Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If your question is not answered here, you may wish to browse the Feedback from UK users, or the hundreds of User's Comments on the main Bitless Bridle (USA) web site for further information. Alternatively, please contact us with your question(s).

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Questions about: The Bitless Bridle | Shopping, Shipping & Delivery

Q. How does The Bitless Bridle™ work? (including information on steering and stopping)

Q. Is there a diagram of the horse's skull showing correct placement of the noseband of The Bitless Bridle?

Q. Does the Dr Cook Bitless Bridle offer release?

Q. I have lost my BitlessBridle User Manual - can I download it?

Q. How much control do I have without a bit?

Q. Can I use a martingale with a BitlessBridle?

Q. What about competing? Do I have to use a bit?

Q. How do I transition from bitless to a bit for competition?

Q. ACCEPTANCE OF THE BIT or COLLECTION? - My trainer tells me that one of the fundamentals of dressage is 'acceptance of the bit.' If this is the case, how is it possible, even if the rules were changed, to use the Bitless Bridle for this discipline?

Q. Are there any tips as to what to bear in mind when I transfer from a bitted bridle to The Bitless Bridle™?

Q. How do I achieve collection and poll flexion using The Bitless Bridle™?

Q. Can The Bitless Bridle™ be used for Driving?

Q. I want to buy a Driving Bitless Bridle - is it possible to remove the blinkers so I can use the same bridle for riding?

Q. What is meant by the term "ironfree horse"?

Q. What about insurance when using a Bitless Bridle?

Q. My horse is trained to neck-rein; how does the Bitless Bridle work with neck-reining?

Q. I have a draught beta bridle & would like to upgrade to leather - how do I go about this?


Shopping, Shipping & Delivery questions

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Q. Help, my order has gone through twice!

Q. How much will it cost to ship to my country?

Q. What are your delivery charges?

Q. I live in the Channel Islands - will I be charged VAT?

Q. Do you ship to Europe / worldwide?

Q. Your prices seem higher than the converted US Dollar prices - why is this?













Q. How does The Bitless Bridle™ work?

A. Steering with The Bitless Bridle™

Diagram illustrating how the Bitless Bridle worksPressure on one rein (yellow arrow) pushes painlessly but persuasively on the opposite half of the head (red arrows). Horses respond better to being pushed painlessly with the Bitless Bridle™ (over a large surface area) than being pulled painfully by a bit (with highly focused pressure on the sensitive tissues of the mouth). Where the head goes the horse follows. Unlike the effect of a bit that tends to twist a horse's head, the head stays upright and the turn is more natural and physiologically correct. By comparison with either bits or other bridles with no bit (hackamores, bosals, scawbrigs and sidepulls), more effective steering is one of the first benefits that riders notice. The Bitless Bridle™ works with both direct and neck reining.

Slowing & Stopping

Pressure on both reins or quick alternate pressure on each rein applies a gentle squeeze to the whole of the head and triggers a 'submit' response. Braking is probably attributable to a combination of the calming effect of a whole-head-hug; to initiation of a balancing reflex at the poll; to the stimulation of areas of special sensitivity behind the ears; and to painless pressure across the bridge of the nose. The "brakes" are more reliable than those provided by the bit. First, bit-induced pain causes many a horse to bolt rather than brake. Secondly, at no time can the horse deprive the rider of all means of communication by placing the bit between its teeth or under its tongue. Unlike the mechanics of the bit, hackamore, bosal or sidepull, braking is not dependent on pain across the bridge of the nose, poll flexion and obstruction of the airway.

A Necessary Explanation

'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 one hundred behavioural 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 advertising. 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.

The five Fs

A bit frightens a horse. It causes pain or the fear of pain. Fear is manifested by one or more of the five Fs; fright, flight, fight, freeze or facial neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome). Each one of these sub-headings has its list of symptoms. Collectively, the hundred or more symptoms are expressed by their interference 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 but additionally, handicapped. 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, anything that interferes with breathing also interferes with striding. A horse that is unable to breathe or stride properly cannot run and jump to its full potential or perform with confidence and safety.

See also Some of the Problems solved by The Bitless Bridle™

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Q. Is there a diagram of the horse's skull showing correct placement of the noseband of The Bitless Bridle?

A. diagram horse skull showing correct noseband placement Key: white = airway; black = soft tissue (including cartilage); dotted areas = bone. The numbered paragraphs in the text below provide the key to the numbered legends in the diagram

The diagram shows the nostril dilated as for exercise. But remember that the diagram is based on the photograph of a horse at rest, so the position of the head is not really appropriate for fast exercise as the airway is too bent. If the crossover (or crossunder) bitless bridle (BB) is fitted correctly, it should be possible to palpate the premaxillary notch lying just above the top edge of the noseband (see legend #2). This is a landmark that can be used to check the fit of the bridle on horses of all sizes from draft to miniature. Obviously, the recommendation with regard to the distance of the noseband above the corner of the mouth will vary slightly with the size of the horse, but the premaxillary notch provides a constant.

Fitting the crossover / cross-under Bitless Bridle correctly is, like so many other things, easy when you know how! If you have any doubts or concerns at all about fitting the bridle, please telephone us (01570 471541 / 07799 784350) to discuss (it's what we're here for!)

1. Nasal cavity. The two scrolls of delicate bone in the nasal cavity (the turbinate bones) create three longitudinal channels (upper, middle, and lower). The upper and middle channels function as dust filters and assist the sense of smell in the resting horse. Much the largest channel and the one that provides a direct pathway from nostril to throat is the lower channel. This is the main airway for the horse both at rest and at exercise. Accordingly, this is the one depicted in the diagram. Notice how this lower channel, at the level of the noseband, is shielded by a wall of bone (the incisive bone and the maxilla). Even if the noseband was tight, rather than snug, it could not interfere with the airway.

