2 being so, it need not be a matter for the FEI to be concerned about if unbalanced riders are initially disappointed with the degree of collection they can achieve with the Bitless Bridle.
On the other hand, it matters a great deal to the FEI that permitted equipment should not harm the horse.
However, anticipating that Michael Stone and his committee members could be influenced by some negative feedback of this sort, even if it was irrelevant, I thought it worth mentioning this matter.
Here is the letter: “I had intended to let the bridle speak for itself, as it is its own best ambassador.
However, I share your interest in hearing what your more traditional members say about the bridle and cannot resist adding a comment.
First, some background.
Dressage riders have been drilled for generations on the importance of a horse being, as the phrase goes, ‘on the bit. ‘ The result is that this very phrase could now become a barrier to approval of a bridle that apparently has nothing to be ‘on’! A better phrase would be ‘on the bridle.’ An even better phrase would be ‘on the aids.’ Even better still, would be acceptance of the reality that true collection depends on some aids more than others. ‘Seat and legs’ are the key to collection.
The correct use of the hands requires their least possible use, with no use at all of forearms, biceps and shoulder.
Those patient riders who have invested careful years in training a horse to become fit and strong, with the emphasis on ‘seat and legs,’ so that he can carry and balance both himself and his rider, will like the crossover bitless bridle.
Those who have been taking a short cut by hauling on the bit to produce poll flexion (and, therefore, false collection) may be disappointed that they can no longer “get their horse in a frame.” With perseverance, of course, they will achieve true collection.
Though this may not always come overnight, many riders discover that, when they remove the pain of the bit, the horse immediately lifts its back and becomes collected.
Because of the above, the crossover bitless bridle becomes a test of the rider.
A balanced rider with a balanced horse can move from a bitted bridle to the crossover bitless bridle without her horse becoming unbalanced and losing collection.
Such a rider has good hands.
By contrast, a horse that was exhibiting ‘false collection’ prior to becoming bitless will appear to ‘fall apart’ on becoming bitless, because it no longer has its head hauled in by the bit.
Sadly, the mechanical advantage and coercion of a curb and chain makes it all too easy for a rider to produce a false semblance of ‘collection’ but poll flexion is not balance.
The all too common extreme of poll flexion, a head behind the vertical, is imbalance.
I hope that this does not sound as though I am being unnecessarily defensive.
I just wish to alert you to some of the feedback I predict you may encounter. 3 I also accept the possibility that a few riders with impeccable ‘hands’ may feel that, at least in the first instance, they do not have the delicacy of communication with the crossover design that they have with a bit.
Nevertheless, the communication can be expected to improve with time as the horse becomes more accustomed to the new sensations.
In any case, impeccable hands with “the delicacy of a neurosurgeon” are a rarity and this reaction will be equally rare.
The difference in performance between the bit method of communication and the crossover bitless method is rather analogous to the difference, for a man, between shaving with an old-fashioned cut-throat razor (ie, a ‘straight’ razor) and a modern electric razor.
A cut-throat razor in the hands of a master will give you a closer shave than an electric razor.
But a cut-throat razor in less competent hands is likely to lead to accidents.
On the other hand, even a novice can use an electric razor and give himself a perfectly acceptable shave, without incurring the risks he would be taking if he wielded a cut-throat.
Though its technology is much simpler, the crossover bitless bridle is equivalent to the electric razor.
Being painless, it saves the rider from bruising the jaw, cutting the mouth, and hurting the horse.
A pain-free horse learns faster and performs better.
Horse and rider develop a partnership and harmony ensues.
The cost of what might temporarily be lost by the master horseman in ‘closeness of shave’ (the fine-tuning of control) is more than compensated for by permanent benefits for all other horsemen (a more compliant and focused horse and greatly enhanced equine welfare).
An appraisal of the crossover bitless bridle may be viewed as a cost/benefit equation.
I suggest that the (questionable) cost of any loss of finesse for an elite few is more than balanced by the huge benefit for the great majority of riders and the undeniable welfare benefit for all horses.
That which may be lost on the swing is more than gained on the roundabout.
My research tells me that a bit causes over 120 problems for horse and rider (Cook & Strasser 2003).
Some of these problems (such as bucking, rearing and bolting) produce accidents that jeopardize the very life of both horse and rider.
Other problems may be less life threatening but are still serious and are the result, as are bucking, rearing and bolting, of a rider unintentionally causing a horse pain.
I conclude that the bit method of communication represents a hazard to welfare and safety.
I am not suggesting that the bit should be banned but I urge the FEI to consider permitting, alongside the currently named bits, a painless and more effective method of communication that reduces the risk of accidents, enhances the welfare of the horse, and increases the pleasure and satisfaction of riders.
I hope these thoughts will provide you with a useful background to the trials that you have volunteered to conduct.
I am so delighted that you have this open mind and have agreed to look at the bridle.
Please understand that my prime objective here is to promote the welfare of the horse rather than the sales for my company.
I have been a research veterinarian with a focus of interest in the ear, nose, 4 throat and mouth of the horse for 53 years.
