Survey of bit, noseband, spur and whip usesage
24 May 2015
An online survey of 1,101 Australian riders performed by researchers at the University of Sydney aimed to investigate use of bits, whips, spurs and nosebands across disciplines. The study found that compared to other disciplines, endurance and trail riders were the most likely to use bitless bridles, dressage riders were the most likely to use nosebands and whips and western riders were the most likely to use curb bits. Riders that used bitless bridles were also less likely to use spurs or whips. Riders that used curb type bits were more likely to use whips and/or spurs. Overall, the snaffle bit was the most common bit reportedly used.
Some endurance riders prefer bitless bridles, as they believe it encourages their horse to drink more water, with hydration being an important success factor in endurance races. The reason of why trail riders might prefer bitless bridles is less clear. Perhaps because they do not require as much precision in their movements as some other equestrian disciplines such as dressage and polo. Contrarily though, being in open spaces, it could be supposed that trail riders have a greater requirement for a good stop mechanism than dressage riders who typically ride in an enclosed arena.
In dressage competitions, it is compulsory for the horse to wear a noseband. The allowed types of nosebands in Australia are cavesson, drop noseband, flash noseband and crank noseband (EFA, 2015). This requirement comes from tradition. Cavesson nosebands do not typically serve any functional purpose except for aesthetics. Historically, it is thought that nosebands were used as a mechanism to steer horses, and as a means for tieing them up. Drop, flash and crank nosebands allow the rider to clamp the horses mouth shut. The allowance of these nosebands in dressage might be questionable, the authors of the paper suggest, because in dressage, horse and rider combinations are penalized if the horse is seen to be opening its mouth and avoiding the bit. If the horse’s mouth is clamped shut, does this make it harder for a judge to spot resistance? In higher levels of dressage double bridles are required, and with these a cavesson noseband only is permitted, which cannot clamp the horses mouth shut.
A small number of dressage riders reported using bitless bridles (not in competitions), indicating that perhaps if it was permissible to compete in this gear, this would be their preferred bridle of choice.
Whips are not permitted in the higher levels of dressage competition, so it is interesting that they were prevalent among the dressage riders. Western riders traditionally do not use whips as their style of riding has evolved from stockwork which requires the hands to be free. Western, eventing and camp drafting riders were significantly more likely to use spurs than other disciplines.
Western riders were the most likely to use curb bits, this stems from the Spanish origin of the Western riding style. Curb bits can be harsher in the wrong hands, due to their leveraging action which amplifies the riders pressure on the reins. In the right hands, curb bits can also offer an extremely light aid, as their indirect action can give the horse an indication that a signal is coming. Curb bits initially push down against the bars of the mouth, tongue and poll when activated compared to snaffle bits which put direct pressure on the corners of the mouth.
Although not referenced in this study, researchers at the University of Newcastle UK, recently found that polo ponies in gag bits (a type of bit with a leveraging action) were less likely to show oral trauma than racehorses in snaffle bits (Mata, Johnson & Bishop, 2015). This suggests that a leverage type bit combined with a decent amount of time spent educating a horse’s response to aids can be less severe than a snaffle bit on a horse with limited training.
A survey is not a perfect method of study and only represents a partial sample of riders. Dressage riders made up the largest group (14.6%) of the study. Show jumpers were not very well represented comprising only 3% of survey respondents and the racing industry comprised less than 1%. The authors note that in future studies it would be good to capture riders reasons for using particular equipment, as well as measure some things objectively, such as rein tension applied by different bits in different disciplines.
Hill, E., McGreevy, P. D., Caspar, G., White, P., & McLean, A. N. (2014). Apparatus use in popular equestrian disciplines in Australia. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.
Equestrian Federation Australia. (2015). National Dressage Rules. EFA Website (www.equestrian.org.au).
Mata, F., Johnson, C., & Bishop, C. (2015). A Cross-Sectional Epidemiological Study of Prevalence and Severity of Bit-Induced Oral Trauma in Polo Ponies and Race Horses. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, (ahead-of-print), 1-10.