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BITLESS BRIDLES

For those who believe in the comfort and physical/phsychological health of their horse, a bitless bridle is a natural choice.
There are many different designs - choose from the crossover (most common), sidepull and rope halter styles of bitless bridles to suit different uses and horses.
Many entrepreneurial riders have manufactured bridles. For example, my contribution to the Bitless revolution is the LightRider Bitless Bridle. (Stockhorse style pictured here). Click on this link to read more about the best looking bitless bridle available that horses love for it's gentle action and comfort.

One hundred or more behavioural problems in the horse are bit-induced.
Bits are a common cause of bone spurs on the bars of the mouth and headshaking (facial neuralgia) along with many behavioural problems.
The Bitless Bridle provides better steering than a bit or natural hackamore/rope halter, and more reliable brakes than a bit or sidepull. Freedom from pain results in calmness and obedience.
A Bitless Bridle is also wonderful for starting young horses under saddle.
Good education can replace the bit, or any other piece of equipment we use on the horse to control it.

"We can use a bit of steel and pain (or the threat of it) to control our horse OR we can use a bit of education and understanding - which do you choose? "

Bitless Bridles - What's the Difference?
By Cynthia Cooper
Until a few years ago there used to be very few choices if you wanted to ride without a bit in your horse’s mouth.
There was the western style bosal, the mechanical hackamore or the rope halter, mostly used by western riders, showjumpers and endurance riders in that order.
But now, with our awareness that horses don’t need a bit to be controlled, we are faced with a huge choice of bridles that use various means of action to put pressure on the horse.
This article will look at the more readily available options and why they would be used or what purpose they are better suited to.
Lets start with the plain rope halter. These usually have two knots either side of the nose, a larger knot (the Fiador) below the chin and 2 loops to connect a lead rope or reins to. The rope they are made of can be either thick (10mm) or much thinner (as fine as 6mm) and their severity increases with the smaller diameter sizes.
The rope halter works well in the hands of a skilled horseman provided it fits well. The fit can vary according to the maker, as just about anyone can construct these if they have a pattern. Quality fit is seen in the Parelli, Natural Equipment, Nungar Knots and Lodge Ropes halters (from my own experience).
This is where the issues begin, as badly fitted rope halters can be quite ineffective, mostly due to the noseband being too large. This allows the loops below the fiador knot to contact with the neck when the reins are pulled tight, so then the reins are putting pressure on the neck rather than the nose - (see photo below).
Other issues which relate to the comfort of the horse are; heavy clips that are attached to a lead rope that has been tied into reins will swing about when the reins are loose, causing friction on the horse’s nose; the left-over rope from tying the headpiece is so long it swings back and forth at faster paces, flicking the horse in the eye area. It’s quite easy to tie or twist the loose end around the throat section to keep it from doing this.
Also, tying the halter knot above the loop rather than around it can cause the knot to loosen, or be difficult to undo if pulled very tight.

A common mistake made when fitting a rope halter for riding is positioning the noseband too high. This allows the knots to rest on the facial nerves, causing not only irritation but pain, that in turn causes the horse to ignore pressure.
The noseband of the halter should sit at least 5cm (2”) or approximately three finger widths below the cheek bones to be effective. If your horse has learned to ignore the pressure from the noseband, then dropping it a little lower until it rests just above where the hard bone begins over the nostrils, will give you more effective leverage.

