Seven Reasons to Change to Bitless Bridles
Updated: Jul 8
1. So you can ride safely and kindly – Bitless bridles have now been used extensively throughout the world for over 20 years. They have stood the test of time and have been shown to be a safe and effective way to ride horses. When you think about it, the stories we hear of horses bolting, bucking, rearing etc. are about horses who are wearing bits. Bits not only handicap performance but are also a frequent but unacknowledged cause of loss of control and accidents. Bits are not a guarantee of safety when riding a horse, in fact they are quite the opposite. Most equestrians grow up being indoctrinated with bit use to ‘control’ the horse when it’s obvious that it doesn’t. The bitless bridle provides a safe and effective way to ride horses while also being kind. It is now easy to find examples of bit free horsemanship online and in publications. The evidence is out there, for our horses sake it’s time we made the shift.
2. To remove the bit pain from your horse’s life – Bits are a pain-based method of horse control, that’s how they work. Humans have sought to dominate horses by inflicting pain since around 3000BC. The focused forces of the metal rod inside the horse’s mouth create pain when the reins are used. The amount of pain varies according to style of bit, rider skill and horse training level, but there is always pain. Studies have found bit-induced lesions varying from mild to severe. Equine dentists regularly see evidence of bit damage inside the mouth. When we put the metal rod inside the mouth, it is then out of sight and out of mind for us. But for the horse it is very much in their mind, causing pain and its associated problems.
3. To prevent bone spur growth from bit damage – The bit places pressure on the horse’s mandible, which is covered by a mucous membrane only a few millimetres thick. This membrane is soft and moist and it is all that covers the bone. Repeated pressure from the bit traumatises the bone, which remodels in response, producing bone spurs. These are upright bony growths from the mandible which then have contact with the bit, causing even more pain. A survey by Dr Cook of 66 equine mandibles showed ‘periostitis’ (bone spur formation) of the interdental space (bars) in 62% of domestic horses that had been ridden with bits. Free-roaming horses had no bone spurs at all.
4. To improve your relationship with your horse – It must be confusing for horses when people lavish love and affection on them on the ground and then sit on them and create pain. To cope with this, many horses internalise and shut out the human. It’s only when you remove the bit and the pain from the horse’s life that you start to realise just how huge it has been for the horse. Horses open up so much more to their people, the difference is quite extreme, and it’s then we realise just how it has been for the horse. The bit is a device that blocks the goal of achieving rider-horse harmony. Most riders do not want to hurt their horse. They believe they must because it has been indoctrinated into them. When riders are no longer inflicting pain, they feel more positive about themselves, which also improves their relationship with their horse.
5. To remove negative behaviours created by the bit – There have been a number of studies conducted looking at negative behaviours created by bit use. Dr Cook has identified 69 aberrant behaviours as being bit-induced. In controlled studies removal of the bit reduced the number of pain-induced behaviours by 87%. Behaviours such as lifting the head when bridling, being sensitive about the mouth, head shaking, chewing on the bit and other bit aversions are the horses trying to tell us. Potentially dangerous behaviours reported are “fright”, “stiff necked” and “loss of control. This loss of control can express as bolting, bucking, rearing, etc. Bit pain behaviour often goes unrecognised, being considered ‘normal’ behaviour in horses. It’s only after the bit is removed that it becomes evident.
6. So your horse can breathe properly when exercising – Studies have shown that bits may interfere with a horse breathing while exercising. When a horse runs freely, their lips are sealed. A bit stops the mouth from sealing and maintaining a negative atmospheric pressure in the oral cavity. This is necessary for stabilizing the soft palate on the root of the tongue and ensure its air-tight seal around the larynx, providing an unobstructed throat airway. When exercising, this lack of sealing may produce collapse of the upper respiratory tract, dorsal displacement of the soft palate, epiglottal entrapment, cervical trachea deformity, ‘bleeding’ in racehorses, arterial hypoxaemia, laryngeal neuropathy, premature exhaustion, breakdowns, accidents, and death. This is quite a list. I recall a racehorse man saying to me that bitless bridles could not be used on racehorses as it would give them an unfair advantage, now I know why. It seems logical to take away the bits from all racehorses to even the field, but this has obviously not happened. On top of all this, bits may trigger digestive system reflexes such as chewing, salivation and swallowing during exercise, rather than the respiratory reflexes that the horse requires.
7. To help create a kinder and more compassionate world – To be a kind and compassionate person means to not knowingly cause pain for another being, and then to go a step further and actively assist others to achieve a life with less pain and difficulty. Welfare issues created by the bit include the pain itself, but also potentially breathlessness, anxiety, and fear. The general public’s concern about horse welfare is at an all-time high, with many now questioning equestrian sports’ social licence to operate in the manner that they currently do with whips, spurs, and bits. A horse naturally runs with the head and neck extended, lips sealed, teeth clenched, mouth dry, and the throat airway stable and unobstructed. None of these requirements are available to a horse with a bit in the mouth. This act of removing the bit from the horses’ mouth, is in line with living a caring and compassionate life. When we do this, we not only benefit the horse, but also ourselves and the world in general. Kindness never goes unnoticed. Compassionate acts are rewarded over and over.
1. Cook, W.R, (2021): Pain-Free Horsemanship.
2. Cook, W.R, (2011): Damage by the bit to the equine interdental space and second lower premolar. Equine Vet. Educ. 2011, 23(7), 355-360. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230114680_Damage_by_the_bit_to_the_equine_interdental_space_and_second_lower_premolar
3. Mellor, D.J. (2020a): Mouth pain in horses: Physiological foundations, behavioural indices, welfare implications and a suggested solution. Animals,10(4), 572; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10040572
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Ph: 0401 249 263
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