Throughout equitation history, bitted bridles have been the primary method of controlling the ridden horse. In response to health and behavioral concerns arising from the use of bitted bridles, bitless bridles offer new methods of steering and control. However, the effectiveness of bitless bridles on horses had not been previously examined scientifically. Therefore, the current study measured behavioral and cardiac responses of horses undergoing foundation training (bridling, long reining, and riding) wearing either a bitted or a bitless bridle.The horses wearing the bitted bridle exhibited more chewing, opening of the mouth, pawing the ground, and tail swishing than those in the bitless bridle. The horses wearing the bitless bridle exhibited more head lowering during long reining compared to those in the bitted bridle. The frequency of chewing, opening the mouth, and head raising decreased as training progressed. The number of steps taken after the application of the halt stimulus was greatest for the horses in the bitted bridle during long reining compared with those in the bitless bridle. During long reining, the heart rate and heart rate variability of the horses were higher for those in a bitted bridle compared with those in a bitless bridle.The results of this study suggest that horses wearing bitless bridles performed at least as well as, if not better than, those in bitted bridles. If the use of bitted bridles does cause discomfort to horses, as suggested by some, then the use of bitless bridles could be beneficial and certainly warrants further investigation.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.