Going bitless could improve the general welfare of horses

Several years ago, I acquired my little mare, Paris. Her previous owners and I had been through the usual trial and error of many types of mouth piece in an effort to find the key. Like many cobs she has a fat tongue, which makes her difficult to fit, but additionally, she is an exceptionally uncomfortable ride when she is tense. This means that it is was hard for me to stay in harmony with her as she hurt my back so much. However, trying a bitless bridle gave an almost instant transformation. She understood the aids immediately, and easily went into a correct outline, and from a distance, in a Dr Cook, you really couldn’t tell. She was instantly happier, and I know it was because we were both more comfortable.

We have since won and been placed at TREC bitless. But for dressage I had to use a thin rubber youngstock bit - which is dressage legal - but looks odd and isn’t safe for general riding.

Since this experience I am a bitless convert and believe, for example, that many riding school horses would be subjected to less discomfort from their riders if they were ridden bitless. Removing the bit also removes the possibility of an accidental (or intentional) yank as punishment, which can only improve the general welfare of horses. The emphasis should be on training - by going bitless, the rider/trainer cannot psychologically rely on and be fixated by finding the right bit, and additionally there is no need to crank an already uncomfortable mouth tight shut with a flash noseband. Many horses that are difficult to bit may well improve in a bitless bridle, and it is illogical and inhumane that dressage and racing are out of step with other equestrian disciplines.

Dr Jill Butterworth SEBC PTC BHSAI BVetMed MRCVS Think Ahead: Wear a hard hat around horses

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