Photo: Examples of noseband too high and noseband too large, making both halters ineffective with two reins.
The downsides to riding in a rope halter apart from those issues just discussed, are that they can cause a lot of pain in rough hands, and can wear hair and skin off in this situation. They don’t allow much room for error in fitting them.
Next is the natural hackamore or rope hackamore, which is virtually the same as the rope halter in construction, except for a larger noseband to accommodate a mecate rein knot, for the natural hackamore has a looped rein and a lead rope all in one.
They can be very useful for trail riders and farm workers, as you always have your lead rope ready to use. They are better for riding than a rope halter and clipped lead rope, as the knot doesn’t tend to swing around so much under the horse’s chin.
However the downsides are that the weight of all that rope can cause discomfort for the horse even to where a ridge will appear on the nose from constant pressure over a long period of wearing it.
Also, badly fitted natural hackamores have the same issues as rope halters. Another major problem is the reins can easily cause a wreck if the horse steps through them while grazing or drinking, as they are generally tied shorter than lead rope reins. It is essential to always double loop the reins around the horse’s upper neck, or take the reins over the head when you are dismounted to avoid this problem.
Photo: A well fitted natural hackamore with the lead rope tied safely in a quick release knot to a string on the saddle; so it will break free if accidentally hooked on something.
Following in the rope line is the rope side pull bitless bridle which is essentially the same as a rope halter except there is a ring incorporated in each noseband knot .
This allows reins to be clipped on which is slightly better than a rope halter in that they generally don’t get caught up against the neck as they do with a lead rope.
However, using one rein can cause the noseband to twist around, reducing its effectiveness. (see photo).

Again, this bitless bridle can cause some of the problems seen with a rope halter if it is not fitted correctly.
Another trap is that sometimes a rider is tempted to clip the reins onto the loops below the fiador knot and this results in turning that knot inside out, causing a real mess if you don’t know how to re-tie a fiador knot.

There are leather versions of a side pull – these would be a preferable option to a rope version in my opinion, as the noseband is generally fitted closely and therefore much more effective.

A side pull bitless bridle is denoted by the ability to just affect the nose - there is no pressure on other parts of the horse’s head.
Before we leave rope products, the latest type of Bitless Bridle to become available is the Light Rider Bitless Bridle which has been invented by the author in her quest to find a simple, light weight, kind and effective piece of head gear to ride in.

It is an adapted side pull but differs in that it has a sliding chinstrap that releases when the rein is relaxed.
This allows the horse softness and freedom to move its jaw (for drinking and eating if needed) so is very suited to endurance and trail riders, or pleasure riders who like to allow grazing in between training tasks.

The action of the chinstrap when pressure is applied, causes the horse to seek relief by yielding to the pressure, giving very good control with one rein or two.

Other features that ensure comfort for the horse are a covered noseband and soft chinstrap. The most useful feature is that the bridle quickly converts to a halter and lead rope, making it handy for endurance where a rider might want to run beside their horse and for ease of vetting, and for a trail rider who might need to negotiate an obstacle on foot or train their horse over a new obstacle.
The LightRider bitless bridle is also made in an English, Western and Stockhorse style from Biothane, a synthetic leather material that is stronger, longer lasting and easier to care for than leather.
These bridles have the advantage of looking like a traditional bridle yet work on the same principle of a releasing chinstrap which suits horses not able to cope with the 'whole head' pressure of the crossunder bitless bridles.
With the reins attached in a similar position to a bit, the Light Rider Bridle delivers a much clearer, more direct message to the nose.
The unique chinstrap of the Light Rider Bridle offers effective control by tightening (to a point) when pressure is applied. When the rein is relaxed, it releases to reward the horse.
Horses find it much easier to learn and become lighter when they receive release from pressure.
Pulley type bridles:
A combination of rope and leather is found in the Jeffrey’s Bitless Bridle. With a double rope noseband and rope that goes up to the poll for the reins to clip onto, this bridle puts pressure on the poll and the nose if used in the way intended. Some riders prefer to remove the rope pulley system and just use this bridle as a side pull, as such, seems to work equally effectively. On some horses the cheek pieces seem to fit too close to the eye.
The most replicated type of bitless bridle is the crossunder style, originally developed by Dr Robert Cook. This bridle has a more traditional look and is often made in leather and synthetics that look like leather.

