ThesisPDF Available

TITLE: Lifting the Veil on Bridles: an investigation into the bridle choices of Australian equestrians and the scientific basis for these choices


Abstract and Figures

Although bitted bridles have been the conventional method for guiding and controlling ridden horses for up to 6,000 years, they are increasingly the focus of scientific studies investigating their impact on horse welfare. Moreover, there has been a transition towards various forms of unbitted bridles with a corresponding emergence of bitless bridle clubs and associations. The reasons for this, along with the rationale for riders’ bridle choices overall, has never been the subject of scientific enquiry and, therefore, this study is novel. It set out to investigate whether bridle choices were based on four possible motivations – ‘tradition’, ‘rider safety’, ‘horse welfare’ and ‘club rules’ - and whether scientific evidence was available to support these choices. The data obtained from adult Australian equestrians by means of an anonymous, cross-sectional survey showed ‘horse welfare’ had the greatest influence on equestrians’ bridle choices, and that this influence was equally important for both bitted and unbitted bridle users. Respondents were also very influenced by ‘rider safety’ and ‘club rules’ in bridle choice but were unlikely to be influenced by ‘tradition’. Of the four variables, ‘horse welfare’ was the only one that was supported by scientific evidence. This topic polarized respondents in that both bitted and unbitted bridle users questioned the equine welfare implications of the other’s bridle choice. There is a reticence amongst some respondents to acknowledge bits can cause clinical problems regardless of rider experience or when a horse’s flight response is triggered. Club rules were found to discriminate against equestrians who wished to participate in club activities using bitless bridles and the survey results confirm equestrians’ preference to base their bridle choices on scientific evidence. Keywords: horse; bridle; bitless bridle; welfare; equine; behavior.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Lifting the Veil on Bridles: an investigation into the bridle choices of Australian
equestrians and the scientific basis for these choices.
J.A. Matusiewicz, Master of Animal Science Candidate, Charles Sturt University.
School of Animal and Veterinary Science, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW
Although bitted bridles have been the conventional method for guiding and controlling ridden
horses for up to 6,000 years, they are increasingly the focus of scientific studies investigating
their impact on horse welfare. Moreover, there has been a transition towards various forms
of unbitted bridles with a corresponding emergence of bitless bridle clubs and associations.
The reasons for this, along with the rationale for riders’ bridle choices overall, has never been
the subject of scientific enquiry and, therefore, this study is novel. It set out to investigate
whether bridle choices were based on four possible motivations tradition, rider safety,
horse welfare and club rules - and whether scientific evidence was available to support
these choices. The data obtained from adult Australian equestrians by means of an
anonymous, cross-sectional survey showed ‘horse welfare’ had the greatest influence on
equestrians’ bridle choices, and that this influence was equally important for both bitted and
unbitted bridle users. Respondents were also very influenced by ‘rider safety’ and ‘club
rules’ in bridle choice but were unlikely to be influenced by ‘tradition’. Of the four variables,
‘horse welfare’ was the only one that was supported by scientific evidence. This topic
polarized respondents in that both bitted and unbitted bridle users questioned the equine
welfare implications of the other’s bridle choice. There is a reticence amongst some
respondents to acknowledge bits can cause clinical problems regardless of rider experience
or when a horse’s flight response is triggered. Club rules were found to discriminate against
equestrians who wished to participate in club activities using bitless bridles and the survey
results confirm equestrians’ preference to base their bridle choices on scientific evidence.
Keywords: horse; bridle; bitless bridle; welfare; equine; behavior.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Abbreviations: Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF); Australian Quarter Horse
Association (AQHA); Charles Sturt University (CSU); Equestrian Sports (dressage, eventing,
show jumping, showing); Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI); International Society for
Equitation Science (ISES); Spatial Data Analysis Network (SPAN).
1. Introduction
Ever since bitted bridles were introduced by our horse-riding ancestors up to 6,000 years ago
(Anthony and Brown, 2000), their use has become synonymous with guidance and control of
the domesticated horse and the sight of bits in horses’ mouths is now normalized. Over the
past 30 35 years, however, there has been a gradual transition towards various forms of
unbitted bridles including bitless bridles, halters, cavessons and hackamores, a trend that
may have gained traction with the introduction of natural horsemanship to Australia in the
mid-1980s. Natural horsemanship is a horse training brand more aligned with Western than
European riding techniques (Hunt, 1991). It originated in the United States and offered
equestrians an alternative method of training horses by communicating with the horse via
halters and lead ropes for both ground and ridden work. Although many equestrians now
include elements of ‘horsemanship’ in their training regimes, most Australian horse riders still
ride with bitted bridles (Hill and McGreevy, 2015) rather than with halters or other forms of
unbitted bridles. The rationale behind equestrians’ bridle choices has not been studied and
may be based on several considerations. For example, it is known that the type of bridles
used in Australian equestrian pursuits are very closely linked to horse-riding disciplines (Hill
and McGreevy, 2015), but it is postulated that tradition, rider safety, horse welfare, and
equestrian club rules may also feature in equestrians’ bridle choices. In the absence of
scientific studies that have investigated these selected options, a literature review was
undertaken in preparation for this study.
‘Tradition’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the handing down of beliefs or customs
from one generation to another; a long-established custom or method of procedure (Oxford
Dictionary, 1975). ‘Tradition’, therefore, would encompass most of today’s horse-riding
genres in that they have developed over time by adopting practices which appeared to work
and rejecting those that did not (Podhajsky, 1965). However, ‘tradition’ as a rationale for
bridle choice is not supported by science.
Horse-related injuries and deaths are well documented (Cripps, 2000) however the literature
search that was undertaken failed to establish evidence linking bridle type with rider safety.
Although epidemiological studies covering rider morbidity and mortality resulting from horse
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
riding accidents have been undertaken (Cripps, 2000, Lang et al., 2014, Camargo et al.,
2018), to date no study has captured data linking bridles with any of these incidents, nor is it
known whether bridle type was even canvassed by healthcare workers during the emergency
admissions process. Although steps are being taken to minimize horse-related risks to
humans through equitation science (Starling et al., 2016), a link between bridle design (bitted
or unbitted) and rider safety cannot yet be made.
Whether accidental or deliberate, assaults to the horse’s sensitive oral structures are
common in some forms of equitation (McGreevy, 2011) and an increasing body of evidence
is providing insight into the impact that bridles, bridle-related tack and rider influence have on
horse welfare. To date, most of these studies have focused on bitted bridles with and
without nosebands, with several studies implicating them in clinical problems ranging from
sudden trauma to pathologies which may have a longer aetiology. For example, 62% of 110
ridden horses in a Belgian study had bit-associated lesions (Van Campenhout et al., 2014);
bit-induced lesions and / or blood were visible in the commissures of the lips in 9.2% of 3,143
Danish competition horses (Uldahl and Clayton, 2019); large and acute buccal ulcers were
observed in ridden horses compared with unridden horses (Tell et al., 2008); high severity of
oral trauma was observed in racehorses in snaffle bits and tongue trauma in polo ponies
ridden in gag bits (Mata et al., 2015); evidence of bone spurs on the diastema (interdental
space) of the mandible was evident in 75% of the skulls of 65 horses with a ridden history
(Cook, 2002); 50% of domesticated equids exhibited periosteal remodeling of the interdental
space compared with undomesticated horses (Van Lancker et al., 2007); injuries from bits
could result from variable depths of the hard palate (Evans and Lowder, 2012); evidence of
cuts, paralysis or amputation of the tongue resulting from sudden trauma (Connoly, 2019);
evidence of erosion of enamel and dentine, as well as beveling of the P2 molars (Cook,
2011, Anthony, 2008); and evidence of bony lesions at a site typically subjected to, and
possibly caused by, restrictive nosebands (Pérez-Manrique et al., 2020), which also has
ramifications for some unbitted bridle designs. Bitted bridles have also been implicated in
impaired respiratory function in the horse by causing dorsal displacement of the soft palate
along with conflicting breathing / swallowing reflexes (Cook, 2002), and another study noted
a reduction in pharyngeal diameter associated with a dorsal, flexed head and neck position,
a position of clinical importance with dressage horses (Cehak et al., 2010). Associations
between bridling and unwanted ridden behaviors have not yet received the same amount of
scientific scrutiny, possibly because of difficulties in designing studies to accommodate multi-
factorial influences such as individual horse sensitivities (De Cartier and Oldberg, 2005),
breed, training method, environmental conditions and rider influence. As a result, even
though an association is suspected (McGreevy, 2011) there is no strong evidence to link
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
bridle type with behaviors such as bolting, bucking, difficulty with bridling, flattened ears,
rearing, balking and running backwards, and no ethograms documenting behaviors such as
these in response to bridling have been developed to date.
