Competition and Pony Club
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 is 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 do not think riding bitless is dangerous, as these are two of the most dangerous horse sports. 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 This suggests that tradition is the main opponent, and an outdated mentality.
We are not alone, below is a link to petition the FEI to allow bitless bridles in competitions.
Pony Club Australia
In February 2018 PCA decided to allow bitless bridles at rally days.
'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. Final approval is given by the zone chief or equivalent.'
The form to apply the ride bitless at Pony Club Australia can be found here https://ponyclubaustralia.com.au/about-us/resources/?fbclid=IwAR1uQsPOz2WNaEW7AonjxgDmAlFjLmBljkk9zV0sMymLnx0XwvftjgssT7k
Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on BITLESS BRIDLES. The Dr Cooks bitless bridle and the Lightrider bitless bridle are the 2 bridles approved for use at PCA rally days, both are available on this site. Please note they do not accept the Lightrider rope bridles, just the ones made from Beta.
The Netherlands allow bitless riders to compete against bitted in dressage and South Africa is the first in the world to allow bitless bridles at shows.
Unites States Equestrian Federation
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 brilliant 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, check it out here.... 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. Some clubs will require you to ask permission to ride bitless first, so it is always polite to check on this first.
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 have due to your compassionate choice.