Meet Bit and Bridle Fitting Expert and IH Member – James Cooling
Meet James Cooling GP – Best Practice Bitting
James Cooling, 44, lives in East Yorkshire with his wife Rosie along with their cats, dogs, chickens and seven horses. James is one of the founding members of the Association of Professional Bit and Bridle Fitters, alongside his job as GP at a busy practice in Bridlington. A long-term IH Member, James’ recent webinars with Kelly Marks on bitting and bridle fit were extremely popular, inspiring plenty of our members to book a visit with their nearest professional bit fitter.
“…it was either medicine or horses when I left school – now I am managing to do both”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a village in East Yorkshire. I am from a non-horsey family, but there was a racing yard in the village. I remember running to the window every morning to watch the race horses go past. I managed to persuade my parents at aged 3 to find a local riding school and I have been hooked ever since. As a teen I worked at a yard with working liveries and horses in for backing and schooling and I would ride any horse that came in.
How long have you been an IH Member?
I’m not sure – over 10 years! I first found out about Kelly and IH at a Monty Roberts demo back in the late 1990’s. For me, the most useful benefits of membership are access to ongoing up-to-date informed education. The ability to gain practical skills relevant to handling and management of horses not adequately taught elsewhere and meeting like-minded people. We have made some good friends through attending courses and demos.
How does your medical career mix with horses?
I graduated Barts and Royal London Medical school MBBS in 2003, having also spent a year at Kings College London where I gained an additional BSc Philosophy and Medical Science. We were the only med college to have a Turf Club of which I was secretary and owned 2 racehorses in training. The first named “Nearly a Doctor” and the second we purchased on a memorable trip to the blood stock sales in Ireland – “Gallop Rhythm”. I completed my junior doctor year in London before moving to Sheffield to take a training rotation in Psychiatry. After a year I transferred to General Practice training and completed my MRCGP in 2008 and have worked as a GP ever since. I currently work 3 days a week at a busy practice in the seaside town of Bridlington on the East Yorkshire coast. I also work as the RNLI doctor in a voluntary capacity to support the town’s Lifeboat Crew. Prior to the recent pandemic I completed my training in the new specialty of Medical Examiner with the Royal College of Pathologists.
My family are completely non-medical and completely non-horsey! But for me it was either medicine or horses when I left school – now I am managing to do both.
I have ridden since I was 3 after nagging my parents…. But did not get my first horse until I was 29. As a teen I worked at yards and rode a lot of young and “difficult” horses… I was generally the person that would get on any horse. After university I wanted to return to riding regularly and ended up completing my BHS exams to Stage 3 whilst working as a junior doctor. I then attended another Monty / Kelly Demo and was inspired to pursue training with Intelligent Horsemanship and completed all the preliminary courses in 2015.
My wife Rosie and I currently own 7 horses of various shapes and sizes (and a menagerie of dogs and cats and chickens) at our small farm in East Yorks. They are all in ridden work, 4 of whom we have backed and started in the past 7 years following IH principles. I currently train in Classical Dressage and have regular lessons as well as enjoying hacking and clinics from horsemanship to cow working.
Regarding our own horses: we have a varied bunch…
The main man is Apollo – an 11 yr old British Warmblood who I bred from my first horse Cherie with the aim of eventing. Unfortunately due to my own injuries ( following a rotational fall form Cherie) we now mainly keep 4 feet on the ground. He is highly intelligent and has an enormous and entertaining personality. He is a horse that ensures you pay attention to detail and get everything just right… he provides daily learning opportunities!!
Velvet is a 12yrs Appaloosa mare who started my journey into bitting. We bought her as a yearling companion. 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 bitless. 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 the eventual development of the APBBF.
Leonidas is a 12 yrs Black Arab, who has been with us 3 years now, having a slightly chequered past and was previously produced as a stallion. (My favourite film when I was a child was of course “The Black Stallion”). I am developing his ridden work and he is improving my skills of in-hand training having learnt most lateral work from the ground. He is also a great hack, brilliant with young riders and star of a horsemanship DVD.
Cookie is a “Connemara” who we bought as 3 year old who had come through the York Sales and backed. He never stopped growing and has finished up as a dependable 16.2hh ISH all rounder.
Woody is an 18 year old coloured cob who is a firm family favourite having been with us most of his ridden life. We have enjoyed showing, dressage, cross country and pleasure rides.
We also have Dilano, my wifes Hanoverian Advanced Dressage horse and RSPCA Rascal, a rescue foster pony that came for 6 months and 5 years later lives up to his name on a daily basis.
How did you get interested in bitting?
I started bitting horses by a chance opportunity after seeking help with Velvet. I enjoy learning and undertook lorinery training and worked with a HBF initially. During this time I developed the consultation model, trained a number of colleagues around the country and co- wrote and examined on a LANTRA accredited Bit and Bridle Fitting course. This evolved over a number of years and during lockdown myself and my colleagues formed the Association of Professional Bit and Bridle Fitters.
The APBBF are an independent not-for-profit organisation with the aim of setting a standard and professional approach to bit and bridle fitting. We are independent of any brand or manufacturer and do not sell anything. We take a whole horse approach to bitting and promote welfare of the horse as priority in every consultation. We are also keen to improve education around bitting and bridle fit and frequently provide lecture/demos to other equine professionals and organisations. We undergo annual CPD to ensure we remain up to date with the information we provide.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of bit fitting?
I am lucky enough to work with a vast range of horses and riders, from novice to top professionals and across every discipline, so I have the opportunity to learn something from every horse and rider combination I see. It is very satisfying to be able to make an instant improvement to the horse’s comfort and wellbeing, which improves the ridden work and communication between horse and rider whatever their goal.
James’ Top Bitting Advice for Horse Owners
My best piece of advice to horse owners is to make your horse as comfortable as possible with bit and bridle by keeping it simple, paying attention to detail and reduce pressure on their head.
Common and easily fixed issues:
- Tension in the jaw/neck/poll – loosen your noseband.
- Strong horse – make them more comfortable before considering going for a stronger bit or tightening your noseband, as it is often due to tension/lack of balance.
- Tongue over the bit issues are just as frequently not a bitting problem and often require other investigation to determine the cause, such as saddle, girth and back.
Has IH changed your life in anyway?
IH has changed my life as it has enabled opportunities to make new friends, to improve skills, to meet and stay with Monty, and even to meet the Queen with Monty in the tack room at Windsor Castle. I am really pleased to have the opportunity to do the webinars for IH and all the feedback received. I’m glad to make a difference and enjoying sharing information to improve equine welfare.
You have a very busy diary – do you have other pastimes too?
Time is an issue! I like good music and going to concerts. We enjoy having friends to stay and we often have a house full of guests when not in lockdown, and keeping fit in the gym and walking the dogs.
What is your proudest achievement or next goal?
My next goal is to complete my IH stage 2 training. But my proudest achievement is marrying my lovely wife Rosie, who is a fantastic support to everything I do and our “4 legged” family.