The rules of some equestrian clubs mandate the use of bitted bridles for participation in their
activities although no studies have been identified which confirm the basis upon which these
rules have been put in place, for example, for controlling horses at all public equestrian
events or as a basis for judges evaluating riders’ performances in dressage tests.
Nonetheless, rules are in place for racing (Racing Australia, 2017), FEI dressage and the
dressage phase of eventing (FEI, 2019a, FEI, 2019b), showing (Equestrian Australia, 2019),
Polo (Australian Polo Federation, 2018) and for some AQHA competitions (AQHA, 2020). It
is postulated these rules may have evolved through tradition but could also be based on a
perception that bitted bridles are more effective for controlling horses in emergency situations
such as bolting, or for fast sports that require instant response for rapid stopping and / or
turning (Hill and McGreevy, 2015). Compliance with public liability insurance requirements
for club activities may also depend on having rules in place for specific types of bridles.
Against this background, the study objective was to obtain data from adult Australian
equestrians about their motivations for bridle choices so that the data they provided could be
compared with known scientific evidence. It was anticipated that survey participants might
be hesitant to separate ‘bridles’ from rider influence, however this project was designed to
drill down into the bridle itself, the primary item of tack frequently overlooked in scientific
studies unless it is in conjunction with related tack such as nosebands or reins (Clayton et
al., 2011, Fenner et al., 2016). Respondents were, however, given the opportunity to provide
any other information they considered relevant to the survey through open-ended questions
located in various sections of the survey.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1 Study design and data collection
An anonymous, cross-sectional internet survey of adult Australian horse riders was used to
collect information about the rationale for riders’ bridle choices for both bitted and unbitted
bridles and to gain an understanding of the extent of their awareness of evidence to support
their choices. The survey utilized SurveyMonkeyTM, cloud-based software which facilitates
online survey development. The questions were developed by the researcher and uploaded
into SurveyMonkeyTM by CSU’s SPAN unit. The questions were designed to obtain both
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
categorical and open-ended data to enable comparisons to be made between variables of
interest during the data analysis phase of the project.
Prior to receiving ethics approval for this study from CSU’s Ethics and Compliance Unit, a
pilot study was undertaken on condition that the data collected from the pilot not be included
in the survey results. The pilot study led to minor changes to survey questions to eliminate
any ambiguities and to clarify some paragraphs in the Invitation to Participate. The survey
was disseminated on 5 August 2020 and closed on 21 September 2020. A dedicated
Facebook page was established and used to disseminate the survey link and associated QR
code. This page was also used to provide survey updates, reminders, and keep people
engaged with the project. The survey link was also disseminated by direct email, across
relevant public equestrian Facebook pages, equestrian e-magazines and the researcher’s
own equine contacts database. Initial dissemination was followed up with fortnightly
reminders through these same platforms. The original dissemination also included a
MailchimpTM campaign, however this was discontinued owing to its data analytics showing
very poor ‘opening’ and ‘click’ rates. The dissemination strategy was designed to target all
Australian horse-riding genres via their State and Territory peak equestrian bodies; clubs and
associations; equine industry bodies; educational institutions which include equine studies on
their curricula; and individual horse riders. Recipients were encouraged to share the survey
link amongst their horse-riding stakeholders and peers.
The survey contained a maximum of 75 questions comprising multiple choice, open-ended
and Likert scale questions. The use of skip-logic - a feature that changes what question or
page a respondent sees next based on how they answer the current question - in the
questionnaire meant participants were not required to complete all questions. The survey
took between 10 and 15 minutes to complete, depending on whether information was
provided for one or two horses. Early on Day 1 of the survey, a skip-logic issue with Horse 2
questions was identified and corrected, however by that time the survey had already been
completed by up to 90 survey participants. As these data could not be allocated properly,
the researcher decided responses in relation to Horse 2 should not form part of the analysis.
Survey data for Horse 1 only were accepted for further analysis and the term ‘Horse 1’ in the
survey has been replaced by ‘nominated horse’ in this report. Nevertheless, open-ended
responses for Horse 2 were retained and canvassed for comments which might provide
insights not previously included in open-ended responses for Horse 1.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
2.2 Statistical Analysis
After the survey closed, the data were downloaded by the SPAN research office at CSU.
The data were emailed to the researcher in both Microsoft (MS) Excel and Statistical
Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) formats. The survey generated 821 responses.
After filtering to eliminate participants who were ineligible, and those who did not proceed to
providing responses for the nominated horse (n = 141), a total of 680 responses remained
which met the criteria for further analysis. Descriptive analysis was undertaken with MS
Excel using pivot tables, data filtering and formulae to derive empirical data about
respondents (n) and related percentages (%). MS Excel formulae were also used for one-
and two-sample chi-square tests to establish associations between variables and to compute
probabilities of occurrence between various combinations of categorical data. Where
P-values were < .05, MS Excel was also used to compute standardized residual tests (SRT)
to observe which cell values contributed most to the P-value. Thematic analysis of
responses to open-ended survey questions was facilitated through the application of filters in
MS Excel worksheets, using themes classified according to the nature of each open-ended
question. Analysis of respondent replies to open-ended questions was undertaken by the
researcher who has expertise in dressage, natural horsemanship and equine behavior. MS
Excel’s random number generator was used to select a sample (n = 42) from the 249
open-ended responses to the final survey question so that an unbiased sample of these
responses could be included in the Appendix to this report (Appendix A, Table 2).
3. Results
3.1 Descriptive Statistics
3.1.1 General demographics
Completed surveys came from all Australian states and territories (n = 680): New South
Wales (n = 204, 30%
), Victoria (n = 164, 24%), South Australia (n = 97, 14%), Queensland
(n = 88, 13%), Western Australia (n = 50, 7%), Australian Capital Territory (n = 36, 5%),
Tasmania (n = 35, 5%) and the Northern Territory (n = 6, 1%). Of those who completed the
gender’ question (n = 677), most were female (n = 647, 96%) followed by male (n = 27, 4%),
and three respondents preferred not to identify (< 1%). Elsewhere, a further three
respondents identified their gender as ‘other’. Of the 677 respondents who provided their
percentages slightly > or < 100% are attributed to rounding.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
age group, almost a quarter were aged between 45-54 years (n = 164, 24%), followed by
35-44 years (n = 147, 22%), 5564 years (n = 142, 21%), 25-34 years (n = 103, 15%), 18-24
years (n = 71, 10%), 65-74 years (n = 46, 7%) and 75 years and over (n = 4, 1%).