The bridle works on the principle of a ‘whole head hug’ action where pressure travels through the reins, along the cheek straps and over the poll.
The reasoning behind this design is that just as a horse is sensitive enough to feel a fly landing, it can and will respond better to a bridle that applies minimal force. Because the pressure is dissipated over the whole head, rather than concentrated in any one area such as the bridge of the nose or the poll, it is, according to Dr Cook’s research, virtually impossible to cause pain with a correctly designed and properly fitted crossover bitless bridle.
The noseband of this bridle must be positioned reasonably low and firm to be effective.
The pressure releases when the reins are relaxed although the noseband stays the same.
No-Bit Bridles and Nurtural bridles are both slightly modified copies of Dr Cook’s original. They differ in materials and design. The Nurtural has a round keeper under the jaw that the crossover straps go through, and a stiffened, rubber-gripped noseband. According to Dr Cook, these additions may reduce the design’s ability to act as a gentle whole head hug.

The crossunder bitless bridles are more readily accepted in performance events (except dressage, where only bitted bridles are ‘legal’). They look more like a traditional bridle and seem to be readily accepted without any specialised training by most horses used to wearing a bit. From personal experience, I found some horses may need time to adjust to the feel of the ‘whole head hug’ and to understand direction, particularly young horses.

However, many horses used to ‘giving’ to a feel will be very responsive to the pressure of this bridle because it allows for very clear communication without pain. Whilst over-flexion can occur when such a horse is ridden with a heavy hand, it also means that horses that may have leaned or ‘sucked back’ from a bit to avoid pain can be re-schooled to accept very light aids without the need for a bit.
There are many more styles and types of bitless bridle available internationally – you only have to do an internet search to see the vast array. Most work on the principle of reins attaching somewhere close to where a bit would, which is the main difference from the rope, mechanical and bosal halter or hackamore.
Prices vary enormously from $50 to over $200 depending on the materials used and the style so it pays to shop around and look for the product that is going to suit your needs best.
There are many choices nowdays and most bitless bridles are sold with a return guarantee so it's easy to find the one that works best for your horse.
When trying a new bridle, give your horse time to adjust and follow the steps in the next article on How to Transition to a Bitless Bridle.

Bitless Bridle Experiment and Revelation

On 31 October 2008, during the annual conference of the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) held at the Kentucky Horse Park, Dr. Robert Cook, a research veterinarian, 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 horses, offered by owners for the purpose. 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 the Bitless Bridle. Prior to the demonstration, none of the horses had ever been ridden in this crossunder design of bitless bridle. The horses’ behavior and performance were evaluated and videotape supplemented the ‘laboratory notebook.’
An independent judge scored the tests on a scale from one to ten, for each of the 27 phases of the test. The average score when bitted was 37% and, when bitless, 64%. It was a revelation for the horse’s owners, riders and spectators that such a significant improvement could be achieved in 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. [Copies of the experimental protocol can be provided. The experiment is not difficult to organize and others are encouraged to repeat it]
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 and humanitarian justification for providing such an option has not been refuted.
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. Much suffering, many accidents and a host of diseases could be avoided by such a simple administrative reform.

For additional evidence visit www.bitlessbridle.com or write to Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, Professor of Surgery Emeritus, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA; Chairman, BitlessBridle Inc.
Email: drcook@bitlessbridle.com


Bitless Bridles Seen as Safer Alternative for Horses in New Study from www.thehorse.com
Previous studies evaluating the behavioral responses of horses to different types of bridles found that horses perform at least as well, if not better, with a bitless bridle than a jointed snaffle.
To probe deeper into the issue, Robert Cook, FRCVS, PhD, and Daniel Mills, BVSc, PhD, IL TM, CBiol MIBiol, MRCVS, tested their hypothesis that a horse’s behavior would change--for the better--when ridden with a bitless bridle, compared to a bridle with a bit. (Cook developed and patented the cross-under Bitless Bridle in the United States.)

The study involving four ridden horses of various backgrounds was devised to test the “null” theory that said a horse would show no improvement in behaviour by being ridden in a bitless bridle.