2. Premaxillary notch. The ability to palpate the top of this notch provides the final check that the noseband is at the correct height. In the resting horse, the nostril is relaxed and the false nostril (nasal diverticulum) occupies the large black triangle above and below the noseband. In the resting horse, the false nostrils are two dead-end pouches that lie on the outside of each nostril (see Fig. 3). In the exercising horse, however, the nostrils are dilated. This has the effect of obliterating the false nostrils. The space that they used to occupy now increases the size of the nostrils. Flaring of the nostril provides a funnel-like entrance to the airway that, in the running horse, facilitates the rapid and smooth flow of huge volumes of air. The presence of the noseband, bridging the gap between two bones at the level of the notch, cannot interfere with the passage of air. First, the noseband is supported by bone on each boundary of the notch and, secondly, the main airflow does not involve this region anyway.

[Incidentally, these anatomical and physiological facts are relevant to the debate over whether nasal strips enlarge the airway in racehorses. The facts are such that the use of nasal strips cannot possibly be of any benefit. First, unless a horse has a facial paralysis (extremely rare), its nostrils do not collapse during a race. Secondly, even if the nostrils did collapse, nasal strips would not be of any help because they have no influence over the size of the airway. The situation in man is different but then our anatomy is different. We do not have the false nostrils of the horse. If trainers wish to improve the airway of their horses they can do this by removing the bit (see below)]

3. Peak of the nasal bone. Note that this is bone and not cartilage. It is not liable to be bent or compressed as the result of the relatively trivial pressure exerted by the noseband of the crossover (cross-under) BB. Cartilage that extends forward from the peak of the nasal bone provides the support for two comma-shaped cartilages (the alar cartilages) that form the wings of the nostril. All these cartilaginous structures are represented by the black area between the tip of the nasal bone and the nostril.

4. Nostril (anterior nares). Note the funnel shape of this entrance to the airway during fast exercise and remember that there are two of them. The nasal airway is a dual carriageway, separated only by a sheet of cartilage, the nasal septum (see also Fig 3). As implied by the anatomical name for the nostrils there are also posterior nares. In Fig. 2 the posterior nares are sited at the black dot that separates the nasal cavity (#1) from the throat (#14). Their existence is worth noting because the posterior nares are a potential site of serious airway obstruction. Any elevation of the soft palate (the floor of the throat) constricts the posterior nares. The soft palate is attached to the hard palate (the roof of the mouth and floor of the nasal cavity) and hinges at this critical point where the nasal cavity joins the throat. In the author’s opinion, the most common cause of elevation of the soft palate is the presence of a bit in the horse’s mouth (see paragraph # 14 and Cook 2002).

5. Front edge of the premaxilla or incisive bone (the bone that houses the incisor teeth or nippers). Note that the noseband is firmly supported on each side by this bone that forms the outside wall of the nasal cavity.

6. Point of contact between upper and lower lip. In this representation of a relatively normal airway at exercise, the mouth is closed, the lips are sealed, and no air is permitted to enter the oral cavity. An open mouth at exercise is not normal (physiological) as air gets into the back of the mouth and is one cause of elevation or dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP). DDSP constricts the airway at the throat (see legend #14). The word ‘relatively’ is used because if this particular horse were performing maximally its head and neck would have to be extended to straighten out the airway. In the position depicted, the airway is obstructed by virtue of poll flexion and high head carriage. This produces two sharp bends in the airway, one at the throat and the other at the entrance to the chest. Unfortunately, with the bit method of communication it is only too easy for the rider to cause both poll flexion and a high head carriage (false collection).

7. Canine tooth in the lower jaw. The root of this tooth occupies most of the space in the jawbone, as far back as the mental foramen (#8). The tooth’s presence in the male horse probably accounts for the higher incidence in male horses that are also bitted of facial neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome). Mares do not generally have canine teeth and when they do the teeth are much smaller (vestigial).

8. Mental foramen. This is the point of emergence of the mandibular nerve, which supplies sensation to the gums (including the bars of the mouth), incisor teeth, lower lip and chin. In a bitted horse, the bit lies on the bars immediately above this highly sensitive region. Pressure from the bit on the gum at the bars of the mouth causes periostitis, which commonly results in bone spur formation (Cook 2002). Gum is a specialized form of periosteum (skin of the bone). Superficial inflammation of the gum is called gingivitis but deep-seated inflammation is called periostitis (bone spur formation). Bone spurs, in turn, are a cause of headshaking.

9. Oral cavity. Actually, the legend points to the bars of the mouth but it is the black region above the bars that represents the front half of the oral cavity (mouth). The back half of the mouth lies between the first five cheek teeth. At the level of the fifth cheek tooth, the oral cavity continues as the oral part of the throat (in the diagram, the black region behind the last cheek teeth). Compared with man, the horse has an unusually long and narrow oral cavity and throat. But the word ‘cavity’ as applied to the oral cavity is somewhat misleading because, when exercising rather than eating, both the oral cavity and the oral part of the throat are potential cavities only. In a horse at liberty (or in a horse ridden in the crossover / crossunder BB) both the oral cavity and the oral part of the throat are entirely occupied by the tongue. There is no ‘cavity’ as such, as all air is excluded. The oral cavity is filled with the tip and body of the tongue, and the oral part of the throat is filled with the root of the tongue.

10. Chinstrap. This is a continuation of the noseband. In the diagram it might appear to be attached to the ‘O’ ring, but the ‘O’ ring is itself attached to the noseband. The scale of the diagram is not large enough to show this clearly. Notice that the chinstrap lies outside the cheek at the level of the first cheek tooth in the upper jaw. A snug chinstrap could press the cheek against a sharp enamel edge on this tooth, so any such defects should be corrected when using the crossover / cross-under BB.

11. Crossover straps, each continuing in the direction indicated by the broken line. Notice that the gentle pressure applied by the straps lies away from the teeth and over relatively insensitive tissues such as the side of the jaw and the muscle of the cheek. Pressure elsewhere is also well-distributed and applied to relatively insensitive tissue. Compare this with the focused pressure of a bit on the highly sensitive tissues of the mouth.