3.1.2 Rider demographics
Participants were asked to indicate how often they rode horses, how they regarded their
horse-riding ability, whether they had attained, or were in the process of attaining, equine-
specific qualifications, and what activities comprised their main interaction with horses
(n = 680). Most of these respondents (n = 399, 59%) rode a few times a week, followed by
every day (n = 111, 16%), about once a week (n = 76, 11%), a few times a month (n = 50,
7%), once a month (n = 9, 1%), and less than once a month (n = 35, 5%). Most claimed to
have either excellent, very good or good horse riding ability (n = 616, 91%) with the
remainder reporting their riding ability to be either fair or poor (n = 64, 9%). More than one
third of participants (n = 242, 36%) reported having equine-specific qualifications obtained
either locally (Australia) or overseas with almost half of these having qualifications
recognized under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) (AQF, 2020), from
Certificate 1 through to Doctoral Degree (n = 116, 48%). This was followed by coaching
(n = 65, 27%), equine allied services such as hoof care, massage, acupuncture and Bowen
therapy (n = 29, 12%), Pony Club and British Horse Society certificates (n = 14, 6%) as well
as other equine-related training such as judging and equine assisted therapy (n = 18, 7%).
Participants’ main interaction with horses (n = 680) showed most were recreational riders
(n = 265, 39%). Other interactions comprised amateur competitors (n = 219, 32%); horse
trainer / educators (n = 81, 12%); professional competitors (n = 10, 2%); those who had
retired from active equestrian activities (n = 52, 8%); and ‘other’ (n = 53, 8%) which included
combinations of riding and non-riding activities; equine professional roles such as
veterinarians; horse breeders; and ancillary equine services including hoof-care, equine
assisted therapy, equine rescue and / or rehabilitation. Most respondents were members of
an equestrian club or organisation (n = 466). Club members were asked whether the rules of
their organisations prescribed the use of a bitted bridle for participating in their activities, with
respondents who answered ‘yes’ (n = 272) then asked if they would consider using a bitless
bridle for their activities if it were not for this rule. Of those who responded to this additional
question (n = 269), the largest group said they would use a bitless bridle (n = 127, 47%),
some would not (n = 86, 32%), and the remainder were unsure (n = 56, 21%) (Figure 1).
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 1
Preference for using a bitless bridle if club rules were changed (%)
Thematic analysis of open-ended responses (n = 114) was then undertaken for each group.
For the ‘yes’ group, i.e. those who would change bridle type if the rules were changed
(n = 58), three themes emerged: Theme 1 - would prefer to ride with a bitless bridle (n = 42,
72%); Theme 2 - would ride bitless for welfare reasons, increased performance and / or
horse preference (n = 13, 22%); and Theme 3 - would use a bitless bridle, but only if safe to
do so (n = 3, 5%). For the ‘no’ group (n = 24), three themes were also evident: Theme 1 -
happy with the status quo, the horse was comfortable with the bit and / or the horse worked
better with a bit (n = 16, 67%); Theme 2 - safety (n = 4, 17%); and Theme 3 - too time-
consuming to train for a bitless bridle, bitless bridles were less humane, and / or the horse
did not like the bitless bridle (n = 4, 17%). For the ‘unsure’ group (n = 32), three themes
were again identified: Theme 1 - more information / experience / reassurance about bitless
bridles needed (n = 12, 38%); Theme 2 - welfare concerns about bitless bridles (n = 8,
25%); Theme 3 - use of bitless bridles is dependent upon the particular situation / context
(n = 12, 38%).
Of the equestrian activities (n = 679), most respondents participated in casual-type riding and
equestrian sports (Figure 2).
Yes No Unsure
% Respondents
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 2
Main equestrian activity undertaken with nominated horse (%)
Of the other’ equestrian sport or activities (n = 97, 14.3%) most included a combination of
equestrian activities (n = 28, 29%); medieval / military sport (n = 17, 18%); classically trained
dressage (n = 11, 11%); working equitation (n = 10, 10%); pony club (adult) (n = 7, 7%);
other horsemanship (n = 6, 6%); other working horse (n = 6, 6%); showing (n = 3, 3%); other
western (n = 2, 2%); and trainer / coach / educator (n = 2, 2%). Small numbers of
respondents participated in polo / polocrosse; clerk of the course; clicker training; and
equestrian entertainment (n = 5, 5%). No respondents identified as being in the
thoroughbred racing industry.
The methods respondents used to train their nominated horse (n = 680) are summarized in
Figure 3. For those who answered ‘other’ (n = 79), most reported using various
combinations of classical, traditional and horsemanship training methods (n = 57, 72%); and
clicker training and positive reinforcement (n = 11, 14%). The remaining training methods
cited by participants involved mentorship from educators who used specific ‘brands’ of horse
and rider training (e.g.TTouch); Vaquero; biomechanical; and western dressage methods.
0.0 5.0 10.0 15.0 20.0 25.0 30.0 35.0 40.0
Casual, pleasure, trail (club) (n=243)
Endurance (n=24)
Equestrian sport (dressage, showjumping, eventing) (n=242)
Hacking / gymkhana (n=11)
Natural horsemanship (n=14)
Working horse (n=27)
Western-type (n=21)
Other (n=97)
% Respondents
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 3
Training method used with nominated horse (%)
3.1.3 Horse demographics
Breeds of the nominated horse (n = 680) are summarized in Figure 4. The category other
(n = 106, 15.6%) represented crosses of the nominated breeds, Andalusians, gypsy cobbs
and Irish sport horses. It is considered the ‘other’ category would have obtained less
responses had the original question also included crosses of the nominated breeds.
Figure 4
Respondents’ nominated horses (%)
Of the nominated horse responses (n = 677), most were geldings (n = 395, 58%); followed
by mares (n = 271, 40%); and stallions (n = 11, 2%). ‘Age of horse’ responses (n = 678)
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Classical dressage training principles (n=166)
Conventional / traditional training methods (n=65)
ISES (evidence-based) training principles (n=59)
Natural horsemanship (n=139)
No specific method, trial and error, own method (n=158)
Western riding principles (n=14)
Other (n=79)
% Respondents
0.0 2.0 4.0 6.0 8.0 10.0 12.0 14.0 16.0 18.0
Arab / Anglo Arab (n = 83)
Australian Stock Horse (n = 66)
Brumby (n = 10)
Draft / heavy breed (n = 29)
Other (n = 106)
Paint / Appaloosa (n = 28)
Pony breed (n = 31)
Quarter Horse (n = 66)
Standardbred (n = 35)
Thoroughbred (n = 110)
Warmblood / Warmblood cross (n = 116)
% Horses
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
revealed most were aged between 6 10 years (n = 248, 37%); followed by 11 15 years
(n = 192, 28%); over 15 years (n = 161, 24%); and 3 5 years (n = 75, 11%). Less than 1%
of horses (n = 2) were less than 3 years of age.
3.1.4 Bridle choices for nominated horse
In this survey question, participants were required to refer to images of bitted and unbitted
bridles and asked to nominate which category of bridle they primarily used for their
nominated horse. Most of the 680 respondents rode in bitted bridles (n = 463, 68%) with the
remainder riding in various forms of unbitted bridles (n = 217, 32%), (Figure 5).
Figure 5
Bridle type nominated horse (%)
3.1.5 Bitted Bridle Responses
Analysis of bitted bridle usage (n = 463) showed that these bridles were commonly used for
the FEI equestrian sports of dressage, show jumping, eventing, hacking / gymkhana and
showing (n = 233, 50%). This was followed by recreational / trail (club) riding (n = 124, 27%),
working / western horse (n = 43, 9%), natural horsemanship (n = 3, 1%) or other disciplines
including endurance, polo, polocrosse (n = 60, 13%).