Researchers, however, predicted that there would be a change and that a horse’s behaviour would improve when being ridden bitless.
Four horses, none of which had ever been ridden in a cross-under bitless bridle, were ridden through two 4-minute exercise tests, first bitted, using a plain jointed snaffle, then bitless.
An independent judge marked the 27 phases of each test on a 10-point scale and comments and scores were recorded on a video soundtrack.

The results disproved the accepted “null” theory and supported the researcher’s predictions.
All four horses accepted the cross-under bitless bridle without hesitation.
The mean average score of the horses performing the ridden test when bitted was 37%. This rose to 64% when they were ridden bitless and asked to perform the same movements.

Photo: In Saudi Arabia, Helen Zhou and Oscar compete at cross country in a Dr Cook Bitless Bridle.


Have a look at these articles for more detailed information:


TRADITION & THE STATUS QUO
OR SCIENCE & ADVANCE?

by Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD
Official bodies such as the FEI and a number of racing administrations are aware of my arguments for a rule change to permit use of the crossover bitless bridle but none have, as yet, agreed to such a change. Their reasons for not doing so do not include any scientific arguments but are based mainly on a wish to retain the status quo. For example, a national federation affiliated to the FEI has recently stated that they follow the lead of the FEI in formulating their rules. They refused repeated requests for a rule change on the grounds that they cannot permit the crossover bitless bridle (CBB) for dressage as this would constitute a rejection of the classical tradition.
The answers provided by this national federation highlight a serious misunderstanding about the proper nature of tradition and represent an unnecessary obstacle to advances in welfare. Not once did they defend the use of the bit on the grounds that it was safer, more efficient or more humane. They simply repeated the explanation that the bit was traditional or classic.
Such a defense with regard to a question of animal management is ludicrous. The same argument in human affairs would support the continuance of the 'traditional' practice of blood letting and the drowning of witches.

Tradition should not be invoked as a barrier to humanitarian and scientific progress. Tradition may be acceptable over matters such as whether or not the British flag should be flown the right way up, or whether, when pouring a cup of tea, one should put the tea or the milk in first. But tradition should not be invoked in deciding questions relating to the welfare of animals, the science of ethology, and the safety of a sport.
Photo: A nice example of a happy horse in a Bitless bridle - Helen and Oscar in Saudi Arabia.

Cruelty is defined as the infliction of avoidable pain. Now that an acceptable alternative to the bit is available, the pain of a bit is avoidable. It follows that the bit is cruel. A first step in addressing this matter would be to obtain agreement that at least a painless option should be permitted. One might hope that, as the bit can be shown to be cruel, administrative bodies claiming to be guardians of the horse, with objectives stating their avowed intent to advance the horse’s welfare would, in time, ban the bit.

Every horse is physically handicapped, not to mention psychologically harmed by having a metal rod placed in its sensitive mouth, to which rod (or rods) a pair of straps are attached that enable highly focused pressures of 30 lbs and more to be applied to the soft and hard tissues of the mouth. If waivers of the rules are allowed for “physically handicapped horse,” every horse qualifies.

A bit is not an indispensable piece of equipment, without which dressage is impossible. The Duke of Newcastle made this clear 200 years ago, when he declared that he could ‘dress’ a horse with a scarf around its neck. Dressage horses do not have to be 'on the bit' but they should be 'on the aids.' The bit is a Bronze Age invention and the FEI and all the national federations that comply with FEI regulations should be glad that an acceptable alternative to this primitive and barbaric device is now available.
The FEI admit that many a horse is 'mouth shy' and warns its inspectors to be careful when checking the equipment after a competition. Have they never asked themselves why so many horses are 'touchy' about their mouths?

