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World Bitless Campaign – Why NOT Bit-FREE? the EVIDENCE

Why NOT Bit-FREE – Campaign to allow Bit-FREE bridles in Horse Sport. The Evidence

Why NOT Bit-FREE – Campaign to allow Bit-FREE bridles in Horse Sport.

The Evidence 


Evidence Listed by the Equine Ethics & Wellbeing Commission (early recommendations) Interim Report of the Equine Ethics & Wellbeing Commission 2022

Tack and Equipment Early Recommendations 2022…/Supporting…


“Although bits can be extremely effective and especially when used with great care, bits and especially more severe bits are a risk in that they can cause extensive damage to the tongue, bar and hard palate of a horse’s mouth (Cook 1999, Mellor 2021)”

  • It is already the case that double bridles are optional for riders competing under a number of National Federation regulations at Grand Prix level
  • Use of more severe bits designed with stronger deceleration pressures used in conjunction with accelerator devices such as spurs are a welfare risk (Hill et al., 2015; Condon et al., 2022)
  • Increased chance for misuse through overshadowing of “go” and “stop” responses (Condon et al., 2022)
  • Increased conflict behaviours (Condon et al., 2022)
  • The use of a double bitting system for the horse has the potential to interfere with coherence of the cues/aids (Cross et al., 2017)
  • Repeated mouth opening (used as an indicator of discomfort or pain) was seen in more than 50% of horses competing in Grand Prix level Dressage (Dyson et al 2021)
  • Double bridle noseband design most commonly involves crank nosebands, which have been linked to additional welfare concerns due to the ease in which they can be overtightened (McGreevy et al., 2012)
  • Double bits including lever action increase the risk of a horse experiencing pain/fear and conflict. Addition of a curb bit which makes use of levers that amplify rein tension, with the shank magnifying the leverage through the bit, increases the potential for harm and risk to welfare (McLean and McGreevy 2010).
  • Aggressive riding and extreme overbending (Rolkur) is associated with use of Double Bridle (…/27642…/posts/359743131115819/)
  • Type of bit has been shown to influence both the location and the severity of the lesions. The use of curb bits with a port was found to be a decisive risk factor for lesions on the bars of the mandible, most of which were regarded as severe. The results also raised questions about the head and neck carriage demanded for the competition horses.
  • With two bits in the horse’s mouth – the bits are likely to be ‘on top of each other’. The bits come into constant contact with the various parts of the mouth and there isn’t enough space in the mouth for the horse to gain relief from pressure. A blue tongue’ may result when the horse is unable to open its mouth to relieve the pressure (Nordic College of Equine Dentists)

Björnsdóttir S, Frey R, Kristjansson T, Lundström T. Bit-related lesions in Icelandic competition horses. Acta Vet Scand. 2014 Aug 13;56(1):40. doi: 10.1186/s13028-014-0040-8. PMID: 25116656; PMCID: PMC4236600.

An independent Commission established by the FEI

  1. Christensen J., Beckmans M., Van Dalum M., Van Dierendonck M. Effects of hyperflexion on acute stress response in ridden dressage horses. Physiol. Behav.2014;128:39–45.
  2. Condon, V. M., McGreevy, P. D., McLean, A. N., Williams, J. M., & Randle, H. (2022). Associations between commonly used apparatus and conflict behaviors reported in the ridden horse in Australia. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 49, 1-14.
  3. Cook, W.R. (1999). Pathophysiology of bit control in the horse. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 19, 196-204.
  4. Cross, G. H., Cheung, M. K., Honey, T. J., Pau, M. K., & Senior, K. J. (2017). Application of a dual force sensor system to characterize the intrinsic operation of horse bridles and bits. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 48, 129-135.
  5. Doherty O, Casey V, McGreevy P, McLean A, Parker P, Arkins S. An analysis of visible patterns of horse bit wear. J Vet Behav. (2017) 18:84– 91. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2016.12.00
  6. Dyson S, Pollard D. Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to Elite Dressage Horses Competing in World Cup Grand Prix Competitions. Animals (Basel). 2021 Apr 21;11(5):1187
  7. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Dressage Rules. 25th Edition. Switzerland.…/FEI_Dressage_Rules_2022_Clean….
  8. Hill, E., McGreevy, P. D., Caspar, G., White, P., & McLean, A. N. (2015). Apparatus use in popular equestrian disciplines in Australia. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10(2), 147-152.
  9. Hockenhull, J., & Creighton, E. (2012). The use of equipment and training practices and the prevalence of owner‐reported ridden behaviour problems in UK leisure horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 45(1), 15-19.
  10. Kienapfel K., Link Y., König von Borstel U. Prevalence of different head-neck positions in horses shown at dressage competitions and their relation to conflict behaviour and performance marks. PLoS ONE. 2014;9:
  11. Mellor D. Mouth pain in horses: Physiological foundations, behavioural indices, welfare implications, and a suggested solution. Animals. 2020;10:572
  12. McGreevy, P., Warren-Smith, A., & Guisard, Y. (2012). The effect of double bridles and jaw clamping crank nosebands on temperature of eyes and facial skin of horses. Journal of veterinary behavior, 7(3), 142-148.
  13. McLean, A. N., & McGreevy, P. D. (2010). Horse-training techniques that may defy the principles of learning theory and compromise welfare. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 5(4), 187-195.
  14. Murray, R., Guire, R., Fisher, M., & Fairfax, V. (2015). A bridle designed to avoid peak pressure locations under the headpiece and noseband is associated with more uniform pressure and increased carpal and tarsal flexion, compared with the horse’s usual bridle. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35(11-12), 947-955.
  15. Tuomola K, Mäki-Kihniä N, Valros A, Mykkänen A, Kujala-Wirth M. Risk factors for bit-related lesions in finnish trotting horses. Equine Vet J. (2021) 53:1132-40. doi: 10.1111/evj.13401 32.
  16. Uldahl M, Bundgaard L, Dahl J, Clayton HM. Pre-Competition Oral Findings in Danish Sport Horses and Ponies Competing at High Level. Animals. 2022; 12(5):616.
  17. Van Lancker S, Van Den Broeck W, Simoens P. Incidence and morphology of bone irregularities of the equine interdental spaces (bars of the mouth). Equine Vet Educ. (2007)