12. Windpipe (trachea). A high head carriage causes the windpipe to be compressed at the entrance to the chest. Any obstruction of the nasal cavity, throat or voice box will tend to cause a collapse of the windpipe and further obstruction (Cook & Strasser 2003

13. Entrance to chest at the level of the first rib. This is the dividing point between the upper and lower airways (see also Fig 3).

14. Respiratory part of the throat (nasopharynx). The throat has an upper (respiratory) and a lower (digestive) level. The two regions are separated by the long soft palate of the horse, which forms the floor of the respiratory part of the throat (the nasopharynx) and the roof of the oral part of the pharynx (the oropharynx). When a horse is eating, the oral part of the throat takes precedence over the respiratory part and enlarges at its expense. Conversely, when a horse is galloping, the respiratory part of the throat enlarges at the expense of the oral part. But note that this is only the situation in the horse at liberty or in a horse that is galloping in a crossover (or cross-under) BB. This is not the situation when a horse is galloped in a bitted bridle (Cook and Strasser 2003). As the horse depicted in this diagram is exercising, the respiratory part of the throat is open and the digestive part of the throat is closed. During deep breathing as for exercise, the oral part of the throat (oropharynx) is, in normality, a potential space only as it is entirely occupied by the root of the tongue. Unfortunately, because a bit breaks the normal seal of the lips at exercise, air often creeps back into the oral part of the throat and causes the soft palate to billow upwards. As already mentioned, this is one cause of DDSP. A second cause is retraction of the tongue behind the bit, as this results in elevation of the soft palate on the bunched-up root of tongue. These and other causes of DDSP are described more fully in previous publications (see bibliography).

15. Voice box (larynx). The common name for this structure incorrectly suggests that voice production is its most important function. In fact, the larynx is a valve in the floor of the throat, at its tail end. The most important function of the larynx is to open to facilitate the flow of air during exercise, and to close to prevent food or water from inundating the lungs during swallowing. Unfortunately, the presence of a bit in the oral cavity of a horse at exercise sends inappropriate messages to the brain and the horse is physiologically confused as to whether it should be breathing or swallowing. This confusion explains why many a horse chokes at exercise.

16. Lower airway. This section of the airway comprises the windpipe within the chest, the two bronchi and the small airways of the lung (see also Fig 3). Like every other mammal, a horse inhales by expanding the chest and flattening the diaphragm. This creates a negative atmospheric pressure in the air sacs of the lungs and air rushes in to fill the vacuum. The mechanism works well as long the upper airway is not obstructed. Unfortunately, the bit method of communication is, for a variety of different reasons, a frequent source of upper airway obstruction (Cook & Strasser 2003). The abnormally intense negative pressure that results from any upper airway obstruction easily damages the delicate air sacs of the lung and the small airways. The damage is inflicted twice a second in a cantering horse and more frequently in a galloping horse. The end result of this barometric bruising is bronchiolitis, pulmonary congestion, and edema of the lung (‘waterlogging’). It is edema of the lung that is the basic pathology behind what is commonly referred to as ‘bleeding’ (so-called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage or EIPH). The author believes that a more accurate name for ‘bleeding’ is asphyxia-induced pulmonary edema or AIPE (Cook 1999b). Another common cause of upper airway obstruction is hereditary recurrent laryngeal neuropathy (laryngeal hemiplegia). As this is a disease that is impossible to treat and difficult to prevent, it is all the more important to eliminate those causes of upper airway obstruction that are avoidable. In the author’s opinion, removal of the bit would do much to reduce the prevalence of pulmonary disease in the horse.

You can download Dr Cook's complete article (from which the above is an extract) 10 pages in PDF, or download diagram with brief explanation (1 page PDF).

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Q. Does the Dr Cook Bitless Bridle offer release?

The question of release is a moot point, with some humans seeming to think there is no release with the Dr Cook, but all horses seem to think that there is! We have been using the Dr Cook Bitless Bridle for 10 years now - on a great variety of horses, our own & clients' horses & have also used the bridle exclusively for backing horses over the past 10 years.

We have never had a problem with the bridle not releasing (and that applies to all the materials, English leather, Western leather, beta, webbing) - if the bridle didn't release, then when a horse had been asked to halt he would refuse to go forward; likewise when asked to turn (right or left) the horse would circle instead of turning if the bridle didn't release.

I think maybe people don't think the bridle releases because very little pressure is needed in the first instance, so the release is often imperceptible to the human eye - although of course not to the horse, for the reasons outlined above.

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Q. Can I download the User Manual?

A. Yes, you can download the pdf of the Bitless Bridle User Manual here: User Manual pdf

The Dr Cook Bitless Bridle is no longer supplied with every bridle but we are happy to supply one if you wish. Please let us know that you'd like one when you order, alternatively you can download it from the link above.








Q. How much control do I have without a bit?

A. The following is an extract from Dr Jessica Jahiel's (award-winning author, clinician, and lecturer) Q & A Newsletter Horse-Sense - The Newsletter of Holistic Horsemanship®

By giving up the use of the bit, you don't sacrifice any control - but you DO make it less likely that the horse will bolt, buck, or bite because of mouth pain. One of the great myths of horseback riding is that the bit stops the horse. The bit does NOT stop the horse. A bit can hurt a horse, frighten a horse, cut through the horse's tongue, or otherwise damage the horse. A bit can be used to signal a horse, crudely and harshly or gently and lightly, depending on the skill of the rider. But no bit ever stopped a horse. All the bit can do is help you tell the horse that you would like it to stop - and you can say that just as clearly WITHOUT a bit.

The best and most subtle version of a bitless bridle is, in fact, the Bitless Bridle that I've discussed previously on HORSE-SENSE (you'll find those articles in the archives).

Read the complete article.

Copyright © 1995-2000 by Jessica Jahiel, Holistic Horsemanship®.
All Rights Reserved. Holistic Horsemanship® is a Registered Trademark.

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Q. Can I use a martingale with a crossunder Bitless Bridle?

A running martingale can be used with a crossunder BitlessBridle, but you will probably find that it will no longer be necessary once the bit has been removed since pain and discomfort from the bit is very often the cause of horses tossing or shaking their head.