The crossover bitless bridle that I have developed in the last six years is a by-product of this research.
I hope that my academic record will counterbalance this conflict of interest (CV available online at www.bitlessbridle.com).
The crossover design has been so successful that it is being copied all over the world.
I own a US patent on the Bitless Bridle but do not claim, or wish to claim, a worldwide monopoly.
When the idea is copied abroad, I am happy that the horse will benefit.
In order to avoid anyone at the FEI thinking that this is an effort on my part to push a particular product, I have been at pains to refer to the design by a generic name, the crossover bitless bridle, rather than a proprietary one.
What I am urging is the adoption of a method not a product.
I see it as an opportunity for the FEI to make an historic contribution to the welfare of the horse.
This trial is the first small step towards the possibility (in due course) of a rule change to permit the crossover design of bitless bridle for competitive dressage and other disciplines for which it is currently not listed as permitted equipment.
It also represents an opportunity to materially benefit the horse.
If the FEI were to give a lead to the national federations on this crucial matter, it would save the horse many years of unnecessary pain and prevent many an accident.” Until very recently (ie, the last six years), there has not been an acceptable alternative to the bit method of communication.
The FEI and national federations must be given time to consider this option after having become accustomed to a method of communication that was first adopted in the Bronze Age.
As the bit method of communication is based on pain and as all the traditional bitless bridles (the hackamores, bosals and sidepulls) are also pain-based, the crossover design of bitless bridle represents the first pain-free method of communication with the horse’s head to have been developed since the horse was domesticated.
The crossover bitless bridle is in compliance with all 10 of the requirements listed in the FEI Code of Conduct (Table I).
Paradoxically, because of the advance in equine welfare that the availability of the new bridle now offers, it could be said that, until rule changes are introduced and the crossover bitless bridle is permitted, the FEI is no longer in compliance with nine of its own ‘ten commandments.’ The only one with which they currently remain in compliance is #5. # 1 2 3 4 Fédération Equestre Internationale Requirements In all equestrian sports the horse must be considered paramount The well-being of the horse shall be above the demands of breeders, trainers, riders, owners, dealers, organisers, sponsors or officials All handling and veterinary treatment must ensure the health and welfare of the horse The highest standards of nutrition, health, sanitation and safety shall be encouraged and 5 5 6 7 8 9 10 maintained at all times Adequate provision must be made for ventilation, watering and maintaining a healthy environment during transportation.
Emphasis should be placed on increasing education in training and equestrian practices and on promoting studies in equine health.
In the interests of the horse, the fitness and competence of the rider shall be regarded as essential All riding and training methods must take account of the horse as a living entity and must not include any techniques considered by the FEI to be abusive National Federations should establish adequate controls in order that all persons and bodies under their jurisdiction respect the welfare of the horse The national and international Rules and Regulations in equestrian sport regarding the health and welfare of the horse must be adhered to not only during national and international events, but also in training.competition Rules and Regulations shall be continually reviewed to ensure such welfare. Table I: FEI CODE OF CONDUCT If any further arguments were needed for a rule change, another paradox might be mentioned.
The current FEI rules, which were drawn up before the crossover bitless bridle became available, permit the new bridle to be used for the crosscountry and show jumping phases of combined training events.
Both of these phases are rightly regarded as high-risk activities.
However, for irrefutable reasons, both anatomical and physiological, the risk of an accident is reduced if the bit is removed and replaced with the new bridle. (Cook & Strasser, 2003).4 It remains an anomaly that the crossover bitless bridle cannot presently be used for such relatively low-risk activities as dressage and show hunter classes.
Yet, once again, it is repeatedly demonstrated that horses wearing the permitted double bridle during dressage tests, exhibit multiple signs now recognised as indicating fear and pain (Cook & Strasser, 2003).
Such horses are often unfairly condemned for being ‘hot’ and tempt their riders into having them illegally sedated.5 The 10 requirements in the “FEI Code of conduct towards the environment” is only relevant to this discussion with regard to item two.
This states, “Young riders must be taught to consider the sport in the context of a deeper and sympathetic understanding of the animal world and to place the achievement of horsemanship above that of mastering the technicalities of the various equestrian disciplines.” This philosophy, with which I agree, supports what I have written above about the welfare of the horse being more important than the quality of the performance.
As it transpires, however, if a physiologically compatible method of communication is used (ie, the crossover bitless bridle) rather than a method that is physiologically incompatible with the horse (ie, the bitted method), horses become calmer and quality of performance improves.
A rule change to permit As I complete this article, a long e-mail arrives with the subject line “The Bitless Bridle may have saved my life.” “Entering dangerous Fields: Is equestrian sport clean or not? – a veterinary perspective.” November 2004.
Available online at the FEI website (www.horsesports.org) select ‘Veterinary’ and click on ‘Update on equestrian sport by Dr.
Frits Sluyter, Prof.
Leo Jeffcott and Dr.
Andrew Higgins.’ The following URL is offered but may not be active … www.horsesports.org/PDFS/FEI/04_01/Equestrian%2011-04.pdf 5 4
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