Webster's dictionary defines 'tradition' as "the delivery of opinions, doctrines, practices, rites and customs from generation to generation by oral communication." Civilization has surely advanced a little since it was dependent on oral communication. There is the matter of the written word to consider and scientific evidence. Tradition has 'the effect of an unwritten law" and that is where it should stay. It has no business in written rules and regulations which, to be valid, need to be constantly revised and brought up to date in the face of new knowledge. The bit has not been handed down to us by divine revelation. It was the invention of primitive man in 3000 BC. Do we really need to observe such a prehistoric custom?
John Maynard Keynes was right when he said that
“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds…like the clinging roots of an old juniper.”
One very persistent and incorrect old idea is that the bit controls a horse. Let me quote here the opinion on this of Dr. Jessica Jahiel, an expert horsemen, lecturer, instructor, author of many books on all aspects of horsemanship, and the founder of a treasure house of information on every aspect of horsemanship through her independent (and free) Question and Answer Newsletter at www.horse-sense.org
“By giving up the use of the bit, you don’t sacrifice any control but you DO make it less likely that the horse will bolt, buck, or bite because of mouth pain. One of the great myths of horseback riding is that the bit stops the horse. The bit does NOT stop the horse. A bit can hurt a horse, frighten a horse, cut through its tongue, or otherwise damage the horse. A bit can be used to signal a horse, crudely and harshly or gently and lightly, depending on the skill of the rider. But no bit ever stopped a horse. All the bit can do is to tell the horse that you would like it to stop … and you can say this WITHOUT a bit.”
Photo: Oscar and Helen love to jump bitless.

TESTIMONIAL: " I have a rather funny thoroughbred who has too many conformation faults to list but is completely unique and very special to me. Eighteen months ago I bought a Dr Cook bitless bridle second hand to try on Scruff. He was previously working in a pelham and only getting stronger so something had to change.

The turn around has been amazing. I can take him to the racetrack and gallop him flat out only to stand in my stirrups and quietly say stop and he will come back to a walk very quickly. It took me a long time to train the stop command but impresses many people now. He has become more balanced and doesn't fight me for control.

I can achieve better collection and relaxation in the bitless than I ever did in a conventional bridle. He even salivates more. I cannot sing praises high enough for the bitless. Last weekend I was jumping him at Wakool show in NSW and he jumped in the C&D championship bitless and barefoot. It was his most perfect round until he slipped on takeoff at the last fence and landed in it. But we all live to fight another day. I do most of scruffy's schooling bareback, I get a much better connection with him and his paces have improved enormously." Freyr.

IS THE BIT REALLY SO CRUEL?
An exchange of correspondence
with Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD
Sir,
I have read the articles on your website about the downsides of using a bit. I was curious, as my pony prefers bitless with anyone but me (due to bad experiences in a previous home) and I wanted to learn more.

In good hands, I cannot see that an English French link snaffle is such a bad thing. It doesn't have the leverage of a curb bit, allows room for the tongue, and in the mouth of a horse trained in the classical style, the amount of pressure is negligible. My pony, ridden in a bit, goes nicely in a classical outline, such that I cannot feel her mouth on the end of the reins, just the reins in my hands. She stops and turns to seat and weight aids, the bit is light in her mouth and her tongue is where it should be.

With anyone who isn't balanced and doesn't have good hands, she doesn't like the bit, but I don't blame her, neither would I! My horse, likewise, drops straight into an outline as she has been trained to do, and is perfectly happy. When galloping or jumping, my hands follow her head, allowing it the full reach.
So in horses like these, trained correctly, I cannot find things in your articles to say that their bits are cruel - can you help?
My response…
It is apparent that you are a good rider and that your pony is very discerning. You have good hands and, as a result, your pony works well for you. Quite understandably, however, she prefers to be ridden in a bitless bridle by anyone who does not have good hands. She makes her preference known by a change in her behavior – presumably a change that expresses her dislike of a pain in her mouth.

Cruelty is defined as the infliction of avoidable pain. The development of the crossover bitless bridle (CBB) in 2000 has provided, for the first time, a painless method of communication. The existence of an acceptable and workable alternative leads to the need to reclassify the bit method of communication. No longer can it be defended as acceptable practice as a painless alternative is available. As the pain of a bit is now avoidable, its continued use by the majority of riders (who are unable to use it without causing pain) has to be regarded as cruel.