A standing martingale however, should not be used with the crossunder BB.

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Q. What about competing? Do I have to use a bit?

A. Unfortunately the rules of competition in certain disciplines require the use of a bit. Until such time as these rules are updated the following may be helpful:

The best solution to the need for complying with competition regulations is to rig The Bitless Bridle in the normal way for regular bitless use and then to place another snaffle bridle over The Bitless Bridle. The rider now has two reins and should satisfy the judges, but need only use the rein to The Bitless Bridle. This arrangement has the added advantage that the noseband of The Bitless Bridle can be placed at the correct level for optimum bitless control. Unless judges quibble and maintain that a horse cannot compete wearing two bridles, this strategy should work. At a quick glance, the rider appears to be using a double bridle.

Regarding showing, a BB user has asked the BHS to clarify the position - they have replied to the effect that, in principle, they have no objection to the Bitless Bridle, but that it is up to individual show secretaries - so please contact the show secretary of the show concerned.

Dr Cook writes:

"The FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) currently mandates use of a bit or bits for dressage and show hunter competitions though, paradoxically, The Bitless Bridle is acceptable for show jumping and the cross country phase of eventing. Most national organizations (eg., the USEF in the USA and the British Horse Society [BHS] in the UK) follow the FEI and adopt similar rules. Nevertheless, when approached on this matter the FEI have indicated that rule changes should first be negotiated with the national organizations, with the implication that FEI might follow such recommendations.

"Dr. Cook has collected signatures in support of a rule change from many riders, in many disciplines; but if he submits these himself will probably be regarded by the organizations as having an axe to grind. The better strategy will be for individuals who are members of these various organizations to send their own letters and/or submit their own formal proposals for a rule change. Dr. Cook will be glad to provide individuals with supporting literature on request (email him at Please provide your name, address, telephone number, and the Division in which you are interested. To avoid using a proprietary name in any letters or proposals, it is suggested that petitioners apply for acceptance of the 'crossunder bitless bridle'. It would be useful if petitioners could ask their organizations for the reasons why bits are still mandated. Dr. Cook would be interested in reviewing the responses.

See also Acceptance of the bit or collection?

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 Q. I have been reading through your testimonials on the BB and I am dying to try one on my youngsters (I have a 2 yo and 3 yo).  I would like them to work better and I think the BB might be the answer for our in hand and early riding work. I am wondering about transitioning from the BB to a bit for competitions (dressage and hunter breeding). 

While I don't mind for myself to compete HC, I sell my horses as competition prospects and am worried that if they won't wear a bit that will limit my market (until we change the rules of course!).  Other people may not be as willing to compete HC until we make the change. What is the feedback from your riders?  Do they ride in the BB and use a snaffle for shows only?  I am a little worried they will get so used to a BB that they will never go back to a bit if necessary for competitions.

A. I don’t recall that we have received any feedback from users on this particular point. My guess is that most people who are training horses as competition prospects probably train them with bitted bridles right from the start. However, there are good reasons why this may not be the best strategy.

Here are my thoughts on an alternative approach. A young horse can first be schooled in The Bitless Bridle and learn to respond to all the rein aids during ground work and under saddle. Once this basic education is complete, a bit can now be introduced to enable the horse to be usable for any competition work for which a bit is currently required. The process is rather similar to that recommended by Pat Parelli, who trains his horses in a rope halter before finally introducing them to a Western style curb bit. The trick is to start first training a horse without a bit, in order that the horse should not develop any one of a hundred aversions to the bit before it has learnt the basics. Schooling will proceed more smoothly, with fewer problems and learning will be faster if the horse is not hurt with a bit. Also, and this is important, the rider will have had a chance to develop a horse’s confidence and a partnership will have been established as a sound foundation or further training.

The ease with which a horse can be transitioned from bitless to bitted will of course depend on the rider’s hands. The better the hands, the easier will be the transition. The ability to use a bit is a test of a rider’s proficiency. If a rider can transition from bitless to bit without triggering any negative, bit-induced behavioral changes they can be congratulated on their equestrian skills. If a horse resists a bit, this exposes a weakness of the bit as a method of communication, as it is a method that only a master horseman can use without causing a horse discomfort.

So the answer to your question is, don’t hesitate to start a competition prospect bitless. Obviously, if you are planning that a horse should eventually be trained to compete in FEI sponsored competitions, it is no good placing a bit in a horse’s mouth for the first time on the morning of the competition. One has to ring the changes during the latter stages of training and accustom a horse to accept a bit.

Yes, I suppose there is a chance that a discerning horse brought up to know that bridles don’t have to hurt will make their feelings apparent if now required to accept a bitted bridle that does hurt. But there is a greater chance that if the same horse had been brought up on a bitted bridle it might have exhibited even more resistance and developed far more problems. My feeling is that there is less risk in the bitless option. I do not think that your concern represents a reason for not giving the horse the benefit of a pain-free introduction to training. Far better, surely, that a horse should learn the basics of training while it is happy and pain free, rather than to learn at an early age to associate training with hurting.

- Robert Cook (February 2007)

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Q: My trainer tells me that one of the fundamentals of dressage is 'acceptance of the bit.' If this is the case, how is it possible, even if the rules were changed, to use the Bitless Bridle for this discipline?

A: Your trainer is not alone in misunderstanding the underlying intent behind this misleading maxim. If a bit is to be used, then 'acceptance of the bit' is a necessary prerequisite to achieving collection. But the ultimate target is not acceptance of the bit but collection. Collection or self carriage is not something that is achieved instantly by means of the bit but is something that comes eventually through physical fitness. The essence of 'good hands' is the least amount of hand. I am appending below a letter that I have sent recently (September 2005) to Michael Stone, Sports Director of the FEI, at the time he kindly agreed to give the Bitless Bridle a trial, as the letter is relevant to your question. This is part of some correspondence that I am currently having with Michael Stone, in the hope of persuading the FEI to allow the crossover(or cross-under) bitless bridle for competition. Here is the letter ...