19:103–6. doi: 10.2746/095777307X17988 Additional Information: Presentations from the Nordic College of Equine Dentistry members (

Nosebands & Bitted bridles

Noseband over-tightening is commonly cited as being a welfare concern by industry participants (Crago et al., 2019; Visser et al., 2019; Clayton & Williams, 2022)

  1. Intended purpose of tightening nosebands relates to closure of the mouth to avoid penalisation (dressage) and to enhance control of the animal (Doherty et al., 2016; Doherty et al., 2017a; Weller et al., 2020) a. Evidence indicates increased tightness of the noseband is related to increased sensitivity towards bit pressure (Manfredi et al., 2005; Randle & McGreevy, 2013; Pospisil, 2014) b. Despite the noseband not being needed to serve a specific function, fit is often commented on by stewards, trainers, peers, and technical delegates for being “too loose” (Clayton & Williams, 2022) An independent Commission established by the FEI
  2. Standard recommendations for noseband tightness suggest that two adult human fingers need to fit under the nosepiece of a bridle (FEI), despite the origin of this method of assessment being unknown (Ulhdahl & Clayton, 2019) a. Research indicates that riders tend to agree that there should be at least 2-3 fingers beneath a noseband for it to be considered correctly adjusted (Clayton & Williams, 2022) b. Execution of assessment by competition officials does not standardise size of fingers or location or method of assessment, leading to variable results (Kienapfel & Preuschoft, 2010; Doherty et al., 2017a; Weller et al., 2020) c. True prevalence of over tightening in the industry is currently unknown, but current literature suggests more than 50% of horses are experiencing noseband tightness of less than “two fingers” (Doherty et al., 2017a) despite public agreement on a 2 finger “minimum”
  3. Excessively tightened nosebands have been shown to exert extremely high forces (of up to 95 N) and peak pressures of more than 1000 mmHg directly onto the tissues under the noseband (Casey et al., 2013, Murray et al., 2015, Doherty et al., 2017).
  4. Overtightening has been thought to be linked to negative impacts on the horse’s overall welfare a. Physiological i. Pain (Tell et al., 2008; Doherty et al., 2016) ii. Discomfort (Christensen et al., 2011; McGreevy et al., 2012; Doherty et al., 2016; Weller et al., 2020) iii. Tissue damage (Casey et al., 2013; Murray et al., 2015; Doherty et al., 2016; Weller et al., 2020) iv. Vascular perfusion (McGreevy et al., 2012; Doherty et al., 2017b) v. Microfractures and bone remodelling (McGreevy, 2015) vi. Oral lesions and ulceration (Weller et al., 2020) .A 64% higher incidence of lesions was found to be associated with use of a tighter noseband in the study of approx. 3000 horses (Uldahl, 2018). b. Psychological i. Stress (Fenner et al., 2016) c. Behavioural (Weller et al., 2020) i. Prevention of common behaviours which may impact welfare (Casey et al., 2013; Weller et al., 2020) ii. Post-inhibitory rebound following removal of noseband pressure (Fenner et al., 2016) 1. Yawning 2. Swallowing 3. Licking
  5. Particular issues have been linked to specific bridle designs a. Crank noseband (McGreevy et al., 2012; Casey et al., 2013; Hill et al., 2015; Doherty et al., 2016; Weller et al., 2020; Dyson, 2022) i. Potential to overtighten is increased due to developmental design relative to human effort exerted b. Flash noseband (Doherty et al., 2017a)
  6. The use of practices which cause physical or mental suffering in the horse is in direct opposition to the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse (FEI, 2013).
  7. Extremely tight nosebands were found to be prevalent in the disciplines of dressage and eventing (Doherty et al., 2017).

