Equestrian organisations should commend bitless riders, not discriminate against them.
The Equine Behaviour and Training Association (EBTA) aims to provide information to horse owners so that they are better able to meet the needs of their horses and maximise their welfare. We now have a much better understanding of how horses learn and we can use this knowledge to help us ask our requests of horses in a manner that does not cause them distress.
Traditionally, when a horse was uncomfortable wearing a bitted bridle, and expressed his discomfort by resisting the bit in some way, the rider may have opted for a harsher bit. The increased discomfort of the harsher bit suppressed the resistance and the horse appeared to be “happier”. We now know this not to be the case, it just hurt too much to resist.
To their tremendous credit, horse owners have much greater awareness of this now. Instead of reaching for a stronger bit when their horses demonstrate their discomfort, many riders now opt to use a bitless bridle. The milder action, taking place on the horse’s nose instead of the sensitive mouth, causes less distress to the horse and he has no need to resist.
Unfortunately many horse owners also want to compete in various disciplines, some of which prohibit the use of the bitless bridle. This places owners in a ridiculously difficult position, balancing the conflict between their desire to maximise their horse’s welfare and their desire to pursue a favoured equestrian sport.
At EBTA we cannot understand the need to place riders in such a position of conflict. Equine welfare should be at the forefront of equestrian sport and its organisations should be commending riders for putting equine welfare first, not discriminating against them. Allowing riders the choice to use bitless bridles would be a significant step forwards.
You can find EBTA's website here: www.ebta.co.uk