"I had intended to let the bridle speak for itself, as it is its own best ambassador. But I share your interest in hearing what your more traditional members say about the bridle and cannot resist adding a comment. First, some background.

Dressage riders have been drilled for generations on the importance of a horse being, as the phrase goes, 'on the bit. ' The result is that this very phrase could now become a barrier to acceptance of a bridle that apparently has nothing to be 'on'! A better phrase would be 'on the bridle.' An even better phrase would be 'on the aids.' Even better still, would be acceptance of the reality that true collection depends on some aids more than others. 'Seat and legs' are the key to collection rather than 'hands.'

Those riders who have invested patient years training a horse to become fit and strong, with the emphasis on 'seat and legs,' so that he can carry and balance both himself and his rider, will be much more likely to approve of the crossover / cross-under bitless bridle. Those who have been taking a short cut by using their hands to produce poll flexion (and, therefore, false collection) may be disappointed that they can no longer get their horse 'in a frame.' With perseverance, of course, they will achieve true collection but this does not come overnight.

Because of the above, the crossover bitless bridle (also called crosspull or cross-under bitless bridle) becomes a test of the rider. A rider that can move from a bitted bridle to the crossover / cross-under bitless bridle without losing collection has better 'hands' than a rider whose horse falls apart. I hope that this does not sound as though I am being unnecessarily defensive. I just wish to alert you to some of the feedback I predict you will encounter.

I also accept the possibility that a few riders with impeccable 'hands' may feel that, at least in the first instance, they do not have the delicacy of communication with the crossover (crossunder) design that they have with a bit. But the communication can be expected to improve with time as the horse becomes more accustomed to the new sensations. In any case, 'impeccable hands' with "the delicacy of a neurosurgeon" are a rarity and this reaction will be just as rare.

The difference in performance between the bit and the crossover / cross-under bitless method of communication is rather analogous to the difference, for a man, between shaving with an old-fashioned cut-throat razor (i.e., a 'straight' razor) and a modern electric razor. A cut-throat razor in the hands of a master will give you a closer shave than an electric razor. But a cut-throat razor in less competent hands is likely to lead to accidents. On the other hand (excuse the pun), even a learner can use an electric razor and give himself a perfectly acceptable shave without incurring the risks he would be taking if he wielded a cut-throat. The crossover(cross-under) bitless bridle is the shaving equivalent of the electric razor. Being painless, it saves the rider from bruising and cutting the mouth & hurting the horse. A pain-free horse learns faster and performs better. Horse and rider develop a partnership and harmony ensues. The cost of what might temporarily be lost by the master horseman in 'closeness of shave' (the fine-tuning of control) is more than compensated for by the permanent benefits for the average horseman (a more compliant and focused horse).

I am, therefore, suggesting that an appraisal of the crossover (crossunder) bitless bridle may be viewed as a cost / benefit equation. I suggest that the (questionable) cost of any loss of finesse for an elite few is more than balanced by the huge benefit for the great majority of riders and the undeniable benefit for all horses? My research tells me that a bit causes over 120 problems for horse and rider (see my book, "Metal in the Mouth ...," included in the bridle package). Some of these 'problems' (such as bucking, rearing and bolting) produce accidents that jeopardize the very life of both horse and rider. Other problems may be less life-threatening but are still serious and are the result, as are bucking, rearing and bolting, of a rider unintentionally causing a horse pain. I conclude that the bit method of communication, like the cut-throat razor, represents a hazard to welfare and safety.

I am not suggesting that the bit should be banned but I urge the FEI to consider approving, alongside the currently named bits, a painless and more effective method of communication that reduces the risk of accidents, enhances the welfare of the horse, and increases the pleasure and satisfaction of riders.

I hope these thought will provide you with a useful background to the trials that you have volunteered to conduct. I am so delighted that you have this open mind and have agreed to look at the bridle. Please understand that my prime objective here is to promote the welfare of the horse and not to promote sales for my company. I have been a research veterinarian for 53 years and a veterinarian-cum-salesman for only six. I hope that my track record (CV available online) will counterbalance this conflict of interest. By way of mitigation, may I also add that the crossover / crossunder design has been so successful that it is being copied all over the world. I own a US patent on the Bitless Bridle but do not claim or wish to claim a world-wide monopoly. When the idea is copied abroad, I am happy that the horse will benefit. In order to avoid anyone at the FEI thinking that this is an effort on my part to push a particular product, I have been at pains to refer to the design by a generic name, the crossover bitless bridle, rather than a proprietary one.

What I am promoting is a method not a product. I see it as an opportunity for the FEI to make an historic contribution to the welfare of the horse. This trial is the first small step towards the possibility (albeit not immediately) of a rule change to approve the crossover design of bitless bridle for competitive dressage. It also represents an opportunity to materially benefit the horse. If the FEI were to give a lead to the national organizations on this crucial matter, it would save the horse many years of unnecessary pain and prevent many an accident."

Until very recently (ie, the last six years), there has not been an acceptable alternative to the bit method of communication. The FEI and national organizations must be given time to consider this additional option after having become accustomed to a method of communication that was first adopted in the Bronze Age. As the bit method of communication is based on pain and as all the traditional bitless bridles (the hackamores, bosals and sidepulls) are also pain-based, the crossover design of bitless bridle represents the first pain-free method of communication with the horse's head to have been developed since the horse was first domesticated.

Copyright Robert Cook 2005

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Q. Are there any tips as to what to bear in mind when I transfer from a bitted bridle to The Bitless Bridle™?

A. Here is an extract from the comprehensive User's Manual that is supplied with every Bitless Bridle:

"Although the reins cross under the chin, the aids are the same as with the bit method of control, because the bridle pushes rather than pulls. In fact, The Bitless Bridle can be thought of as steering the horse by means of the head equivalent of neck reining, with the advantage that the head pressure is more positive than anything that can be achieved with neck reining. The following guidelines refer to English and Western riding rather than race riding.