An independent Commission established by the FEI


3.2 Further information regarding concerns about tight nosebands:

3.3 Research Publications

  1. Ahern, T. (2019) ‘Mouth Opening During Ridden Exercise in Sports Horses: An Evasive Behaviour, an Indication of Pain or Discomfort or a Physical Adjustment to Facilitate the Oral Passage of Air During Inspiratory Efforts’, World, 7, pp. 10-13.
  2. Casey, V., P. McGreevy, E. O’ Muiris & O. Doherty (2013) A preliminary report on estimating the pressures exerted by a crank noseband in the horse. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 8(6) 464-479
  3. Christensen, J. W., Zharkikh, T. L., Antoine, A., & Malmkvist, J. (2011). Rein tension acceptance in young horses in a voluntary test situation. Equine Veterinary Journal, 43(2), 223-228.
  4. Clayton, H. M. and Williams, J. M. (2022) ‘Know your noseband: An exploration of factors that influence riders’ choice of noseband’, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 47, pp. 1-11.
  5. Condon, V.M.; McGreevy, P.D.; McLean, A.N.; Williams, J.M.; Randle, H. Associations between commonly used apparatus and conflict behaviors reported in the ridden horse in Australia. J Vet Behav 2022, 49 1 – 14. Animals 2022, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 16 of 17
  6. Crago, F., Shea, G., James, O., Schemann, K. and McGreevy, P. D. (2019) ‘An opportunistic pilot study of radiographs of equine nasal bones at the usual site of nosebands’, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 29, pp. 70-76.
  7. Doherty, O. 2016. An Investigation into the Oro-Nasal pressures used in the Control of the Ridden Horse.PhD Thesis. In Dept of Life Sciences. University of Limerick Library: University of Limerick.
  8. Doherty, O., Casey, V., McGreevy, P., & Arkins, S. (2016). An investigation into noseband tightness levels on competition horses. In the 12th International Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science. International Society for Equitation Science (p. 53). 9. Doherty, O., Casey, V., McGreevy, P., & Arkins, S. (2017). Noseband use in equestrian sports–an international study. PloS One, 12(1), e0169060.
  9. Doherty, O., T. Conway, R. Conway, G. Murray & V. Casey (2017) An Objective Measure of Noseband Tightness and Its Measurement Using a Novel Digital Tightness Gauge. PloS one, 12, e0168996.
  10. Doherty, O., V. Casey, P. McGreevy & S. Arkins (2016) An investigation into noseband tightness levels on competition horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 15, 83.
  11. Doherty, O.; Casey, V.; Conway, R. Changes in pressures exerted on sub-noseband tissues by tightening the noseband. In Proceedings of the International Society for Equitation Science Annual Conference, Guelph, ON, Canada, August 2019, p40.
  12. Doherty, O.; Casey, V.; McGreevy, P.; Arkins, S.; Munderloh, U.G. Noseband Use in Equestrian Sports – An International study. PloS ONE 2017, 12(1), e0169060.
  13. Dyce, K.M.; Sack, W.O.; Wensing, C.J.G. Textbook of veterinary anatomy, Fourth Edition; Saunders Elsevier: St. Louis, Missouri, USA. 2010 P 501-508.
  14. Dyson, S. (2022). The ridden horse pain ethogram. Equine Veterinary Education, 34(7), 372-380.
  15. Dyson, S., Bondi, A., Routh, J., Pollard, D., Preston, T., McConnell, C. and Kydd, J. H. (2022) ‘An investigation of behaviour during tacking-up and mounting in ridden sports and leisure horses’, Equine Veterinary Education, 34(6), pp. e245-e257.
  16. Federation Equestre Internationale. (2013). FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse. Switzerland.…/Code_of_Conduct_Welfare_Horse…
  17. Federation Equestre Internationale. (2022). Dressage Rules. 25th Edition. Switzerland.…/FEI_Dressage_Rules_2022_Clean…. An independent Commission established by the FEI
  18. Federation Equestre Internationale. (2022). Eventing Rules. 25th Edition. Switzerland.…/2022%20Eventin%20Rules_clean….
  19. Federation Equestre Internationale. (2022). Jumping Rules. 27th Edition. Switzerland.: https://in…/Jumping_Rules_2022_final_clean.pdf. 28.
  20. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Driving Rules. 12th Edition. Switzerland.…/FEI%20-%20Driving%20Rules….
  21. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Dressage Rules. 25th Edition. Switzerland.…/FEI_Dressage_Rules_2022_Clean….
  22. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Eventing Rules. 25th Edition. Switzerland.…/2022%20Eventin%20Rules_clean….
  23. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Jumping Rules. 27th Edition. Switzerland. Available online:…/Jumping_Rules_2022_final…. 28.
  24. Federation Equestre Internationale. 2022. Driving Rules. 12th Edition. Switzerland. Available online: %20Driving%20Rules%202022_Clean_v6.pdf.
  25. Fenner, K., S. Yoon, P. White, M. Starling & P. McGreevy (2016) The Effect of Noseband Tightening on Horses’ Behavior, Eye Temperature, and Cardiac Responses. PloS one, 11, e0154179.