The concept of cruelty is, of course, an abstraction. Just as there are degrees of pain, so must there be degrees of cruelty. A horse may exhibit no easily detectable response to slight pain. But horses have evolved to try and disguise their pain as much as possible, as obvious evidence of pain indicates a handicap and this, in turn, may attract a predator. So we should be careful how we interpret the body language of the horse. Signs of slight pain may be quite subtle and easily overlooked or mistaken for something unconnected with the bit.

Because of this, the CBB can be used as a test of a rider’s skill. If you can take a horse that has routinely been ridden in the crossover bitless bridle and now introduce a bitted bridle without triggering any adverse change in behavior, this is reassuring evidence that you are not causing your horse any pain. Can you do this with your pony?
Many riders who thought that their horses were perfectly happy when ridden in a bit have discovered that all sorts of problems disappeared when the bit was removed. In other words, they had not realized that these problems were caused by the bit.


Of course, there are many other reasons for not using a bit, apart from the question of pain. If you have read enough of the articles on my website at www.bitlessbridle.com you will already know, for example, that the bit interferes with a horse’s ability to breathe and, because of this, with his ability to stride.

This interference is more apparent in racehorses than in non-racehorses, nevertheless, competition horses and even pleasure horses are also affected by these problems. In the wild, a horse does not run with anything in its mouth. We humans prefer not to exercise with a bunch of keys in our mouth and the horse would feel the same. Unlike us, a horse cannot breathe through its mouth and an open mouth is a sign of abnormality, as is excessive salivation during exercise.

These are still early days in the availability of a painless method of communication. Use of the bit has been standard practice for 6000 years. It cannot be expected that everyone is going to be immediately aware of a painless alternative that only became fully available for the first time in 2000. It is perfectly understandable that many a rider might be upset at the suggestion that they are continuing to use an inherently painful method. In particular, a master horseman, with perfect hands, might resent being told that they are being cruel by continuing to use a bit.

Putting aside the defense that a bit is still mandated for many FEI sponsored competitions, they can probably be exonerated from a charge of gross cruelty, in that the amount of pain they inflict on their horses is at least minimal.

If, however, we now consider the horsemen with less than perfect hands, who lacks an unshakably independent seat on every conceivable occasion (i.e. the vast majority of horsemen) the situation is quite different. Looking back on my own riding days, I now realize that, without intending to be inhumane or cruel, I must - unwittingly - have caused my horses a great deal of pain. My defense is that, in those days (1950-1970), there was no known alternative. I could not be criticized for using a bit as no one knew any better. The research that I have done in the last ten years had not been published. It was regarded as good practice, for example, to use a double bridle for foxhunting. In fact, anything other than a double bridle was regarded as foolhardy.

Even the master horseman has had to spend years developing ‘good hands.’ If he/she used a bitted bridle to gain this expertise, how much pain was inflicted in the process? This pain being now avoidable, is the ‘master horseman’ able to say that he/she has never inflicted avoidable pain? Is it justifiable to use a bit when learning to use it without inflicting severe pain may take a decade or more?


Accepting that most riders do not have ‘good hands’ it can be seen that if such riders continue to use a bit they are, in the light of the new knowledge now available, inflicting avoidable pain. Just as ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense in court, neither is ignorance of new knowledge an acceptable defense in the world of horsemanship. Even such an august body as the FEI cannot be exonerated from criticism if they continue to mandate the use of a cruel method of communication. Some allowance can be granted them on the grounds that there is always a time lag between new knowledge becoming available and the time when this knowledge is regarded as having been thoroughly tested and accepted.

The FEI is a ‘big ship’ and cannot be expected to change direction quickly. Nevertheless, in this age of information, it should not take long before FEI rules and regulations are updated to recognize the new situation. It is probably unrealistic to expect, in the first instance, that the bit might be banned but at least the rules should be changed to permit competition riders the option of using a painless (and safer) method of communication.