The rider should at all times strive to retain an independent seat. In other words, the reins should not be used as a safety harness for the rider and the means whereby the rider retains his seat or restores his balance. One of the many benefits noticed by users of The Bitless Bridle is that it encourages them to rely more on their seat and legs for control, rather than the reins.

To raise the horse's head to the correct level (the poll should be the highest point) the rider need only raise the hands vertically (NOT with a backward motion), then release.

The subject of "release" prompts another comment. Release of pressure, as soon as a horse has responded to hand aids with The Bitless Bridle, is still to be recommended, as it is with use of a bit. Nevertheless, there is not the same urgency or even the same obligation. Unlike the situation when using a bit, the horse has not been hurt by application of the aid. There is not, therefore, the same imperative to reward the horse by instant release. The partnership has not been strained, so there is no need to "make-up".

To school for proper head carriage, use a medium to small circle, with the inside hand low and away from the horse. Strive to have the poll as the highest point along the neckline.

See also this information - written mainly with regard to driving bitless, but most of it applies equally to transition to riding bitless.

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Q. Will the Bitless bridle enable me to achieve sufficient poll flexion?

A. Yes, the Bitless Bridle will provide all the poll flexion you require. But perhaps I should phrase this differently. The point is that if you wish to achieve true collection, which includes, but is not limited to, poll flexion you should strive to do this through seat and legs, rather than by means of your hands. By degrees, with the emphasis on seat and legs, your horse will develop the necessary strengthening of its muscles so that 'self-carriage' will be achieved. Self-carriage comes from hind-end impulsion and a roundness of the spine. Appropriate poll flexion is part of this roundness. False collection, limited to poll flexion only and achieved simply by rein pressure alone, is not true collection. Sadly, because the bit is painful, it is rather easy to achieve false collection by hand aids.
All this is explained much better by Dr Jessica Jahiel. I strongly recommend that you visit her website at and carry out a search on the word ‘collection.’ One of the articles for example, provides a good answer to the question "Can an endurance horse go 'round’?" If you search her archives you will find a wealth of good advice on collection and many other matters.

To summarise, forget about the phrase “on the bit.” With the Bitless bridle, your horse can be “on the bridle” or, more correctly, “on the aids.” Good dressage performances can be achieved with the Bitless Bridle... in fact better than those achieved with a bit in your horse's mouth. Before too long, we hope that the FEI rules will be updated to embrace the advance in equine welfare that the Bitless Bridle provides.

See also - a very interesting page on this highly informative web site ["Treating Founder (Chronic Laminitis) without Horseshoes"], showing how the use of more humane tack (bitless bridle, treeless saddle) combined with correct hoof trimming allows the horse to achieve 'collection' naturally and 'disproves the common belief that conformation is inherited and immutable...'

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Q. Can The Bitless Bridle™ be used for Driving?

A. Short Answer: Yes.
Long answer: Yes, because …

The fundamental principles of equine physiology which can be cited to demonstrate that use of the bit for riding is a mistake apply equally, if not more so, to driving. It is a mistake, for example, to use any method of communication, such as a metal in the mouth, which causes pain. Not only is this a mistake from the point of view of animal welfare but also with regard to the welfare of the rider or driver. An animal in pain cannot pay attention to instructions.

Bits frighten horses and they run from pain. It is a serious and potentially dangerous mistake to frighten an animal as powerful as a horse. If a bit is in the mouth of a well-trained horse and the reins or lines from the bit are in the hands of a master horseman, perhaps such a situation is acceptable but only on the understanding that the bit is hardly used, if at all. But a method of communication that requires such finesse is not a method that can be recommended to the average horseman and certainly not to the novice. The bit is a method of communication that is too easily abused, albeit unintentionally in most cases.

Research by Dr Robert Cook has shown that the bit is responsible for causing over a hundred problems in equitation (see the evidence in articles available on the website at Most of the problems can be classified under the heading of fear (manifested as nervousness, anxiety, a tendency to lather-up, and become ‘hot’). But the pain of the bit frequently triggers flight (bolting, running-away, rushing, and restlessness) and also fight (resistance, arguments, bucking, rearing, and a general loss of that harmony between man and horse which is the basis of good horsemanship). The fourth ‘F’ is facial neuralgia (the headshaking syndrome, which includes muzzle rubbing, sneezing, snorting, head shyness, photophobia etc.,). In addition, the bit obstructs a horse’s breathing (shortness of breath, ‘roaring,’ soft palate displacement, asphyxia, and bleeding from the lungs), causes premature fatigue (falls, stumbling, stresses and strains to the legs) and reduces performance. It physically damages the bone of the jaw at the bars of the mouth and is a frequent cause of exquisitely painful bone spurs at this site. Finally, the bit damages the teeth and causes both dental and TMJ pain. A more detailed indictment of the bit is available online at

The Driver’s Needs:

The driver relies even more heavily than the rider on effective and safe (i.e., painless) communication with the horse’s head. In the absence of any ability to control by seat and legs, the hand aids are of prime importance. Voice aids and discrete communication via the whip are supplementary aids but the rein is the only direct communication that the driver has for most of the time.

The Driver’s ‘Advantage’:

Because the driver’s feet can be stabilized on the dashboard, it is relatively easy for the driver, when using a bitted bridle, to throw the whole of his body weight against the horse’s highly-sensitive mouth. The leverage provided by the long reins facilitates this process mechanically and further increases the intensely focused pressure on the bars of the mouth, tongue and lips. In reality, such an ‘advantage’ represents a liability, as it is far too easy to inflict severe pain.

The Bitless Bridle Alternative:

The two compelling advantages of the Bitless Bridle are that, first, it is virtually impossible to inflict pain. Secondly, partly because of this pain-free feature but also because of the head-hugging design of the bridle, it provides superior and comprehensive communication. The driver is safeguarded against the possibility that, in an emergency and albeit unintentionally, he might hurt the horse and precipitate a crisis. In driving, as in riding, Cook is of the opinion that accidents are less likely to happen if the bridle is bitless rather than bitted.

Can the Bitless Bridle be used for Showing?