  26. Hawson, L.A.; McLean, A.N.; McGreevy, P.D. Variability of scores in the 2008 Olympic dressage competition and implications for horse training and welfare. J Vet Behav 2010 5, 170-176.
  27. Hill, E., McGreevy, P. D., Caspar, G., White, P., & McLean, A. N. (2015). Apparatus use in popular equestrian disciplines in Australia. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10(2), 147-152.
  28. Kienapfel, K., & Preuschoft, H. (2010). Much too tight! On the effects of nosebands. Pferdeheilkunde, 26(2), 178-185.
  29. Krupa, W., Topczewska, J., Garbiec, A. and Karpinski, M. (2022) ‘Is the welfare of sport horses assured by modern management practices?’, Animal Science and Genetics, 18(1).
  30. Manfredi JM, Rosenstein D, Lanovaz JL, Nauwelaerts S, Clayton HM. Fluoroscopic study of oral behaviours in response to the presence of a bit and the effects of rein tension. Comparative Exercise Physiology. 2009;6(04):143–148.
  31. McGreevy, P. D. (2015). Right under our noses. Equine Veterinary Education, 27(10), 503-504.
  32. McGreevy, P., A. Warren-Smith & Y. Guisard (2012) The effect of double bridles and jaw-clamping crank nosebands on temperature of eyes and facial skin of horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 7, 142-148.
  33. McGreevy, P.D.; Doherty, O.; Channon, W.; Kyrklund, K.; Webster, J. The use of nosebands in equitation and the merits of an international equestrian welfare and safety committee: A commentary. Vet J 2017, 222 36-40. 671
  34. McLean, A. N., & McGreevy, P. D. (2010). Horse-training techniques that may defy the principles of learning theory and compromise welfare. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 5(4), 187-195.
  35. Merkies, K.; Copelin, C.; McPhedran, C.; McGreevy, P. The presence of various tack and equipment in sale horse advertisements in Australia and North America. J Vet Behav 2022,
  36. Murray, R., R. Guire, M. Fisher & V. Fairfax (2015) A Bridle Designed to Avoid Peak Pressure Locations Under the Headpiece and Noseband Is Associated With More Uniform Pressure and Increased Carpal and Tarsal Flexion, Compared With the Horse’s Usual Bridle. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35, 947-955.
  37. Ödberg, F.O.; Bouissou, M.-F. The development of equestrianism from the baroque period to the present day and its consequences for the welfare of horses. Eq Vet J 1999, 31(S28), 26-30. An independent Commission established by the FEI
  38. Pahl, D.; Kienapfel, K. Noseband tightness on National German leisure competition in low and medium classes. In Proceedings of the International Conference Equitation Science, Rome, Italy, September 2018; p. 100.
  39. Pérez-Manrique, L., León-Pérez, K., Zamora-Sánchez, E., Davies, S., Ober, C., Wilson, B. and McGreevy, P. (2020) ‘Prevalence and Distribution of Lesions in the Nasal Bones and Mandibles of a Sample of 144 Riding Horses’, Animals, 10(9).
  40. Perruccio, F. and Scofield, R. ‘A Preliminary Investigation into Noseband Tightness and Oral Soft Tissue Damage in Elite and Non-Elite Horses’.
  41. Pospisil, K., I. Potz & C. Peham (2014) The Effect of Noseband Tightness on Tensile Forces While Using Side Reins on Horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 46, 46-47.
  42. Randle, H., & McGreevy, P. (2013). The effect of noseband tightness on rein tension in the ridden horse. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 2(, e18-e19.
  43. Robinson, N.; Bye, T.L. Noseband and poll pressures underneath bitted and bitless bridles and the effects on equine locomotion. J Vet Behav 2021, 44, 18–24.
  44. Rydevik, B.; Lundborg, G. Permeability of intraneural microvessels and perineurium following acute, graded experimental nerve compression. Scand J Plast Reconstr Surg Hand Surg 1977, Suppl 11(3), 179 – 187. Tell, A., Egenvall, A., Lundström, T., & Wattle, O. (2008). The prevalence of oral ulceration in Swedish horses when ridden with bit and bridle and when unridden. The Veterinary Journal, 178(3), 405-410.
  45. Uldahl, M. & H. M. Clayton (2018) Lesions associated with the use of bits, nosebands, spurs and whips in Danish competition horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 51(2), pp. 154-162.
  46. Visser, E. K., Kuypers, M. M. F., Stam, J. S. M. and Riedstra, B. (2019) ‘Practice of noseband use and intentions towards behavioural change in Dutch equestrians’, Animals, 9(12), pp. 1131.
  47. Weller, D., Franklin, S., Shea, G., White, P., Fenner, K., Wilson, B., Wilkins, C. and McGreevy, P. (2020) ‘The reported use of nosebands in racing and equestrian pursuits’, Animals, 10(5), pp. 776.
  48. Weller, D., Franklin, S., White, P., Shea, G., Fenner, K., Wilson, B., Wilkins, C. and McGreevy, P. (2021) ‘The Reported Use of Tongue-Ties and Nosebands in Thoroughbred and Standardbred Horse Racing—A Pilot Study’, Animals, 11(3), pp. 622.