Thematic analysis of the open-ended question ‘what is the main reason you use a bitted
bridle with your nominated horse’, grouped responses (n = 435) into four themes: Theme 1
status quo, always used, convention (n = 184, 42%); Theme 2 - rules, tradition,
performance, communication (n = 141, 32%); Theme 3 safety, control (n = 90, 21%) and
Theme 4 horse preference, comfort (n = 20, 5%). In addition, analysis of open-ended
responses to an unrelated question showed that compliance with club insurance
requirements was a reason for using bitted bridles when participating in club activities.
Respondents using bitted bridles were referred to images of the main categories of available
bits and their choices (n = 463) are summarized in Figure 6. Snaffle bits - defined as jointed
Bitted bridle Unbitted bridle
Respondents (%)
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
or unjointed bits without shanks - were the most commonly used bit and, when responses in
the other’ category (n = 66, 15%) were examined, it was found that most of these (n = 55,
80%) could also be classified as ‘snaffle’ bits. The large number of ‘other’ responses may
have been avoided if more explanatory wording and / or extra illustrations had been provided
showing snaffle bit configurations including, for example, additional joints, plates and
‘lozenges’ (discs).
Figure 6
Bitted bridle choices type of bit (%)
In the accompanying open-ended question, respondents (n = 442) were given the
opportunity to provide reasons for their choice of bit and these were grouped into four
themes - Theme 1 - status quo, rider preference, instructor influence (n = 178, 40%);
Theme 2 - control, performance, rules (n = 84, 19%); Theme 3 - horse oral anatomy, bit-fitter
recommendations (n = 31, 7%); and Theme 4 - horse more comfortable, horse preference
(n = 149, 34%).
Respondents who rode their nominated horse with a bitted bridle were asked if they
sometimes rode the horse with an unbitted bridle. Of the responses (n = 453), most did not
(n = 266, 59%); approximately one third did use an unbitted bridle (n = 143, 32%); and a
small number (n = 44, 10%) had used an unbitted bridle but discontinued its use. Reasons
for sometimes using an unbitted bridle (n = 140) could be grouped into four themes: Theme 1
better for horse, horse likes it, horse relaxation (n = 39, 28%); Theme 2 training horse for
both types of bridle, versatility (n = 28, 20%); Theme 3 activity dependent (n = 15, 11%);
and Theme 4 rider preference, convenience, variety (n = 58, 41%). Those who advised
they had discontinued using an unbitted bridle did so because they did not feel in control of
020 40 60 80 100
Double (bit and bradoon)
Snaffle (jointed or unjointed)
Western Shank
Other (please specify)
Respondents (%)
Type of Bit
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
the horse; the horse disliked the pressure from the bridle straps; or because of the
emergence of unwanted behavior such as head-tossing.
Close to two thirds of bitted bridle respondents (n = 463) competed with their nominated
horse (n = 286, 62%) and almost all of these respondents used a bitted bridle for both
training and competition (n = 282, 99%), with the remainder using an unbitted bridle for
training but not for competition (n = 4, 1%).
3.1.6 Unbitted Bridle Responses
From the images of unbitted bridles that were provided, most respondents (n = 217) used
bitless bridles (n = 116, 54%); followed by a tied halter (n = 47, 22%); bosal / hackamore
(n = 22, 10%); and head collar (n = 7, 3%). 25 respondents (11%) rode with ‘other’ forms of
unbitted bridle which included various brand names of bridles (e.g. Parelli Dually, Dr Cook
Crossover) which could have been included in the nominated categories, and cavessons,
bridles of ‘own design’, and neck ropes. Unbitted bridles (n = 217) were used in casual /
pleasure riding (n = 107, 49%), equestrian sports (n = 33, 15%), trail (club) (n = 12, 6%),
endurance (n = 11, 5%), natural horsemanship (n = 11, 5%), working horse (n = 6, 3%) and
‘other’ types of riding (n = 37, 17%).
Thematic analysis of open-ended responses to the question what is the main reason you
use an unbitted bridle with your nominated horse? (n = 220) yielded four themes: Theme 1 -
improved rider safety, control, behavior and / or communication (n = 28, 13%); Theme 2 -
horse anatomy / physiology (n = 16, 7%); Theme 3 - horse welfare, comfort, preference
(n = 125, 57%); and Theme 4 - rider preference, horse training, performance (n = 51, 23%).
Unbitted bridle respondents (n = 217) were asked if they sometimes rode their nominated
horse with a bitted bridle, but most did not (n = 123, 57%). Of those who did and continued
to do so (n = 53, 24%), their reasons were grouped into 4 themes: Theme 1 club rules
requirement (n = 23, 43%); Theme 2 for greater horse control (n = 11, 21%); Theme 3
training horse for any future owner (n = 9, 17%); and Theme 4 to achieve refinement,
sharper performance (n = 10, 19%). Of the remaining unbitted bridle respondents who
sometimes use bitted bridles but did not continue with them (n = 39, 18%), only four provided
reasons which included horse discomfort with bitted bridle and rider preference. Unbitted
bridle respondents were asked if they competed with their nominated horse (n = 214) but
most did not (n = 160, 75%). Of those who did compete (n = 54), most used an unbitted
bridle for training as well as for competition (n = 34, 63%). Of the 20 respondents who did
not use an unbitted bridle for both training and competition, most used unbitted bridles for
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
training and a bitted bridle for competition (n = 19, 95%) with just one respondent reporting
using a bitted bridle for training and unbitted for competition (n = 1, 5%).
3.1.7 Unwanted behaviors and veterinary conditions
In this Likert scale question, survey participants were given a list of unwanted horse
behaviors and veterinary conditions that were possibly related to bridling. These were
obtained from publicly available - and largely anecdotal - internet-based sources as well as
from scientific journal articles. This question was included to gain an insight from
respondents about which of these behaviors and veterinary conditions they believed were
underpinned by scientific evidence. In designing this question, care was taken to eliminate
any perceived bias between the two categories of bridles, however one variable (teeth
damage) could only be attributed to a bitted bridle. Response distribution is shown in
Table 1.
Table 1
Likelihood of unwanted behaviors / veterinary conditions being supported by scientific
evidence (n) (%).
169 (26.9)
248 (39.4)
165 (26.2)
47 (7.5)
156 (24.8)
254 (40.4)
184 (29.3)
34 (5.4)
19 (3.0)
161 (25.6)
438 (69.6)
11 (1.7)
44 (7.0)
175 (27.7)
398 (63.1)
14 (2.2)
37 (5.9)
210 (33.3)
369 (58.5)
15 (2.4)
31 (4.9)
176 (27.9)
411 (65.2)
12 (1.9)
25 (4.0)
196 (31.1)
395 (62.7)
14 (2.2)
68 (10.8)
274 (43.5)
260 (41.3)
28 (4.4)
76 (12.1)
274 (43.6)
253 (40.2)
26 (4.1)
46 (7.3)
185 (29.5)
381 (60.7)
16 (2.5)
16 (2.5)
138 (21.9)
465 (73.9)
10 (1.6)
23 (3.7)
142 (22.6)
442 (70.5)
20 (3.2)
23 (3.7)
150 (23.8)
440 (69.8)
17 (2.7)
63 (10.0)
252 (40.1)
290 (46.1)
24 (3.8)
60 (9.5)
252 (40.0)
299 (47.5)
19 (3.0)
23 (3.7)
167 (26.6)
426 (67.7)
13 (2.1)
39 (6.2)
231 (36.7)
333 (52.9)
26 (4.1)
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
This information is also available in as a stacked bar chart (Appendix A, Figure 1) and
responses distributed according to each category of bridle (Appendix A, Table 1).
