Updated: Nov 30, 2022
A comfortable and happy horse is something all owners and trainers are aiming for. We know that feeding, management and training all play a big part together with correctly fitting tack. Saddle fit has long been a focus of attention and now thankfully bridle fit and bitting is seen as being just as important and can have a huge impact of your horse’s well-being and performance.
As horse owners and professionals learn more about equine biomechanics and anatomy it’s becoming clear the huge influence the correct bit and bridle can affect your horse’s way of going. No longer is it simply a case of checking that the bit is sitting in the correct position in your horse’s mouth. There are so many other factors to consider and this is where seeking the professional help of a bitting and bridle consultant is key to unlocking your horse's performance.
Just like your farrier, physio, and other members of your horse’s support team they play an integral part in ensuring your horse is comfortable and helping to create that harmonious partnership between you and your horse.
In this blog, Allison Lowther chats to Independent Bit and Bridle Consultant Dr James Cooling who is one of the guest speakers at the 2023 Horses Inside Out Conference.
“I believe bitting a horse should not be left to trial and error,” explains James. “The traditional approach to bitting can cause significant welfare issues for the horse. I approach bitting with a view to improving your horse’s comfort, biomechanics, contact and cooperation.”
At the conference James will be presenting Forward to the Bit - creating confident communication. This presentation will cover how bit, bridle fit and design can affect your horse’s biomechanics, comfort and performance. You'll discover the importance of taking a whole horse approach to bitting and why it’s vital to assess each horse’s individual anatomy, biomechanics and equine psychology. James will also explain his assessment process and why this method works as well as discussing common problems and how they can be addressed.
Dr James Cooling is an independent advanced LANTRA qualified Bit and Bridle Consultant based in East Yorkshire. He’s also a GP working in NHS. James is a director of the Association of Professional Bit and Bridle Fitters (APBBF) a not-for profit membership organisation for independent professional bit and bridle fitters.
James started bitting horses in 2016, and it was one of his own horses that took him down this new career path.
“It was Velvet our Appaloosa mare who started my journey into bitting,” explains James. “She was an easy horse to back and start but took a while to settle with any bit and I rode her for some time without. We gradually transitioned to using a bit and this piqued my interest in bitting and led me to undertake further training which has developed into a business and training organisation.”
After completing further lorinery training James helped expand the company he was working for including training and educating new consultants. He also developed, co-authored and examined the practical elements of the LANTRA approved bit and bridle fitting courses.
James now works with owners and their horses from all disciplines and levels, utilising his understanding of science, anatomy, and biomechanics to help owners select the best bit for their horse and chosen discipline.
Outside of work James has been riding, training and competing in a variety of disciplines for over 40 years. He completed BHS training and worked as a freelance instructor. He’s also completed the Intelligent Horsemanship Courses. He currently co-owns and trains seven horses with his wife.
It’s clear that horses play a huge part in James’s life, and they continue to help him learn and develop further. It’s this experience and passion that he has gained with his own horses that is now helping other owners and horses.
As well as Velvet, the rest of the Cooling herd includes Apollo – described by James as the main man, Leon - a black Arab, Cookie who turns his hoof to anything, Woody (a firm family favourite), Dilano, his wife’s Hanoverian Advanced Dressage horse and RSPCA Rascal who lives up to his name on a daily basis!
“Comfort should be your main priority when it comes to selecting a bit and bridle for your horse,” stresses James. “Focus on the detail of the individual horse - it needs to fit him precisely. There’s no one bridle on the market that will fit or is suitable for every horse.”