World Bitless Association Evidence & listings

  • The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human–Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Mellor, D.J., Beausoleil, N.J., Littlewood, K.E., McLean, A.N., McGreevy, P.D., Jones, B. and Wilkins, C. (2020). Animals10(10), 1870; doi:10.3390/ani10101870
  1. Conflict behaviour in elite dressage and show jumping horses Conflict behaviour in elite dressage and showjumping horses

2CB is a response exhibited by animals that experience difficulty coping with mental or physical discomfort, most often demonstrated as some form of resistance to handling or training cues and/or equipment (McGreevy et al., 2005)’.

All such behavior is rarely or almost never observed in natural or feral equine behavioral repertoires (Fraser, 1992, Ransom and Cade, 2009), but it is associated with the ridden horse context (Von Borstel et al., 2009, Williams and Warren-Smith, 2010). Specifically, typical examples of these CBs in the ridden horse include instances of head shaking (HS), gaping (GA; opening of the mouth or failing to accept the bit for contact), tugging or pulling the reins (PR; out of rider’s hands), and excessive swishing of the tail during the ridden work‘”

  1. Equine conflict behaviors in dressage and their relationship to performance evaluation:…/pii/S1558787822000843
  2. Ridden horse pain ethogram…/10.1111/eve.13468
  3. Objective Pain assessment in horses…/abs/pii/S1090023318306245J.P.A.M Van Loon

Pain is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) as an ‘unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage’ (Merskey and Bogduk, 1994). For animal pain, the definition of Molony and Kent (1997) is often used: ‘Pain is an aversive sensory and emotional experience, representing an awareness by the animal of damage or threat to the integrity of its tissues; it changes the animal’s physiology and behaviour to reduce or avoid damage, to reduce the likelihood of recurrence and to promote recovery; unnecessary pain occurs when the integrity or duration of the experience is inappropriate for the damage sustained or when the physiological and behavioural responses to it are unsuccessful at alleviating it’.

  1. New insights into ridden horse behaviour, horse welfare and horse-related safety…/pii/S0168159121003269
  2. Effects of Stress on Pain in Horses and Incorporating Pain Scales for Equine Practice:…/abs/pii/S0749073910000659
  3. Gaping for relief…/pii/S1558787822001344
  4. The prevalence of oral ulceration in Swedish horses when ridden with bit and bridle and when unridden Bit related studies on discomfort:…/abs/pii/S1090023308003316

‘It was concluded that using a bit and bridle can cause oral ulceration even in horses that have regular prophylactic dental floating. It is suggested that riding tack should be individually fitted for each horse and also that prophylactic dental treatments should be individually adapted for each horse’.

  1. Assessment of ridden horse behaviour:…/abs/pii/S1558787812000779
  2. Associations between commonly used apparatus and conflict behaviors reported in the ridden horse in Australia…/abs/pii/S155878782100157X
  3. World Bitless Association – Resources listings ​
  4. World Bitless Association General Report Welfare & Tack SURVEY 2020
  5. The Social License to Operate 2023 USEF,

WHW, Camie Heleski University of Kentucky Equine Science professor​ & member of the FEI Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission ​EEWC​ ​

Roly Owers World Horse Welfare “It’s not what we talk about. It’s what we do,” he continued. “The way forward is to change our practices where we need to and truly prioritize equine welfare. If we can do this, we will absolutely take the sting out of criticisms. The critics will always be there. It’s not about doing what they are expecting us to do, but it’s being able to understand what they’re saying, and being able to justify what we do.”

  1. WHW – Social Licence to Operate: What Can Equestrian Sports Learn from Other Industries?

‘To the fullest extent possible, all rules should be evidence-based’

‘Should exploration of these issues lead to the conclusion that, overall, the use of horses in sports is detrimental to their welfare, we would fully support the sport’s discontinuation. In the meantime, however, equine welfare is best supported by diligent attention to those welfare issues that are of concern to people from both inside and outside equestrianism‘.

Concepts that require consideration include ethics, investment in research, a focus on horses’ mental, physical, and social wellbeing, and education of all stakeholders.’

  1. Perceptions of Fear and Anxiety in Horses as Reported in Interviews with Equine Behaviourists:

“The key themes that emerged throughout several of the questions were: that fear and/or anxiety is very poorly recognized by horse caregivers; that the more overt signs of more extreme fear are more likely to be recognised than the more subtle signs; and that fear and/or anxiety is often misinterpreted by horse caregivers.”

  1. ‘I Can’t Watch Anymore’– Book AuthorJulie Taylor

Catalogues what happens to sport horses in plain sight … should be compulsory reading for all of us who care about horses.’ – Professor Paul McGreevy BVSc, PhD, FRCVS; author, Equine Behaviour

Statements in principle ​ Given to the WBA in 2019 – In support of the use (and continuing use) of Bit-FREE bitless bridles in eventing

British Eventing Limited BE
I can confirm that we are in agreement with you and are not aware of any evidence or reason to suggest that hackamores/bitless bridles should not be used in the jumping phases for eventing. This has been fed back to the FEI via the 2020 rules consultation process. Paul Graham Chief Sport Officer British Eventing Limited

RSPCA Australia
RSPCA Australia is committed to improving the lives of animals through changing human behaviour and legal reform to achieve higher standards in animal welfare. We support the implementation of training and riding practices that are grounded in learning theory and equine ethology​.​ The RSPCA acknowledges the welfare benefits to horses of using appropriate bitless bridles as part of an ethical, evidence-based approach to riding and training. We are also aware that many horses who have suffered oral trauma are not comfortable with the use of conventional bits. For these horses, a bitless bridle offers an alternative that enables them to continue to participate in recreational and competitive activities.
On this basis, RSPCA Australia supports the position of the World Bitless Association regarding the proposal by the FEI to ban bitless bridles in the cross country stage of eventing.
​Dr Bidda Jones Chief Executive Officer (A/g) RSPCA Australia