3.1.8 Importance of the role of science as an influence on bridle choices
Responses to the question ‘do you agree with the statement ‘scientific evidence has an
important role to play in bridle design (bitted and unbitted)? are shown in Figure 7. The
question was asked in order to gauge insight about respondents’ receptiveness towards
evidence-based bridle designs.
Figure 7
Importance of the role of scientific evidence on bridle design (%)
3.1.9 Information Sources
This was a Likert scale question where participants were asked to indicate how likely they
would use a range of nominated sources if they wanted to obtain information about bridles.
They could answer ‘not likely’, ‘somewhat likely’, ‘quite likely’ or ‘very likely’ (Table 2). This
question was asked for two reasons: a) to compare respondents’ selected answers with the
likelihood that these sources of information had a scientific basis; and b) to obtain data that
would allow better targeting of future communications about relevant scientific findings. The
data for this question are also provided in stacked bar chart format in Appendix A, Figure 2.
Yes No Don't Know
% Respondents
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 2
Preferred sources of information about bridles - n, (%)
Source of Information
Not likely
Very likely
Advertisements (bits / bridles)
292 (46.6)
249 (39.7)
69 (11.0)
17 (2.7)
Equine celebrity endorsements
447 (72.0)
146 (23.5)
25 (4.0)
3 (0.5)
Equine dentist (non-veterinarian)
169 (26.7)
233 (36.8))
167 (26.4)
64 (10.1)
Equine dentist (veterinarian)
76 (12.1)
195 (31.1)
229 (36.5)
128 (20.4)
435 (69.8)
153 (24.6)
32 (5.1)
3 (0.5)
Feed / produce store
536 (85.9)
82 (13.1)
6 (1.0)
0 (0.0)
General internet searches
130 (20.7)
274 (43.7)
165 (26.3)
58 (9.3)
Horse association meetings / newsletters
290 (46.3)
239 (38.2)
84 (13.4)
13 (2.1)
Horse breaker / trainer
102 (16.2)
226 (36.0)
196 (31.2)
104 (16.6)
Horse magazines (print / e-magazines)
224 (35.8)
281 (45.0)
102 (16.3)
18 (2.9)
Independent bridle consultants
160 (25.3)
156 (24.7)
184 (29.1)
132 (20.9)
Manufacturer recommendations / information
169 (27.1)
304 (48.7)
125 (20.0)
26 (4.2)
Other horse owners / friends / peer groups
74 (11.7)
265 (41.9)
229 (36.2)
64 (10.1)
Riding instructor
66 (10.6)
186 (29.8)
226 (36.2)
147 (23.5)
Saddlery / equestrian supplies store
279 (44.7)
241 (38.6)
94 (15.1)
10 (1.6)
Scientific literature
32 (5.1)
112 (17.9)
212 (33.8)
271 (43.2)
Social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Insta)
372 (59.3)
202 (32.2)
46 (7.3)
7 (1.1)
Stable / agistment centre manager / staff
414 (66.5)
168 (27.0)
36 (5.8)
5 (0.8)
Textbooks on classical riding principles
204 (32.7)
231 (37.0)
142 (22.8)
47 (7.5)
140 (22.4)
214 (34.3)
184 (29.5)
86 (13.8)
3.1.10 Factors influencing bridle choices
This Likert-scale question required respondents to consider four possible variables
tradition, rider safety, horse welfare and club rules and to respond according to the degree
of influence these variables have had on their own bridle choices (Figure 8). A summary of
this information according to each bridle category is also included in Appendix A,
Figures 3 6).
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 8
Factors influencing bridle choices: summary of responses, both bridle categories (%)
3.2 Analysis of Results
3.2.1 Chi-square analysis: ‘tradition’ as an outcome
Chi-square tests showed an association between ‘tradition’ and respondents who regarded
‘tradition’ as either being ‘very influential’, ‘slightly influential’ or ‘not influential’ (P < .001), but
data for ‘moderately influential’ was within the expected range. Chi-square tests found
strong associations between ‘tradition’ and both bridle categoies - bitted bridles (P < .001)
and unbitted bridles (P < .001); however no association was found between ‘tradition’ and the
type of horse-riding discipline.
3.2.2 Chi-square analysis: ‘rider safety’ as an outcome
Chi-square tests revealed a strong association between the combined categories of bridle
and rider safety (P < .001), with SRT showing the greatest contributor to this result was the
sample of respondents who considered their bridle choice (bitted and unbitted) to be ‘very
influential’ where their safety was concerned. When analysis of ‘rider safety’ was broken
down into each category of bridle (bitted and unbitted) no further associations were found.
010 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Tradition (n = 675)
Rider safety (n = 673)
Horse welfare (n = 680)
Equestrian rules (n = 674)
(% respondents)
Not influential Slightly influential Moderately influential Very influential
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Additional chi-square analyses showed neither horse riding discipline nor stated horse riding
ability were associated with rider safety. All horse training methods were within expected
ranges except for ISES training principles (P < .001) which SRT showed respondents who
trained their horses according to these principles regarded rider safety’ as a rationale for
bridle choice to be ‘moderately influential’ rather than ‘very influential’.
3.2.3 Chi-square analysis: ‘welfare’ as an outcome
Chi-square testing of these data revealed a strong association between welfare and bridle
choice for combined categories of bridle (P < .001) as a much higher number of respondents
than expected cited ‘welfare’ as being ‘very influential’ in their choice of bridle. When this
result was analysed according to bridle type, it was shown the greatest contribution to this
result came from unbitted bridle users (P < .001) compared with bitted bridle users (P < .05).
Further analysis using SRT confirmed unbitted bridle users were more likely to consider
welfare to be ‘very influential’ in their choice of bridle, whereas bitted bridle users were more
likely to regard welfare as ‘moderately influential’. Analysis of different variables with
‘welfare’ as the outcome showed a stronger association with natural horsemanship (P < .05)
than any other stated training method, all of which were within the expected range. In this
analysis, results for ‘other’ training type - a group that included ‘own method’, ‘trial and error’,
‘no specific method’ and ‘other’ - were discarded as the P-value obtained was very small
and, as such, these responses were regarded as outliers skewing the data as a whole.
Other chi-square tests undertaken with ‘welfare’ as the outcome looked for associations with
equine-related qualifications, number of previous owners of nominated horse, and rider age
group variables, however none were found.
3.2.4 Chi-square analysis: ‘club rules’ as an outcome
Chi-square analysis of combined bridle categories found the influence of club rules on bridle
choices was significant (P < .01), a value that SRT showed responses of ‘not influential’ and
‘slightly influential’ contributed most to this result. Analysis of individual bridle categories
showed a strong association between the type of bridle and ‘club rules’ (bitted bridles
P < .0001; unbitted bridles P < .0001). Associations were found between club rules and
riding discipline: casual / recreational (P < .001), equestrian sports (P < .001), natural
horsemanship (P < .05), and trail riding (club) (P < .01); as well as between club rules and
club membership: club member (P < .001), non-club member (P < .001). Further analysis of
these results with SRT showed rules that were ‘moderately influential’ or ‘very influential’
contributed to the P-value for respondents who were club members, with a significantly lower
than expected count contributing to the P-value for club rules being ‘not influential’. For
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
respondents who were not club members, SRT showed the factors that contributed most to
the obtained P-value included a less than expected number of respondents being
‘moderately influencedor ‘very influenced’ by club rules and a large number of respondents
who reported club rules being ‘not influential’ in their choice of bridle. A one-sample chi-
square test was performed on the data to see if an association existed between rules of a
club mandating bitted bridles and a respondents willingness to use a bitted bridle if that rule
did not exist. A strong association was found (P < .001) between club rules and those who
would change, and also between club rules and those who were ‘unsure’, however no
association was found between those who would not change bridle type if the rules were
3.2.5 Other chi-square analyses undertaken
Regarding the question asking whether scientific evidence has an important role to play in
future bridle choices’, one and two sample chi-square tests were performed on selected
variables. A one-sample test of all responses (i.e. combined bridle categories) identified a
strong association with ‘yes’ (P < .001), showing there was a significantly greater number of
responses than would have been expected for this question. Additional chi-square tests
were undertaken for each bridle category, however there was no association with bitted
bridles although an association was found with unbitted bridles (P = .05). With ‘scientific
evidence’ as the outcome and ‘interaction with horses’ as the variable, an association was
found with ‘trainers, a group least likely to be influenced by science (P = .013). No
association was found between ‘scientific evidence’ and either the type of training method
used, or the presence / absence of equine-related qualifications.