This has been a rather longer answer to your question than you might have expected but I hope that the above thoughts will help you to understand the new situation a little better. I will close by asking you a few questions. As you are a good rider, your pony remains balanced and collected when you use The Bitless Bridle.

  • So why would you choose to use a bit?
  • You feel that with a bit “in the mouth of a horse trained in the classical style, the amount of pressure is negligible” but I wonder if your pony feels the same? Given an option, which would she choose? Your pony has already answered this question.
  • Neither you nor anyone else has actually measured that pressure in her mouth. How can you be so sure that it is ‘negligible’?
  • A horse’s mouth is exquisitely sensitive. If you were a horse, how would you like to have signals from your rider transmitted to you by such a means?
  • A horse can feel a fly landing on its face, so why would you need to use a rod of metal in its sensitive mouth to transmit your requests? Isn’t this overkill?
  • If a message can be transmitted painlessly by a couple of painless strap loops around the head, why would you choose to communicate by means of a metal instrument in the mouth that carries such a high risk of inflicting pain?
  • Does your pony show any adverse change of behavior when you introduce a bitted bridle after she has been used routinely in the CBB?
Riders have no need to shout their messages, a whisper is quite enough. In fact, a polite ‘whisper’ of a request is much more likely to achieve the desired result than a rude ‘shout.’ The pain of a bit ‘command’ will often trigger the exact opposite of the rider’s intentions. Horses are prey animals and they run from pain. The bit is the most common source of pain causing a horse to bolt, rear or buck. It says much for the forgiving nature of the horse that they react to such pain as infrequently as they do.

We should apply to the horse what Thucydides recommended with regard to man, “Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.” Primitive man, who invented the bit method of control in 3000 BC, chose to apply his greatest force at one of the weakest parts of the horse’s anatomy. A metal bit applies highly focused force on the knife edges of the jaw, the so-called ‘bars’ of the mouth. A cross-section of the jaw at this level shows that, even in a draft horse, the jaw is smaller than a cross section through a standard hen’s egg. With the development of the CBB we have the option to forego such a display of power and use restraint.

You say, “I cannot feel her mouth on the end of the reins, just the reins in my hands” and I would ask you, on behalf of your pony, whether this is reciprocated. Does your pony not feel your hands and only the weight of the reins? With all due respect, I think not. Your pony’s mouth is very much more sensitive than your hands. This is not an equal exchange. The effect of rein pressure on a rider’s fingers is not the same as the effect of a metal rod on a horse’s mouth. That the rider feels no pain cannot be taken as assurance that horse feels no pain. Consider how much more accurate your tongue is in detecting a hair in your mouth compared with the tip of your finger.

Again, you claim that a French link snaffle “allows room for the tongue” and my response is to say that an exercising horse should not have any foreign body in its mouth. The tongue should fill the oral cavity and an exercising horse should not even have an air space in its mouth, let alone a metal rod.
You ask, “So in horses like these, trained correctly, I cannot find things in your articles to say that their bits are cruel - can you help?” I hope that I have already answered this question but if you will excuse me I will add one more comment. The classical way of training a horse is only a means to an end.
For historical reasons, a bit has been used as part of the ‘means’ in the search for a balanced and collected ‘end.’ But we now know that a bit is not an essential part of this equation. A horse should be ‘on the aids’ but does not have to be ‘on the bit.’ In fact, in order to achieve the harmony of horsemanship that is the ultimate objective, it is much more likely that the average rider will achieve this in the absence of a bit.

I have documented 120 problems that the bit causes both horse and rider. Any method of communication that produces so many negative side-effects is not a method that can be recommended, especially now that a more humane, safer, simpler and more satisfying alternative is available.

I hope that the above thoughts will help you to understand that, even when a horse is – as you say - ‘trained correctly’ (by current standards, i.e. by using a bit), that this is no longer the most humane way to train.


click here to visit Dr Cook's Site - www.bitlessbridle.com

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