British Equestrian Federation BEF
The British response to the proposal is that we support hackamore/bitless bridles and we are not aware of any evidence or reason to suggest that hackamores/bitless bridles should not be used. GBR NF feels that a rule change is not necessary and will not be applying any such change to NF competition rules.
Iain Graham Interim Chief Executive British Equestrian Federation

The International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC)
The IAABC supports evidence-based, well-researched and documented changes in animal care, training, treatment and competition rules.

Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) guidelines require that each horse, and each horse and rider team, is respected as a “study of one,” where structure, previous experiences, the horse’s personal preferences, and the skill of the rider, and the quality of the training determine best tools for each individual learner and team.​ ​We acknowledge that change is difficult and often passionately rejected by institutions and individuals wanting only the best for their constituents.

However, there is no reliable, empirical evidence known to us supporting the assertion that bitless bridles offer less control or precision than bitted bridles, and there is certainly no such evidence that the use of bitless bridles contributes to accidents and injuries during cross-country.​

T​he Fédération Equestre International’s own standards require in their FEI Eventing Risk Management Policy and Action plan that “Risk management actions must be based on a proactive long term systematic approach where results are expected to be consistent, comparable and reliable. Unstructured emotional reactions, also if at times understandable, are felt to be detrimental and must, by all means, be avoided.”
The recognized greatest hazard in the sport are the jumps themselves; consequently, the greatest investment of focus and prevention must directed toward increasing current safety features, and the highest standards of training and team readiness.
Marjie Alonso Executive Director
IAABC For the Board of Directors

ISES – The International Society for Equitation Science
ISES are supportive in principle and have several Council members working toward an expanded response. We are not necessarily saying that we prefer bitless to bitted, but that we definitely see no reason that the option cannot be available.
Camie Heleski ISES Honorary Senior Vice-President

Denzil O’Brien Scientific Researcher
South Australian Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre, Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre, Australia

I am happy to provide my support to your request to the FEI and other national equestrian federations to review their decisions about the use of bitless bridles in the cross-country phase of eventing until some appropriate research has been conducted. As you have seen from my recently published article, I am a strong supporter of policies developed on the basis of evidence, not incidents. As my own horse knowledge has expanded and improved (unfortunately rather too late for me, as I am nearly 70 and no longer a competitive rider), I have embraced the concepts of equestrian science and equine learning theory, and I can see that inappropriate use of bits can be harmful to horses.

I also acknowledge that sports administrators may fear that a horse with no bit is ‘uncontrollable’, and may pose a safety risk. This fear, however, does not appear to be based on evidence, but rather on historical beliefs that a horse must have a bit in its mouth in order to be ‘controlled’ by the rider, and perhaps by isolated incidents in which a rider whose horse has had a tack failure has lost control.

As I understand it, Equestrian Australia (EA) has banned the use of bitless bridles (referred to only as hackamores) in the cross-country phase of eventing, based on one incident, the nature of which I have no knowledge. Curiously, the 2019 national rules for jumping permit bitless bridles, also referred to as hackamores. Given that there are many more options now available for going bitless, these rules need updating in any case. I am not aware of why the FEI is proposing to ban the use of bitless bridles in FEI competitions, but I do hope it is not based solely on EA’s current ban.

In my published article on risk in eventing ( I analysed the circumstances surrounding 59 rider deaths in eventing, between 1993 and 2015, where those circumstances were described. In no case was there mention of the use of a bitless bridle, or a bridle related tack failure. This is not to say that no such situation occurred, as details about fatal accidents in eventing are often not available, particularly before the growth in social media. Of course, the vast majority of rider falls in eventing result in no or slight injury to the rider, so there may, in fact, be many such occurrences which have not been reported. I now have data on a total of 67 rider deaths since 1993, and again, I can find no reference to a bitless bridle or a bridle tack failure contributing to the fatality. I would suggest that it is unwise to make a rule change based on one incident, without any other supporting data.

The Equine Behaviour and Training Association supports choices that enhance equine welfare. There is a large variety of bitless bridles on the market today for riders to choose from. Horses ridden in bitless bridles are commonly observed to exhibit a reduction in behaviours associated with discomfort, compared with when ridden in bitted bridles (Quick and Warren-Smith, 2009; Cook and Mills, 2009). We, therefore, support the use of bitless bridles in cases such as these and believe that reduction in discomfort should be prioritised at all times.​ ​

While control and rider safety is undoubtedly important, it is a mistake to assume that more severe bits automatically result in increased control and safer horses. Horses typically behave in ways that are dangerous to humans when they feel pain, stress and/or fear.