4. Discussion
Survey participants were provided with examples of possible influences on bridle choices,
including ‘tradition’, ‘rider safety’, ‘horse welfare’, and ‘club rules’, along with several
opportunities to provide additional information through strategic placement of open-ended
questions. When analysed, the survey data revealed important insights into respondents’
motivations for the type of bridle they use for participating in equestrian activities, their
perceptions about the existing body of bridle-related science, the role of science in their
future bridle choices and their preferred sources for obtaining information about bridles. An
early observation of the data highlighted a possibility the survey title Lifting the Veil on
Bridles may have led some participants to consider their bridle choices were being
challenged, and this may have contributed to potential bias in responses to some questions.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
During the planning phase however, it was considered an attention-grabbing headline would
outweigh this risk by achieving an increased participation rate.
4.1 Tradition
The earliest comprehensive, written treatise on horsemanship ‘The Art of Horsemanship’ was
authored by the Greek historian and soldier, Xenophon almost 2 500 years ago (Morgan,
1962) and could be regarded as the ‘official’ beginning of the tradition of all forms of
horsemanship. It was hypothesized, therefore, that ‘tradition’ would have been a key driver
in bridle choices, particularly for riders in the equestrian sports. The data show this is not the
case, however, with almost three quarters of all respondents considering ‘tradition’ either
‘not’ or only ‘slightly’ influential when choosing a bridle (Figure 8). While this result was
expected for unbitted bridle users, it was unexpected for bitted bridle users as almost three
quarters of bitted-bridle respondents participated in equestrian activities such as dressage,
eventing, show jumping, and western riding, all of which have evolved from long-held
traditional practices. It is likely, therefore, the low importance of ‘tradition’ influencing
respondents’ bridle choices can be attributed to the accepted, and largely unquestioned, use
of bitted bridles that have guided horses for millennia, a practice that has become normalized
for much of the equestrian community. By its definition, there can be no scientific basis for
determining bridle choices based on ‘tradition’ and it is interesting to note the earliest peer-
reviewed study that may have begun to influence equestrians’ bridle choices did not appear
until the late twentieth century (Clayton, 1985). Since that time, bridle-related science has
gained traction, as is evidenced by three-quarters of all respondents reporting they would be
moderately, or very influenced by the results of relevant scientific studies when choosing
4.2 Rider Safety
To date, no studies have investigated bridle-related risk factors associated with horse-riding
accidents, however, anecdotal information from publicly available sources such as Bit Bank
Australia (Bell and Temby, 2018) suggests bit design is important for rider safety. Against
this background, the survey sought respondents’ views on whether rider safety influenced
their bridle choices. The data showed that 85% of respondents across both bridles
categories were either ‘moderately’ or ‘very’ influenced by ‘rider safety’ in their choice of
bridle, and this was a significant finding. When the data were interrogated according to bridle
category, both bitted and unbitted bridle users rated the influence of bridle type on rider
safety equally (Appendix A, Figure 4). In order to better understand this finding, responses
to the open-ended question ‘what is the main reason you ride this horse with a bitted bridle?’
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
were analysed. This information revealed 21% of bitted bridle users referred to ‘control’ as
their main reason as they felt safer and ‘more in control of the horse, particularly: if the
activity required quick stops and / or turns such as in eventing, show jumping and reining; if
the horse had a prior history of racing (thoroughbred and standardbred) and might ‘pull’; if
the horse was ‘flighty’; if the horse was a stallion; if there had been a prior bad experience
with unbitted bridle in a safety situation; and for safety around vehicular traffic. One
respondent reported they used a bitted bridle for safety / control but did not know why. In
turn, analysis of the unbitted bridle open-ended responses revealed a different focus. Whilst
a similar percentage of this cohort had cited their choice of bridle was for ‘safety’ reasons,
open-ended responses to this question revealed only 7% regarded ‘control’ as their main
reason, with horse welfare, horse or rider preference, and training being a higher priority for
them. This has revealed an apparently paradoxical situation in that each cohort of riders
appears to believe their own bridle category affords them safety. It is worth considering that
it may be the case that neither bridle category provides an advantage over the other when
rider safety is concerned but, rather, a different influence altogether may be contributing to
this belief. Horse-riding disciplines can approach emergency horse control in different ways.
With traditional English riding, the conventional stopping technique requires the rider to
cease following the horse’s forward movement with legs and seat while simultaneously
blocking the forward movement through steady contact on the reins (McLean and McLean,
2008). This operant conditioning technique is reinforced over time through repetition,
enabling incremental improvements to occur via negative reinforcement. In an emergency,
however, tugging the horse to a stop is regarded to train better brakes quite rapidly
(McLean and McLean, 2008). This technique might work with a bitted bridle because
application of the rein aids in this way may result in oral pain leading to the desired effect of
slowing or stopping the horse as the horse tries to mitigate the pain. In contrast, natural
horsemanship and some western riding training methods use negative reinforcement to
teach the ‘emergency stop’ in early training. This is achieved by teaching the horse to turn
the neck to one side while simultaneously applying a leg aid to the same side, with the
purpose of ‘disengagingthe horse’s inside hind leg. This interrupts the forward trajectory of
the hind leg and causes the horse to step under itself, gradually bringing it to a stop (Marten,
2005). The horse is then said to have ‘bent to a stop’. This is often introduced with the aid of
a tied halter and lead rope because training this technique with a bitted bridle could result in
injury to the horse’s lips and mouth if the technique is applied inappropriately. The key
difference between the two stopping techniques is that one stops the horse in a straight line
while the other stops the horse by interrupting the forward movement of the hind legs. This
difference could account for the reason open-ended responses from the bitted bridle group
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
was more likely to cite the importance of a bit for control than the unbitted bridle group. It is
conceivable, therefore, that the type of bridle is not the issue, rather it is the stopping
technique employed. To date, however, there have been no studies to compare the two
stopping techniques in the context of rider safety. It is also notable that a significant
association was found between ‘rider safety’ and ‘training method’ in that fewer than
expected respondents who trained their horses according to ISES principles (ISES, 2018)
considered rider safety to be ‘very important’ but, rather, ‘moderately important’. This result
may reflect confidence about the effectiveness of training horses according to these
principles. In any event, it is important to note that no type of bridle, bitted or unbitted, can
be regarded a substitute for rider experience and horse education in emergency situations.
4.3 Horse welfare
For ridden-horse welfare outcomes to be regarded as ideal, equestrians must have a
thorough understanding of both equine physiology and ethology and this knowledge must be
applied during every horse / human interaction (Mellor et al., 2020). If this does not occur,
achievement of equestrian goals may be disrupted should subtle signals of stress and / or
pain in the horse be overlooked, not recognized (Mellor, 2020), or not addressed. This is
particularly relevant with bridles as they are intimately connected with the sensitive structures
of the horse’s head and oral cavity and therefore have the potential to jeopardize its welfare.
