Sixty-six horses switched from being ridden with a bit to a bitless bridle showed dramatic reductions in 69 behaviors linked to bit-related pain.
Researchers Bob Cook and Matthew Kibler, in a study published in the journal Equine Veterinary Education, reported that the total number of pain signals for all the horses when bitted was 1575. When bit-free, just 208 were recorded – an 87% reduction. In total, 65 of the 66 horses benefited from removal of the bit.
The 87% reduction in pain signals with the removal of the bit showed that the bit was the main cause of pain among the horses, they said. The pair said that when the horses were graded on the Five Domains welfare model, it was judged that, when bitted, the population showed “marked to severe welfare compromise and no enhancement”.
When bit‐free, the population was assessed as having low welfare compromise and mid‐level enhancement.
Cook and Kibler said metal bits, used since the Bronze Age, have been accepted as part of the furniture of horsemanship and not subjected to scrutiny until quite recently.
“As bits have been standard equipment for millennia, they are widely assumed to be indispensable and ethically justified.”
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