The current regulations for competition driving require the use of a bit. Until these regulations are amended, a Bitless Bridle will not be acceptable for FEI sponsored competitions. In due course, organizations will surely recognize that the Bitless Bridle is entirely compatible with their stated objectives of safeguarding the welfare of the horse and the safety of the discipline of driving. Accordingly, they will undoubtedly be eager to update their regulations to bring them into line with the advance in welfare that the Bitless Bridle offers.

In the meantime, though the Bitless Bridle option is freely open to pleasure drivers, it is only partially open to competition drivers. Competition drivers and their horses cannot benefit from the full advantages of the Bitless Bridle during an actual competition. Nevertheless, drivers can choose to train their horses in the Bitless Bridle. Even though they have to revert to a bitted bridle for the competition, some of the advantages of the bitless training will carry over. For example, come the day of the competition, the horse will not have such a sore mouth and will not, for this reason, be so nervous, apprehensive and liable to spook.

Product Availability:

A Bitless Bridle specifically designed for driving, as opposed to riding, is available in all sizes from draft to Miniature. At the moment it is available in black Beta material only. The bridle is designed in such a way that the driving reins can be attached to the rings of the crossover straps (which cross under the jaw) on the headstall, just as the riding reins now attach. In other words, drivers will use their own reins and also the rest of their standard driving harness. Every driving bridle is provided with a throat lash but not with side checks. These can be added if a driver so wishes.

User discretion must decide whether a side check should be added to the Bitless Bridle. Dr. Cook does not feel that such a device is essential, anymore than blinkers are essential.

How should a carriage horse be first introduced to the Bitless Bridle?

The same general recommendations and guidelines apply as described in the current User Manual for the riding bridle. Similarly, the same reservations apply with regard to the prevention of accidents. Neither the Bitless Bridle Inc, Bitless Bridle UK nor individuals can accept liability for any accidents that might occur during use of the bridle.

Stage 1: Even though a horse may already be trained to drive in a bitted bridle, it should first be ground-driven in the Bitless Bridle. The ground-driving should commence in a restricted space until confidence is gained with regard to all the basic aids.
Stage 2: The horse should be harnessed to a carriage but still driven in a small paddock rather than the open countryside.
Stage 3: Regular use in open country but preferably in company with one other experienced and companion carriage horse
Stage 4: First trials in company with multiple carriages and strange horses.

[See also this information - about transition to driving bitless]

Technical Support

D. Cook has had minimal personal experience of carriage driving and does not regard himself as an expert in this field. Nevertheless, he is most willing to work with carriage drivers to help them in any way he can with their transition from bitted to bitless communication. He can be contacted by telephone in Chestertown, MD at (410) 778 9005 or by e-mail.

A collection of Users’ Comments about driving are available on the US website (see ‘driving’ and ‘Standardbred racing and driving’) and more will be added as these are received. Feedback is welcomed. Even though the huge amount of information currently installed on the website has been developed in relation to riding rather than driving, most of it is also relevant to driving. Drivers will find many answers to their questions already available online.

Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD
Professor of Surgery Emeritus, Tufts University, USA
Chairman, The Bitless Bridle Inc.
Tel: 001 410 778 9005

[Please also see our Articles section - there are 2 articles about Driving bitless.]

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Q. I want to buy a Driving Bitless Bridle - is it possible to remove the blinkers so I can use the same bridle for riding?

A. You simply need to order an extra pair of cheekpieces (without blinkers) so that you can use the same Bitless Bridle for driving or riding by swapping the cheekpieces. The blinkers are full blinkers.

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Q. What is meant by the term "ironfree horse"?

A. The term is used to describe a horse that does not wear a bit and is 'barefoot". Technically a horse that does not wear a bit and is not shod might be described as "ironfree" - however there is a world of difference between a horse that is not shod and a horse that is "barefoot trimmed". Removing the metal from horse's feet in conjunction with a "barefoot trim" is as beneficial as removing the metal from the horse's mouth! (It improves their overall health and wellbeing, as well as lengthening their life; it has also been successfully used to treat cases of laminitis when owners have been told to have their horses euthanased; navicular syndrome too can be helped by barefoot trimming).

There is a wealth of information about barefoot trimming via links on our links' page, barefoot section

There is also information about barefoot trimming, including photographs and links, on the Nagtrader web site.

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Q. What about insurance when using a Bitless Bridle?

A. I have written to several of the major equine insurance companies about this. The following two have stated that they are perfectly happy to insure horses whose owners are using The Bitless Bridle (subject to the normal terms and conditions of the policy). If you know of any others, please let me know. [Interestingly these 2 are the only two who had the courtesy to reply to my email!]

South Essex Insurance Brokers

NFU Mutual

I have recently heard from several customers that PetPlan Equine are also happy to insure riders using The BitlessBridle.

NB: It is important to get this fact confirmed in writing, no matter which insurance company you are using.

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Q. My horse is trained to neck-rein; how does the Bitless Bridle work with neck-reining?

A. Neck reining is a “taught” response. When the horse feels the rein on one side of the neck, it is taught to turn to the opposite. There is a very slight and subtle pressure applied to the bit on the same side as the rein is touching, but because this pressure is so subtle, the horse is trained to ignore it.

Likewise, our bridle exerts subtle pressure on the entire side of a horse’s head when neck reining. Since the pressure is spread over such a large area it is even subtler than the pressure from a bit. Therefore the bitless bridle can be effectively used with neck reining. In addition, unlike other “bitless” tack, our bridle still provides a very positive brake if you must stop quickly.

While that may sound hard to believe, the following is a typical testimonial from a customer that tried it on his horse after asking the same question as you have….

“Who says you can't teach an old horse new tricks? I've got a 12 year old Quarter
horse gelding named Zanegrey who is great in every way. He's got a wonderful
mind and is the best, most reliable companion for every task on the ranch we lease.
His only knock was that he was a little "pokey".....not anymore!
I've been using a hackamore on him mainly because we ride up into the high country
to check fence, open irrigation and sort cows and while I'm busy I want to let him graze
without worrying about him choking on a bit! I also dislike bits in general but to my
amazement, I have found that I've been holding him back all this time?

