Every which way
I’m all for looking at things every which way rather than offering black and white answers based on opinion, belief and tradition when it comes to discussing various topics.
However, when it comes to science-based evidence regarding the bitting of horses, there are no ‘every which ways’, there is only one way – the right way.
Rules, rules and more rules
There are various reasons why we consider we should, or should not bit a horse, based on rules of competition, our preference, our confidence levels, our trust or lack of trust in the horse, and our beliefs.
Until recently, if I were to, in my role as a teacher, give my reasons for and against bitting, they would have been based on my knowledge, my uses of both bitted and bitless bridles, my preferences and my personal beliefs.
Have you noticed that amongst the reasons offered above, there is no consideration for the horse’s preferences, his confidence levels, or his trust (or lack of trust) in humans?
The hard facts
This article bears no relation to the comparison of the detriment caused by both bitted and bitless bridles when in the wrong hands. Here, I talk about scientific hard facts that should -indeed must – take priority over our ego and ancient beliefs and traditions.
In 2000 Dr Robert Cook FRCVS., PhD created and published an article on his completion of scientific research on the detriment caused to the horse by bitting.
Work, rest and play
We recognise that the horse can be at rest and eat, or he can participate in some kind of exercise, whether playing with his friends, having a schooling session or even galloping across country. We don’t see him doing both at the same time. It’s not possible for the horse to eat and exercise at the same time. However, having a bit in his mouth forces the horse to feel the effects of both activities simultaneously.
As soon as the bit is placed in the horse’s mouth, his soft palate rises to allow the process of the intake of food. This elevation inhibits his breathing; this, in turn, can affect his performance.
Because the brain thinks the horse has food in his mouth, the production of saliva also begins.
Suffocation, heart failure and death
Later research by Dr Cook shows that during strenuous exercise such as racing, the horse’s lips are sealed creating a vacuum in the mouth to maximise the air flow through the nostrils. The bit in the mouth breaks the lip seal destroying the vacuum which in turn releases the soft palate from its ‘locked down’ position. The airway collapses with following suffocation, waterlogged lungs and heart failure, leading to the death of the horse.
You will find the published documents online, ‘A solution to respiratory and other problems caused by the bit’, by W Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, and an article by Horsetalk.co.nz dated November 21st, 2015.
Unless we specifically search for this information we won’t find it in mainstream magazines or training that promote bits. You certainly won’t hear the truth about bitted bridles from the manufacturers and retailers.
A little over one year ago, I discussed my findings with the Chief Executive of the British Horse Society, a charity which credits itself on working to ensure the absolute welfare of horses, only to be told that it was the opinion of an advisor that the inhibited breathing caused by the bit was not sufficient to warrant any concern. As far as I’m concerned the slightest of inhibited breathing is a major concern.
There is a grave concern for the welfare of horses. We must put the horse’s absolute welfare first and foremost. We must all go forward and embrace scientific evidence. Will you put your conscience before your preference for the sake of the horse? Will you challenge the governing bodies? More importantly, will you challenge your traditions and beliefs.
I will no longer tip-toe around governing bodies who advocate the welfare of the horse publicly and yet pick out only the pieces of scientific evidence that allow the continuing abuse of horses for glory and gratification.
The horses in your care await your decision.