As our horse sports evolve, so do our attitudes towards animal behaviour, ethical training methods and the equipment we use to train our equine partners, both in and out of the show ring. To that end, a bitless bridle movement that had its origins in the United Kingdom has grown internationally and is seeking to gain acceptance by equestrian organizations such as the FEI and Equestrian Canada.

The World Bitless Association (WBA) is currently lobbying for equality in the competition ring and has just released its first Global Horse Sports Training and Tack Survey results, with 93% of over 1,600 respondents agreeing that bitless horses should be able to compete on equal terms with bitted horses. A further 88% also felt that horse-friendly training was crucial to improved horse welfare would be improved by allowing bitless horses to compete.

“We were delighted to see from the results of our survey that the general attitude towards using bitless bridles has really improved within the global equestrian community,” states Jo Richardson, Operations Manager of the WBA. “We can take this information forward to the FEI and National Federations as proof that equestrians across the world want to improve horse welfare including a choice that allows them to use the bridle their horse is happiest in, rather than the one the rules state they must use.”

If you’ve never heard of the WBA or even bitless bridles before, their goal is to improve the standards of competitive riding so that the rules concerning improper and abusive riding are enforced properly. On the World Bitless Association website it states that its main aims are to:

1) Raise the standards of horse training by promoting training methods based on sound science, compassion and adherence to the principles of LIMA. LIMA is an acronym for “least intrusive, minimally aversive,” and refers to a trainer or behaviour consultant who uses “the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategy out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behaviour change objective.” The site also notes that LIMA “Does not justify the use of punishment in lieu of other effective interventions and strategies. In the vast majority of cases, desired behaviour change can be effected by focusing on the animal’s environment, physical well-being, and operant and classical interventions such as differential reinforcement of an alternative behaviour, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.”

2) Promote the worldwide use of modern bitless bridles through its Bitless Ambassadors.

3) Change the rules to allow free choice of bitted or bitless bridles and options for bitted bridles without nosebands.

(World Bitless Association)

As many readers know, the current rules set forth by our national and provincial equestrian sport organizations stipulate what tack and bits can be used depending on the sport and level. But according to WBA, “equestrian governing bodies ban the use of bitless bridles in most of these sports and at most levels of competition. It is our view that the rules discriminating against modern bitless bridles are not only unfair to riders and horses, but also have serious welfare implications for horses mandated to be ridden bitted in competitions, when they perform better in bitless bridles.”

The General Survey Report along with the full results for transparency are available on the World Bitless Association website here.