The headstall fit perfectly and I immediately noticed a change in Zane's response!
He's ready, willing and more than able to get going, it's like he's born again!
He acts like a horse half his age and is so eager but I still retain full control at all times.
His breathing is more regular and seems more focused while under saddle.

I can't thank you enough, this is a wonderful product and the quality is top notch.
I purchased the heavy leather version, it is well made in every respect and I can
tell that it will hold up for years to come.
I've got to also thank Christina for showing me your product, I in turn will now
show my new Bitless Bridle to all my friends! My ranching partner even noticed
a difference in Zane.....
It was the best 2 hours I've had riding in years and now I really look forward to
getting under saddle whether for work or for play.....Wow!”

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Q. I have a draught beta bridle & would like to upgrade to leather - how do I go about this?

There is no direct leather equivalent to the draught size bridle, except XF which only goes up to 50" headstall (draught is 55") and XF noseband is up to 26" (draught 28").

If your horse's measurements fall within the XF measurements, then upgrading to leather isn't a problem. If your horse's measurements fall outside the XF measurements, then at the moment the draught beta bridle is the only option.

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Q. Is your online shop secure? How can I tell?

A. Yes the site is secure - in order to pay for your order, you are transferred to Paypal (you can pay with credit or debit card whether you have a Paypal account or not), before you enter your credit card details. You can check by looking in the address bar at the top of the page; a non-secure page begins with http:// - a secure page begins with https:// and you should see the little padlock symbol at the bottom right corner of your screen.

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Q. Help, my order has gone through twice!

A. Our system recognises duplicate transactions and therefore only charges your card for the first transaction. Exceptions to this would be if your order was placed for the second time more than a few minutes after the first, or if you used a different card the second time. You will receive email confirmation that any duplicate orders have been cancelled.

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Q. How much will it cost to ship to my country?

A. Add the item, or items, to the cart then click on the button marked "Shipping Estimator" - select your country from the drop-down list, then click on the "Update" button.

Each time you add or remove items from the cart, you need to use the Update button to get the correct shipping costs.

If the weight of items in the shopping cart is more than 2kg (maximum weight for Royal Mail AirSure or International Signed For) the cart will not show any costs, please phone or email us for a shipping quote.

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Q. What are your delivery charges?

Bridles are usually sent out by next day courier - which is now cheaper than Royal Mail Special Delivery or 2-4 day courier in the UK and Airmail to Europe & other overseas destinations. You can choose delivery option at checkout.

Please check the amount of insurance offered with each delivery option. If your order totals more than the amount of insurance offered on the delivery option you choose, then the goods you have ordered will only be insured to the value of the insurance stated. In the event of an order being lost in the post, The Bitless Bridle UK can only compensate you up to the amount of insurance cover and it will be your responsibility to liaise with the courier or Royal Mail regarding the lost packet.

Using 'Shipping Estimator' for Actual Shipping Cost

The actual cost of shipping is determined by weight according to the type and quantity of item(s) purchased. To get an accurate costing, go to our online shop and simply add the item(s) you wish to purchase to the shopping cart (you don't need to register for an account at this stage), then click on the 'Shipping Estimator' button which appears at the bottom of the shopping cart when you add a product. You can add and remove products, or choose a different destination country and 'update' the Shipping Estimator at any time. Orders totalling over 2kgs in weight are usually sent by next working day courier service (UK only).

NB - BFPO addresses - charges for mail to BFPO addresses overseas are the same as for standard UK mail - unfortunately our online shop is unable to recognise this fact. Please select 'store pickup' at checkout when placing your order and you will be charged the Special Delivery rate to a UK address when your order is processed.

NNB - We do not usually ship Bitless Bridles to USA - please order from in USA. Since we import the Dr Cook Bitless Bridles from USA it will be cheaper for you & delivery will be quicker if you order direct in USA. We do ship all other products to USA.

Please see also 'Do you ship to Europe / worldwide?'.

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Q. I live in the Channel Islands - will I be charged VAT?

A. We are no longer VAT registered.

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Q. Do you ship to Europe / worldwide?

Yes, we ship to all European countries (there are now BBACs in Germany & Tenerife, Spain) and since we have already paid the import duty and VAT for importing the bridles into the EU from the USA, you will not need to pay it again on goods entering your country. To find out the shipping costs, simply go to the online shop add the products you wish to buy to the shopping cart (you do not need to register for an account until you are ready to make a purchase), click on the 'Shipping Estimator' button at the bottom of the cart, select the country, click 'Update' and it will show you the shipping costs (Air Mail using the Royal Mail 'International Signed For' service) for the items you have chosen. Delivery times are usually within three days to Western Europe, four days to Eastern Europe and five days for the rest of the world.

(Please see the BBACs Worldwide page for details of other BBACs around the world)

We are no longer registered for VAT.

NB - BFPO addresses - charges for mail to BFPO addresses overseas are the same as for standard UK mail - unfortunately our online shop is unable to recognise this fact. Please select 'store pickup' at checkout when placing your order and you will be charged the Special Delivery rate to a UK address when your order is processed.

NNB - We do not usually ship Bitless Bridles to USA - please order from in USA. Since we import the Dr Cook Bitless Bridles from USA it will be cheaper for you & delivery will be quicker if you order direct in USA. We do ship all other products to USA.

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Q. Your prices seem higher than the US Dollar prices - why is this?

A. All saddlery and horse equipment imported into the EEC from USA is subject to an import duty, and on top of the combined price of the goods and import duty, VAT (currently 17.5% in UK) has to be added. These obviously have to be reflected in our prices - however once the import duty and VAT has been paid by an EU Member State, there is no further import duty or VAT applicable when sending those goods within the EEC to another member state. We also have to allow some leeway within our prices for the fluctuation of the US Dollar in order to maintain stability of pricing. If you care to do some calculations, you will see that it is cheaper to purchase The Bitless Bridle in the UK, than to import it from USA.

Please note we are no longer registered for VAT.

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