Consequently safety comes from a reduction in pain, stress and fear and, by logical extension, the ability of an equestrian to recognise when a horse is in such an emotional state. ​ ​Use of a bitted rather than bitless bridle cannot be guaranteed to ensure this and, for many horses, a bitless bridle will be the more comfortable and hence safer option.
Quick, J.S. and Warren-Smith, A.K., 2009 “Preliminary investigations of horses’ (Equus caballus) responses to different bridles during foundation training” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 4(4), pp.169-176
Cook, W.R. and Mills, D.S., 2009 “Preliminary study of jointed snaffle vs. cross under bitless bridles: Quantified comparison of behaviour in four horses” Equine veterinary journal, 41(, pp.827-830

POSITION STATEMENT ON the USE OF THE BIT – Dr Robert Cook August 2019​ ​​’

1 W. Robert Cook. FRCVS, PhD. Professor Emeritus, Tufts University, Cummings , School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA, USA

Use of a bit, in my opinion, causes a horse to experience Pain – both orally and systemically and to behave in a reactive manner that jeopardizes its own safety and that of the rider Obstruction of the throat airway. Serious consequences of airway obstruction during strenuous exercise include … ‘Bleeding’ from the lungs, i.e., waterlogging, i.e., negative pressure pulmonary oedema (NPPO) aka exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH). An internet search for ‘NPPO’ will provide backup details. Shortage of oxygen, which in turn causes premature fatigue, exhaustion and a greater likelihood of a horse stumbling and falling. Falls result in catastrophic breakdowns, euthanasia of the horse; serious injuries and sometimes death of the rider​ ​Rarely, but significantly, a sport horse can die from what I consider likely to be an asphyxia-induced heart attack whilst in full flight mode. Such disasters I regard as similar in cause to bit-induced ‘sudden death’ on the racetrack.

A bit is a foreign body in a horse’s highly sensitive oral cavity. If it was not strapped in, it would be spat out. The evolution of the horse determines that every horse reacts negatively to its presence. Horses vary in their reactions depending on their temperament; the degree of distress that they are experiencing at any given moment; and wide variations in a rider’s ability to use an instrument as potentially harmful as a bit with the obligatory discretion of a master horseman. A bit is a weapon of mouth destruction. Horses manifest their distress by an infinite number of behavioural changes, all of which are discernible by an experienced observer. Sadly, though some riders notice some of the signs, relatively few are fully aware of their cause. As a result, the warning signs of impending trouble are overlooked. No remedial action is taken, so accidents and injuries occur. Collectively, the aberrant behaviours can be classified either as bit-induced oral stereotypies or as manifestations of ‘bit-induced lameness.’The mechanism whereby a bitted horse’s respiratory system is degraded I explain as follows :​ ​During exercise at liberty, a horse’s lips are sealed. A bit destroys this vital seal.

In a bit-ridden horse, air enters the mouth and dissipates, in the throat airway, what should be vacuum-packaging of the soft palate in its ventral (‘respiratory’) position on the root of an immobile tongue. For diagrams, see the reference to Cook, 2019, below.​ ​At any one breath, with or without an obviously gaping mouth, the soft palate gets sucked upwards (dorsally) by the inspiratory rush of air and the powerful negative pressure that this collapsing force applies to the soft walls of the throat airway. The horse is choked A law of physics (Poiseuille’s law) determines that the strength of suction forces enveloped in the throat will be increased logarithmically in the gossamer-like tissue of the lungs.​ ​​Just one obstructed breath at the gallop from soft palate collapse (generally described as ‘instability’) is sufficient to bruise the lungs. Worse bruising will occur at every subsequent breath for as long as an obstruction continues. Bear in mind that a galloping horse breathes vigorously 130-140 times a minute. Think of the lungs being hit at the sort of speed that a boxer can hit a punching bag but factor in that the lungs are far more fragile.​ ​By itself, the collapse of the throat is serious enough but collapse can also lead to the soft palate becoming completely detached from the next section of the airway, the voice box – so-called dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP) –​ ​an almost complete interruption of the continuity of the airway. Such an obstruction is immediately life-threatening and an emergency that only the horse can correct by slowing-up sufficiently to swallow. One swallow puts the soft palate back, at least temporarily, into its respiratory position.​ ​Even without DDSP, if the horse continues to be choked at each subsequent intake of air, the lungs are bruised with increasing force at each breath. Once bruised, the next breath will take the horse a little more effort to draw.​ ​Accordingly, the next suction force becomes a little stronger and so on, in a vicious circle, while obstruction continues. Rapidly, the lungs become waterlogged, i.e., develop negative pressure pulmonary oedema (NPPO) and ‘bleed’.​ ​The horse becomes increasingly short of oxygen. This leads to fatigue and, in turn to exhaustion, stumbles and falls. With or without a fall, the heart may fail and death occurs. Non-fatal episodes of NPPO leave residual damage in the lungs which may or may not be clinically apparent Nevertheless, the horse will enter the next competition with disabled lungs that are more vulnerable to further damage.

“In my opinion, a bit is not only unnecessary for rider/horse communication but a serious handicap to communication and harmful withal to the welfare and safety of horse the rider. For the above reasons, the introduction of an FEI rule-change making use of the bit mandatory for cross country events would I believe be a retrograde step”.