Against this background, survey participants were asked whether ‘horse welfare’ was
influential their choice of bridle. Data analysis revealed 98% of all respondents were either
‘moderately’ or ‘very’ influenced by horse welfare when choosing a bridle (Figure 8). When
the data were interrogated according to bridle category, they showed 99.5% of unbitted bridle
and 98.7% of bitted bridle users contributed to this result. While ‘horse welfare’ was
expected to be a key driver in bridle choice, the statistical significance of the data was
surprising, suggesting the presence of confirmation and / or response bias. It is also
possible the data was skewed by the age and gender of respondents, predominantly females
(96%) and people aged between 35 54 years a demographic that might be more
concerned with horse welfare generally. Open-ended responses for this question were then
compared for each bridle group. This analysis found that 40% of bitted bridle users and 55%
of unbitted bridle users regarded ‘welfare’, horse comfort’, ‘fit of bridle’ or ‘horse needs’ as
‘moderately’ or ‘very influential’ in the choice of bridle. These results were more in
accordance with the expected values that had been calculated for this question. The higher
percentage of welfare-related open-ended responses for unbitted bridle users may reflect a
preparedness of these respondents to act on available scientific studies that have implicated
bits with poor welfare outcomes for the horse in some circumstances. It is also conceivable
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
the message conveyed by some horsemanship proponents that natural horsemanship
ensures a better welfare outcome for the horse may have contributed to this result. Until the
current imbalance of scientific studies investigating bridles in a welfare context is redressed
by undertaking studies into unbitted bridles, existing evidence will remain skewed against
bitted bridles.
Survey participants had been asked to consider whether a range of (possibly) bridle-related
unwanted horse behaviors and veterinary conditions were likely to be supported by scientific
evidence. The literature review for this study revealed peer-reviewed studies were only
available for four of the 17 listed behaviors - impaired breathing, excessive poll flexion,
injuries to the mouth and head, and teeth damage and therefore it is noteworthy that most
respondents thought the majority of this list was already supported by science. For each
item, a greater percentage of unbitted than bitted bridle users considered scientific evidence
was available (Appendix A, Table 1). This finding is important in that it might indicate unbitted
bridle users are more likely to place reliance on bridle-related information that might validate
their bridle choice. On the other hand, however, it may indicate the presence of selective
validation for this group, given that no studies currently exist for many of the nominated
unwanted horse behaviors.
Open-ended responses from bitted bridle users in this survey have provided evidence of the
view that ‘bridles are only as good as the hands of the rider holding the reins’. While this
may be valid for beginner and novice riders, it does not necessarily follow that more
experienced riders with independent seats keep the horse safe from injury because scientific
studies have confirmed the existence of bridle-related oral lesions in horses at various levels
of competition. Another consideration is the impact of each bridle type on horse welfare in
emergency situations such as when a rider falling from a horse does not release the reins or
- when a flight response is triggered - an untended horse can step on its reins or pull back on
reins used to tie it up.
4.4 Club rules
The literature review for this study did not find an evidentiary basis for any club to mandate
use of bitted bridles when participating in their activities, however such rules do exist for the
equestrian sports, some western classes and polo. Against this background, the survey data
showed that, overall, the influence of ‘club rules’ on bridle choice was significant as
approximately half of all respondents reported club rules were an influence on their bridle
choices (Figure 8), with bitted bridle users being more influenced by rules than unbitted bridle
users (Appendix A, Figure 6). Moreover, when unbitted bridle users used bitted bridles for
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
the sole purpose of competing, or did not compete because they would be required to use a
bitted bridle, these respondents were more likely to regard club rules as being ‘moderately’ or
‘very’ influential in their choice of bridle. Analysis of this data showed this finding to be
significant as (1) a greater than expected number of respondents advised they would
compete with bitless bridles if the rules were changed; and (2) those who were ‘unsure’
about changing bridle type if allowed to, was also a significant result, and may be explained
in part by their desire to have more information about bitless bridles before making a
decision. From these results it could be inferred that horse riders would like the freedom to
choose whatever bridle type they wish if they want to complete in club activities. It is
noteworthy that if these sample results were to be extrapolated to the horse-riding
population, a significant proportion of equestrians would like the option to compete with
bitless bridles in competitions.
Some respondents reported a club requirement that bitted bridles need to be used to comply
with the terms and conditions of their club’s public liability insurance coverage. While having
public liability insurance is essential for most equestrian clubs, there is no evidence
insurance coverage is conditional on having a bitted bridle. This is reflected in the fact that
Bitless Inc., the Australian equestrian organisation that provides support for riders
transitioning away from bitted bridles, has obtained both public liability insurance for its
affiliated groups to hold events, and personal injury insurance for all club members
participating in those events.
4.5 Science and Bridling
This question was asked to obtain an idea of respondents’ willingness to accept scientific
evidence as a basis for choosing bridles with the majority of survey respondents (86%)
agreeing that scientific evidence had an important role to play in their future bridle choices.
This finding is important because most respondents believed scientific studies were already
available in relation to the unwanted behaviors and veterinary conditions nominated in the
questionnaire when, in fact, many of these topics are yet to be studied. This may indicate a
desire on the part of respondents to have more evidence-based information to draw upon
when choosing bridles.
4.6 Sources of Information
The researcher was interested in gaining an insight into respondents’ preferred sources of
information about bridling and to compare these choices with the likelihood that such sources
are supported by scientific evidence (Appendix A, Figure 2). The data showed the most
preferred source of information was scientific literature’, with twice as many respondents
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
choosing this as their ‘very likely’ option over their next preferred source of information, their
riding instructor. This finding was unexpected and suggests the nomination of ‘scientific
literature’ may have an element of response bias. It is also possible there might have been a
misunderstanding of the term ‘scientific literature’ which was intended to refer to peer-
reviewed studies but may have been interpreted by respondents as any information they
considered to be science. The choice of riding instructor as the next most preferred source
of bridle information is informative. A riding instructor is well placed to see how a horse and
rider combination performs and is expected to provide feedback to students on all aspects of
this performance - including appropriateness of the tack used. Nevertheless, the degree to
which instruction / coaching is based on the scientifically accepted training principles of
equitation science (ISES, 2018) is unknown as these principles are a guide and, being
voluntary, are not necessarily adopted by instructors in all horse-riding genres. ‘Equine
dentist (veterinarian)’ and ‘independent bridle consultant’ were the third most preferred
sources of information, a result that was unsurprising. Veterinary dentists are well-qualified
to have expertise in bridle-related veterinary conditions such as bit-related teeth beveling,
lacerations, ulceration and facial / head trauma, whilst bridle consultants, an emerging group
of equine allied professionals, undergo training underpinned by equine anatomy and
physiology of all structures of the horse’s head and mouth likely to be impacted by bridling
(Cooling, 2020). It was unexpected that only a small number of respondents sourced
information about bridling from horse magazines as several publications regularly
communicate the availability of newly published scientific studies to the wider horse-riding
public (The Horse Report, 2020, Horses and People Magazine, 2020). It was also
unexpected that ‘manufacturer information’, and ‘social media’ did not rate highly as
information sources. New designs of bridles and bits often come about through consumer-
driven requirements which have led to the development of bridle designs to optimize horse
welfare. The Miklem bridle, for example, has been designed so that the straps avoid putting
pressure on all sensitive areas of the horse’s head and face, a design that would appear to
have accommodated scientific studies that may have drawn attention to these areas as being
susceptible to injury, information now included on the manufacturer’s label. The low number
of responses for ‘social media’ as a source of bridle information was unexpected and might
indicate a degree of response bias. Online peer group socialisation has been shown to
affect purchasing decisions either directly through conformity with peers, or indirectly by
reinforcing product involvement and purchase decisions (Wang et al., 2012).
