.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS THAT THE BITLESS BRIDLE HAS SOLVED or, to put it a different way, here are some of the distresses, discomforts, uneases and dis-eases that removal of the the bit has banished:

Fright: Difficult to catch in the paddock; unfriendly in the stable; resistant to being bridled and unbridled; difficult to mount. At exercise, anxious, unpredictable, "hot," nervous, or 'highly-strung'; fearful, shy, spooky, and inclined to panic; tense and stressed; sweats excessively; unfocussed on the job in hand; a restless eye or shows the white of its eye; slow to learn or complete lack of orogress with training

Flight: Difficult to slow or stop; running through the bit and bolting; puts the bit between its teeth and deprives the rider of control; jigging, prancing, rushing; fidgeting when at rest and when on the move; hair-trigger response to the hand aids; runs wild on the lunge rein

Fight: Bucking; rearing; spinning; aggressive, argumentative, confrontational, resistant, bossy, cranky, surly, resentful, adversarial, and angry; hard-mouthed heavy on the forehand and a 'puller'; difficult to steer in one or both directions; refusal to rein back; pig rooting, yawing, and crossing the jaws; reluctance to maintain canter; stiff-necked; refusal to lead on the correct leg

Freeze: These are responses to pain or fear that, for evolutionary reasons, are particularly likely to occur in donkeys and mules, but they also occur in horses. For example, refusal to leave the herd; refusal to go forward (napping); backing-up; lack of courage and confidence, including random, last-minute refusal at jumps; lack of hind-end impulsion; and a tendency to develop muscle cramps (tying-up, azoturia, exertional rhabdomyolysis)

Facial Neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome): At exercise an open mouth; head tossing or 'flipping the nose'; above the bit and 'star-gazing'; behind the bit and overbent; rubbing muzzle or face on foreleg; striking at muzzle with foreleg; rapid and sometimes noisy blinking; hypersensitive to bright light, wind or rain; sneezing and snorting; grazing on the fly; attempts to bite horses alongside, grabs the shank of the bit or the rider's boots; watery eyes and nasal discharge; grinds teeth; tilts head; twitching of the cheek muscles. At rest may exhibit a general head shyness or be difficult to handle specifically around the mouth or ears; difficult to clip or hose around the head; When being led in hand after exercise, rubs its head vigorously against the handler.

General unhappiness: Lack of finesse in control; lazy, dull, and subdued (i.e. phlegmatically resigned to chronic pain); "ring sour"; a slow walker; tires prematurely; ears pinned at exercise; heads for the stable at every opportunity; tail swishing

Breathing difficulties (asphyxia and suffocation): Excessive poll flexion; retracts its tongue behind the bit, 'swallows its tongue' (elevation and dorsal displacement of the soft palate); thick-winded or an obvious 'roarer'; gurgling or choking-up; tongue over the bit; epiglottal entrapment; collapse and deformity of the windpipe ('scabbard' trachea); asphyxia-induced pulmonary edema ("bleeding" or exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage); coughing at exercise; small airway disease (bronchitis, bronchiolitis, or recurrent airway disease)

Interference with stride, gait, and motion: Tense neck; stiff or choppy stride; short stride; incoordination (sometimes diagnose as equine protozoal myelitis or EPM); stumbling; heavy on the forehand; 'interfering' or 'forging' (striking foreleg with hind hoof); inverted frame (high head carriage, hollow back); toe scuffing; refusal to maintain canter; false collection; lack of self-carriage. Shortage of oxygen (asphyxia) initiates a cascade of events that are particularly likely to occur in racehorses but are by no means limited to this sport. One event leads to another. For example, premature fatigue leads to false steps; false steps lead to breakdowns; fatigue and loss of muscle tone leads to chip fractures, damaged joints and strained tendons; Fatigue also leads to falls, falls to major long bone fractures, and these to unavoidable euthanasia.

Mouth and dental problems: Fractured jaws (from falls or other bit-induced accidents accidents); star fractures of the bars of the mouth leading to the shedding of dead bone (rare); bone spur formation on the bars of the mouth (common); severe erosion of the first cheek tooth in the lower jaw (common) as the result pf a horse defending itself by gripping the bit between its teeth (common); erosion of the second and third cheek teeth from the same cause (slightly less common); premature loss of the foregoing cheek teeth from the same cause; sore mouth; cut lips; lacerated or amputated tongue; lip sarcoids; sharp enamel edges on cheek teeth in the upper jaw, leading to cheek ulcers; the same on the lower jaw leading to laceration of the side of the tongue; loss of appetite; reluctance to drink on trail rides, leading to dehydration; tongue lolling at exercise.

Effect on the rider:

Use of a bit or bits makes riding unnecessarily difficult, disappointing and dangerous. Because riders are often unaware of the cause of these problems and, therefore, do not know how to treat them, they become discouraged in a number of different ways. They may, for example:

Become convinced that they simply do not have the skills to become good riders. Instead of blaming their tools (the bits), which they should, they develop:
A sense of frustration with their apparent inability to master the art of equitation, or
A burgeoning annoyance bordering on anger with the horse, or
An increasing reluctance to exercise the horse on a regular basis and the generation of displacement activities (excuses), or
They despair of ever achieving that harmony between horse and rider that is the pinnacle of equitation, or
They cease to get pleasure from riding, or
They lose confidence, become afraid of riding, and consider giving it up altogether, or
They decide to sell a horse that appears to have incurable problems and buy another, or
They experience economic embarrassment from doomed attempts to overcome problems by means other than removal of the cause (the only logical approach to treatment), or
They suffer personal injury (anything from a fractured collar bone to sudden death)


POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE BITLESS BRIDLE. This new approach to equitation enables you to avoid the above and permits you to be kinder to your horse; improve your horse's welfare and its mental and physical balance; avoid confusing your horse by expecting it to eat and exercise simultaneously (the effect of using a bit); have better "brakes" (bits induce bolting); enjoy smoother transitions; lengthen your horse's stride and, therefore, increase its speed; have less fidgeting; a much calmer, more relaxed horse and one that listens better to the aids; reduce the stress of exercise for you and your horse; dispense with tongue-ties and dropped nosebands; enables your horse to get more oxygen and generate more spirit, vigor and stamina; make faster progress with training; obtain better performance; improve your own safety and that of your horse; communicate more effectively and in a manner more acceptable to your horse; avoid so much lathering-up, foaming at the mouth and slobbering; allow your horse to develop a more graceful action, with a more rounded outline and better engagement; reduce the likelihood of lameness and breakdowns (from lack of oxygen, fatigue and heaviness on the forehand); reduce the likelihood of bleeding from the lungs and sudden death at exercise (caused by upper airway obstruction; put a novice on a fully-trained horse without fearing that its mouth may be damaged, and so enable a trained horse to teach an untrained rider; establish a better partnership; obtain more cooperation and have a happier horse.

Website Content and Material by Dr. Robert Cook F.R.C.V.S., Ph.D. Copyright © 2000 - 2017 The Bitless Bridle, Inc..