According to a recent study, bitless bridles don’t necessarily spare the horse. Instead, the researchers found that they merely shift pain to other parts of the head.
Bad news for riders who want to spare their horse by using bitless bridles. That’s because it makes the pressure on the horse’s nasal bones increase so much that it causes pain and potentially even structural damage to the horse.
Force can affect multiple areas
Tracy Bye, MSc, of Bishop Burton University Center in Yorkshire, United Kingdom explained it this way: the force from pulling on the reins has to go somewhere, and it depends on where you apply it.
When a rider pulls on the reins, the total amount of force can be applied to a bit, the nose, or to the top of the head. The researchers did not measure rein tension at these points, but cannot rule out the possibility that bitless bridles are harmful to the horse’s wellbeing.
Five horses were tested with different bridles
Within the study, five university horses were observed being ridden by the same rider for 30 minutes per day for three consecutive days in each type of bridle. The bridles used were a snaffle-bit bridle with a simple cavesson noseband, a cross-under bitless bridle, and a side-pull bitless bridle. The halters were applied as prescribed and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. All of them were equipped with pressure sensors under the headpiece and the noseband.
High pressure in all types of bridles
As a result of the study, the researchers found that the average pressure on the nasal plane was 65% higher with a side-pull bitless bridle than with a snaffle bridle. For a bitless bridle with cross undercut, the average pressure was 11% higher than with a snaffle.
The nasal bones were subjected to the most pressure in the side-pull bridle. In total, the pressure was 147% higher and with the cross under bridle 109% higher than with the snaffle. For all bridles, the pressure was often as high as the pressures recommended in human medicine for tourniquet use.
The particularly high pressures in bitless bridles should not necessarily be a concern. According to Bye, they can only cause damage if kept above the thresholds for a long period of time.
Bitless bridles could trigger back pain
Within the course of the study, the researchers also found out that the horses carried their heads higher and extended their necks more when they wore a bitless bridle. This posture could lead to back pain and poor performance.
No significant changes in poll pressure
The study yielded many different results. Still, the research team found no significant changes in poll pressure between the three bridle types. According to Bye, however, no piece of equipment is the solution to training problems that arise due to bit pressure.
Bye adds that ‘..the pressures from the rein do not disappear when you change the bridle; they just move to other facial structures. The real solution has to be educating riders and supporting them to develop the skills to communicate with their horses effectively”.
Source: The Horse