Cook, W.R. (1999): Pathophysiology of Bit Control in the Horse. Journal Equine Veterinary Science 19: 196-204
Cook, W.R. and Mills, D.S. (2009): “Preliminary study of jointed snaffle vs. crossunder bitless bridles: quantified comparison of behaviour in four horses.” Equine Veterinary Journal, 41, 827-830
Cook, W.R (2011): “Damage by the bit to the equine interdental space and second lower premolar.” Equine Veterinary Education, 23, 355-360 Online at

Cook, W.R. (2014): “A hypothetical etiological relationship between the horse’s bit, nasopharyngeal asphyxia and negative pressure pulmonary edema (bleeding).” Equine Veterinary Education, 26, 381-389…
Cook, W.R. (2014): “ An endoscopic test for bit-induced nasopharyngeal asphyxia as a cause of exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage in the horse.” Equine Veterinary Journal. 46, 256-257
Cook W.R. and Kibler, M. (2018): Behavioural assessment of pain in 66 horses, with and without a bit. Equine Veterinary Education. Open access (free) article at An article about the bit, written for non-veterinarians, which explores in detail the likely mechanisms that can lead to bit-induced catastrophic breakdown and death in horses exercising at maximum speed, is available at:

Cook, R. (2019). HORSEMANSHIP’S ‘ELEPHANT-IN-THE-ROOM’ – The bit as a cause of unsolved problems affecting both horse and rider. Weltexpress:

Mouth Pain in Horse” and “Bit Blindness”.

​Articles & Letters​

Mellor, D.J. Mouth pain in horses: Physiological foundations, behavioural indices, welfare implications and a suggested solution. Animals 2020, 10(4), 572;

Mellor, D. Bit Blindness. VetScript 2020, 33(9), 32-34. VetScript is the Monthly Magazine of the New Zealand Veterinary Association.

Leander, A. (2020). News and Views – A Bit of an Issue 1: New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association letter regarding Mellor, D. Bit Blindness. [VetScript 20202020, 33(9), 32-34]. VetScript 2020, 33(12) 5-6. VetScript is the Monthly Magazine of the New Zealand Veterinary Association.

Pearce , T., Bell, J., Illston, A. News and Views – A Bit of an Issue 2: Letter regarding Mellor, D. (2020). Bit Blindness [VetScript 2020, 33(9), 32-34]. VetScript 2020, 33(12), 6-7. VetScript is the Monthly Magazine of the New Zealand Veterinary Association.

Mellor, D. News and Views – A Bit of an Issue 3:

  1. Mellor’s response to letters objecting to the Bit Blindness article [Mellor, D. VetScript2020, 33(9), 32-34]. VetScript2020, 33(12), 7. VetScript is the Monthly Magazine of the New Zealand Veterinary Association.


Carl Hester, Olympic Dressage Rider said on Social Media 2014

“I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if I competed against a bitless competitor, it’s a personal choice”

ISES Presidential committee Dr Andrew McLean BSc, PhD (President, ISES, Prof. Natalie Waran BSc, (Hons) PhD (Acting Senior Vice-president, ISES) Prof. Paul McGreevy BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVSc (Junior Vice-President, ISES) )

Stated in 2009 and verified 30th September 2013

From an excerpt of a letter to USEF that: ‘As the only scientific organization in the world in the sphere of equitation, the International Society for Equitation Science exercises great caution in voicing its collective opinion regarding matters of equine welfare. Our aim is to hold the scientific process at the highest level, so that only robust and evidence-based information is supported. There is adequate science now to support the use of bitless bridles in horse sports’.

Bob Baskerville eminent veterinary surgeon and FEI London 2012 OLYMPIC team vet said “the bitless bridles work very well on horses that don’t accept conventional bridles. They are very humane and horses tolerate and like them. The problem is a lot of modern competition is based on Horses reactions to the bit and the relationship between the horse and the rider as conveyed by the bit. It is much better to use the phrase in the hand.”

Professor Paul McGreevy Sydney University 2013

“Allowing bitless bridles will widen and sustain the spectrum of horses fit to work, and will have a positive effect on public perceptions of good welfare allowing the sport to move in a more enlightened direction. These are important considerations at a time when there are public concerns about various training regimes in dressage. As one of very few veterinarians with an animal welfare track record and scholarly publications in the world in the sphere of equitation, I exercise great caution in voicing my opinion on matters of equine welfare. My aim is to hold the scientific process at the highest level, so that only robust and evidence-based information is supported.

I am convinced that here is adequate science to support the use of bitless bridles in horse sports.

Jimmy Frost Grand National WINNNING JOCKEY 2013 said,

“horses do go better with bitless bridles. They are safe and agile. I cannot see why people say they are not safe to use.”

In an excerpt of a letter to USEF Dr DG Bennett DVM 2013 said,

‘I believe strongly that with bitting systems, “less is more.” In my opinion, rules in nearly all disciplines requiring particular bits and bitting systems, such as the double bridle, are archaic and outmoded. If a horse can perform optimally in a milder bit than the current rules require, in a bitless bridle, or with no headgear at all, why require a more severe bitting system? The horse and rider that can perform without any bit at all receive my highest accolades’.

Dwight G. Bennett, DVM, PhD Professor Emeritus of Equine Medicine Colorado State University 22 November 2009. 19.

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