The rules for what gear can be used with a horse in competitions in Australia is decided by Equestrian Australia (EA) and internationally by the Federation Equestrian International (EFI). The rules for acceptable gear at Pony Club is set by Pony Club Australia.
Currently at competitions in Australia the EA rules state that it’s acceptable to use bitless bridles when showjumping and at eventing competitions in the showjumping and cross-country sections (a bit is still required for the dressage component). Bitless bridles are permitted at all endurance events, cowboy dressage, extreme cowgirl racing and trail-riding clubs. Bitless bridles are not permitted for dressage, show horses, driving or vaulting. In reining bosals are permitted.
The fact that the EA allows bitless bridles for showjumping and cross-country implies they don't think riding bitless is dangerous as these are two of the most dangerous horse sports available. The more sedate events such as dressage and hacking, where the horses are in a small area and not going over obstacles, must be done with a bit. This suggests that tradition is the main opponent and an outdated mentality of domination over horses using pain.
Pony Club Australia has just proven that people are capable of change! In February 2018 they decided to allow bitless bridles at rally days. Below is the full article.
The National Coaching Committee (NCC) has considered the use of bitless bridles over the past 12 months. There is sufficient evidence that bitless bridles work very well and the PCA board believes it is important that Pony Club Policies keep pace with evidence. In some cases there are veterinary grounds for their use. Pony Club members are under supervision at rallies which gives the rider a good opportunity to evaluate the suitability of the bridle. In consultation with the NCC, the PCA Board has decided that approval for use of bitless bridles should be granted on a case-by-case basis for the member and the specified horse at rallies. The approval form can be found on the website (www.ponyclubaustralia.com.au/Resources/BitlesBridles.aspx) with final approval given by the zone chief or equivalent. PCA will monitor take-up of this option by riders, however states should welcome these applications and asses them on their merits.
PCA News, February 2018 (www.ponyclubaustralia.com.au/News.aspx)
The recent rule passed by the Dutch to allow bitless riders to compete against bitted in dressage is fantastic. Follow this link to learn more about the recent rule changes in the Netherlands. http://www.dressage-international.com/?p=16420
South Africa is the first in the world to allow bitless bridles at shows.
Below is a link for a letter written by Dr Robert Cook to the USEF (the main equine body in the USA) which includes some awesome letters by prominent equine scientists of our day. Dr Dwight Bennett (US equine bitting expert) who wrote a scientific book about bits, now endorses bitless bridles! And a fantastic letter written by the Presidential Council of the International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) fully requesting that the USEF endorse cross-under bitless bridles. This letter is signed by Dr Andrew McLean (Australian Institute of Equine Behaviour), Prof. Natalie Waran and Prof. Paul McGreevy (author of numerous books on equine behaviour)! This is ground-breaking stuff, it really is happening. http://www.bitlessbridle.com/RuleChangeProposal092313.pdf
World renowned dressage riders such as Uta Graf and Alizee Froment have been doing bitless Grand Prix demonstrations. I also saw online photos of our very own Australian Grand Prix rider, Sally Evans, riding her stallion A’ Seduction in a bitless bridle.
For frustrated bitless dressage riders you have 2 options. One is to enter online dressage competitions and compete against riders from around the world plus win ribbons/rosettes and prize money! You just upload a video of yourself doing the test (bitless of course). A great online dressage site is: http://www.interdressage.com/
The other option is to compete Hors Concurs. Riding hors concours at a dressage competition means you are not actually competing. You will still pay an entry fee, receive a number and be judged by the judge (so you get your feedback), however you will not be considered for placings. This is a great way to get out there and enjoy yourself and your horse and to show the judges and other riders how well horses can go in a bitless bridle.
Fortunately we are not alone and many people have started online petitions to ask various groups around the world to allow bitless horses at competitions. Below are some links that may interest you.
Change comes slowly but it does come. By moving steadily toward a kinder world we not only benefit our horses but ourselves as well. Every time a horse transitions into a bitless bridle people see it and talk about it and a seed is sown. So go out there and proudly ride your bitless horse and enjoy the wonderful relationship you now have due to your compassionate choice.