Bitless bridles aren’t always kind to horses – The Horse


For some riders, bitless bridles seem to offer a smoother ride, sparing the horse’s mouth with hard metal bits. But many bitless bridles may not be more comfortable than bit bridles. According to the results of a recent study, the pressure on the nasal bones under bitless bridles could increase enough to cause horses pain and even structural damage, much like a tight noseband would.

“When the riders take the reins, there’s this total force they’re applying that has to go somewhere, and it all depends on where you put it,” said Tracy Bye, MSc, of the Bishop Burton University Center, in Yorkshire, UK

“This amount of force on the reins is about the same, and it could go on a bit or on the nose or on the top of the head,” she said. “We haven’t measured the tension on the reins here, but we have seen the pressures resulting from that tension. And we can’t say bitless bridles are any easier on the horse.

Comparison of the strengths and positions of the head and neck with snaffles, cross-unders and side-pulls

Inspired by a conference study on noseband tightening in competition horses, Bye and his student Nina Robinson observed five varsity riding horses each working with three types of bridles: a bit bridle with a simple cellar noseband, a cross bitless bridle and a side pull bitless bridle. They installed noses in accordance with the “two-finger” rule for the bit bridle and the manufacturer’s instructions for the two bitless bridles, measured by a noseband taper gauge. For the cross-under this meant one-finger space and for the side-pull less than one finger space.

The researchers installed pressure sensors under the headpiece and noseband of each bridle, and the horses worked in an arena for 30 minutes per day for three consecutive days in each type of bridle, ridden by the same rider (for each horse ).

They found that the the mean nasal pressure (over a length of 11 centimeters) was 65% higher with a bitless side-pull bridle than with a bit bridle. With the cross-jawless flange, the average pressure was about 11% higher than with the thread. (The pressures in this design could have been higher below the jawbone, which the researchers said they had not studied.)

Peak pressures on the nasal bones were 147% higher with the lateral pull and 109% higher with the cross-under compared to the net, they said.

In all cases, including the bit bridle with noseband, the pressures were often as high as the pressures recommended for tourniquet use in human medicine, the researchers said.

In bitless flanges, the pressures, especially intermittent pressure spikes, were particularly high, they said, but did not necessarily cause damage.

“These are pressures that could be potentially damaging to horses, but only if they are kept above these thresholds for an extended period of time,” Bye said. “This is something we don’t know yet.”

They also noted that horses tended to carry their heads higher with their necks more elongated when ridden with a cross-bitless bridle, the team reported. Such a position could contribute to back pain and poor performance, they said.

Despite all of these differences, they found no significant change in probing pressure among the three types of flanges.

“Many riders choose bitless bridles in an attempt to overcome training issues, which manifest as confrontational behaviors in response to bit pressure,” said Bye. “No gear is the only solution to these problems, because the pressures in the rein don’t go away when you change the bridle; they simply move to other facial structures. The real solution must be to educate riders and help them develop the skills necessary to communicate effectively with their horses.

The study, “The pressures of the noseband and the neck under the bitten and bitless bridles and the effects on equine locomotion” was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior’s July-August 2021 edition.


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