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Equine January/February 2009 (Vol 4, No 1)

A Simple Administrative Reform to Reduce Accidents in Equestrian Sport

    On 31 October 2008, during the annual conference of the Certified Horsemanship Association held at the Kentucky Horse Park, Dr. Robert Cook, a veterinary researcher, gave a demonstration of relevance to the improvement of welfare and safety for horses and humans.

    The demonstration took the form of a scientific experiment in front of witnesses. Four volunteers, all of whom were CHA certified riding instructors, rode four riding-school horses provided by two of the CHA members. A four-minute, exercise test was first completed using a bitted bridle (jointed snaffle). Immediately afterwards, the same rider/horse partnership repeated the test using a crossunder bitless bridle. Prior to the demonstration, none of the horses had ever been ridden in a crossunder bitless bridle. The horses' behavior and performance were evaluated and a videotape recording supplemented the 'laboratory notebook.'

    An independent judge with 25 year's experience scored the tests on a scale from zero to ten, for each of the 27 phases of the test. The average score when bitted was 37% ('fairly bad') and, when bitless, 64% ('satisfactory'). It was a revelation for the horse's owners, riders and spectators that such a significant improvement in performance could be achieved, in the very first four minutes, by removing the bit and replacing it with a painless method of communication. The experiment also demonstrated that the transition from bitted to bitless was instantaneous.

    The results provide further evidence of the need for rule change proposals to be submitted in order that the crossunder bitless bridle, a safer and more humane method of communication than the bit, is made available as an option for competition. In the past ten years, the crossunder bitless bridle has been thoroughly tested on horses of all types, temperaments and stages of schooling; by riders of all ages and ability; in nearly every discipline; and under diverse conditions, worldwide. The scientific, humanitarian and practical equestrian reasons for providing such an option are compelling. The option should not be denied on the grounds of tradition. The bit is a Bronze Age invention. Horsemen now have a better way to communicate with their horse's head. Use of the bit triggers over 100 negative behaviors and causes 40 different diseases.

    Members of pony clubs, national equine federations, the international equine federation (FEI), and administrators of racing are urged to submit the necessary rule change proposals in order that the rules, for all disciplines, embrace this historic advance in welfare and safety for horse and rider. The Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS) has led the way by approving the crossunder bitless bridle for dressage and for driving competitions on the show grounds. The South African National Equine Federation (SANEF) launches a year's trial for separate bitless dressage competitions, starting in 2009. Much suffering, many accidents and a host of diseases could be avoided if other federations would follow their example and introduce this simple administrative reform.

    A stroke of the pen could stop the pain.

    There is nothing to lose and much to gain

    For additional evidence visit http://www.bitlessbridle.com/ or contact Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, Professor of Surgery Emeritus, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA; Chairman, BitlessBridle Inc. Present address: 206 Birch Run Road, Chestertown, MD 21620 USA

    Email: drcook@bitlessbridle.com
    Telephone: (443) 282 0472

    NEXT: Clinical Snapshot — Colic in a Quarter Horse


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