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
5. Conclusions
The survey objective was to establish whether Australian equestrians’ choices of bridle
(bitted and unbitted) were based on variables such as ‘tradition’, ‘rider safety’, ‘horse welfare’
or club rules’ and to determine whether these choices were underpinned by scientific
evidence. The results showed the most important consideration underpinning bridle choice
for both bitted and unbitted bridle users was horse welfare, the only variable supported by
scientific evidence. ‘Horse welfare’ was followed by rider safety and club rules, with
tradition being the least important consideration for choosing a bridle. When the survey
data were analysed, the initial impression was of the polarization this topic engendered, with
respondents in each bridle category questioning the welfare impacts on the horse of the
other group’s choice of bridle.
Although ‘rider safety’ was an equal priority for both bitted and unbitted bridle categories,
there is no scientific evidence to support this choice as no studies covering rider injury /
mortality have yet provided data relating specifically to bridles. Consideration could be given
to undertaking a survey to obtain data from equestrians who have been injured during horse-
riding activities, covering the circumstances in which the event/s occurred, the type of bridle
and associated tack used at the time, the emergency stopping technique employed, and
what factors the rider considered may have contributed to their accident. Another useful
study with ‘rider safety’ as an outcome would be an evaluation of the techniques currently
used for emergency stopping. This might identify the most effective and safest method for
both horse and rider, as well as what this technique might mean in terms of bridle choice.
The survey results show bitted bridle users are aware of the association between bits and
welfare challenges for the horse but perceive part of the solution is to choose a bit that is
comfortable for the horse. It is evident that science has influenced modifications in bridle
and bit designs and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is no longer appropriate. Increasingly,
choice can be accommodated as there are more bit designs to choose from which have
regard to individual horse oral anatomies. Ultimately however, the only way to completely
and permanently eliminate bit-related injuries to the horse’s mouth is to remove the bit from
the bridle. This would necessitate supporting riders and horses to make the transition to
unbitted bridles through appropriate operant conditioning training in accordance with ISES
training principles.
In the open-ended responses at the end of the survey, one of the most commonly occurring
themes was that any rider lacking ‘education and sensitivity’ had the potential to make a
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
bridle of any design a potential assault weapon on the horse. Whilst there is merit in this
argument, it raises questions about beginner and novice riders who have yet to attain an
independent seat and who will tend to balance themselves with the reins, particularly when
something goes wrong. From a horse welfare perspective, unbitted bridles should be
considered for use with these riders as they would ensure any inconsistencies in rein contact
are not transferred to the sensitive structures of the horse’s mouth.
Several bitted bridle respondents referred to potential injuries caused by bitless bridle
designs that deliver excessive forces on various parts of the horse’s head. To date however,
this has not been studied and evidence to support or refute this view is very much needed.
Undoubtedly, such studies would be timely as there are now several designs of bitless bridle
with different modes of action and it would be useful to assess the actions of these bridles for
potential adverse effects on the horse. Moreover, research into bitless bridles would help to
redress the current imbalance of scientific studies between the two categories of bridle.
The anecdotally derived adverse behaviors and veterinary conditions nominated by the
researcher were regarded by most respondents as evidence-based even though most have
not yet been studied. This finding demonstrates that opportunities exist for research which
can fill these gaps in equitation science, research that would be particularly useful as the
data also show respondents are very receptive to the idea of basing their future bridle
choices on scientific evidence. In this regard, research into the prevalence and range of
bridle-related clinical problems using de-identified data from equine veterinary databases
would be useful, as would the development of an ethogram that assists equestrians to
identify bridle-related pain or discomfort exhibited by horses, regardless of bridle type.
Bitted bridles are closely linked to the rules of some equestrian clubs. Having regard to the
significant survey finding that many respondents would change their bridle type if club rules
allowed them to, this evidence could be used to encourage relevant equestrian organisations
to allow bitless bridles to be used in all their activities by relaxing bitted bridle rules that
currently prevent some equestrians from competing in club activities.
The final recommendation of this study relates to optimising dissemination of bridle-related
science to the horse rider. As most respondents chose ‘scientific literature’ as their preferred
source of information for bridling, consideration should be given to developing a targeted
communication strategy using equitation science communicators who would provide a bridge
between scientific findings and lay equestrians.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
The author thanks the following for their support in bringing this research project to fruition:
survey design - G. Fuller, CSU SPAN unit; joint project supervisors Dr P. Buckley and
Assoc. Prof. H. Randle, CSU; all the equestrian clubs, associations and individuals who
disseminated and participated in the survey; A. Matusiewicz for assistance with proof-reading
the final report.
Conflict of Interest: The author / researcher (Judith A. Matusiewicz) declares no conflict of
Ethical Approval: Ethics approval for the survey was received from Charles Sturt University’s
Human Research Ethics Committee on 4 August 2020 (Protocol No. H20188).
Authorship: the idea for the paper was conceived by the author / researcher; survey
questions were developed by the author / researcher; MailChimpTM survey developed by
G. Fuller, CSU SPAN; data was analysed by the author / researcher; paper was written by
the author / researcher.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
ANTHONY, D. & BROWN, D. 2000. Eneolithic horse exploitation in the Eurasian steppes: Diet, ritual
and riding. Antiquity, 74, 75-86.
ANTHONY, D. W. 2008. The horse, the wheel, and language how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian
steppes shaped the modern world: Chapter 10 - The Tale of the Teeth, Princeton, N.J. ;,
Princeton University Press.
AQF. 2020. Australian Qualifications Framework [Online]. Canberra, Australia: Australian
Government. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2020 2020].
AQHA 2020. Class Equipment and Attire. In: ASSOCIATION, A. Q. (ed.) AQHA Rulebook. Tamworth,
NSW, Australia: AQHA.
AUSTRALIAN POLO FEDERATION. 2018. Rules of Polo [Online]. Australia: Australian Polo Federation.
v1.3-1.pdf [Accessed 26 September 2018 2019].
BELL, C. & TEMBY, B. 2018. Bit Bank Australia [Online]. South Australia: Equine Life Pty Ltd. Available: [Accessed 16 August 2019].
An Analysis of Horse Related Injuries. Journal of Animal Science, 96, 256-257.
NECK POSITION ON PHARYNGEAL DIAMETER IN HORSES. Veterinary radiology & ultrasound,
51, 491-497.
CLAYTON, H., LARSON, B., KAISER, L. & LAVAGNINO, M. 2011. Length and elasticity of side reins affect
rein tension at trot. Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), 188, 291-294.
CLAYTON, H. M. 1985. A fluoroscopic study of the position and action of different bits in the horse's
mouth. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 5, 68,75-72,77.
CONNOLY, B. 2019. Tongue Injuries. Equus. USA: Cruz Bay Publishing Inc.
COOK, R. 2002. Bit-induced asphyxia in the horse: Elevation and dorsal displacement of the soft
palate at exercise. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 22, 7-14.
COOK, R. 2011. Damage by the bit to the equine interdental space and second lower premolar.
Equine Veterinary Education, 23, 355-360.
COOLING, J. 2020. Horse Bit Fit: It's About Comfort And Communication, Not Control. Horses and
People. May/June 2020 ed. Queensland, Australia: Saddletops Pty Ltd.
CRIPPS, R. 2000. Horse-related Injury in Australia. In: BULLETINS, A. I. P. (ed.). South Australia:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
DE CARTIER, D. Y., A, & OLDBERG, F. 2005. A preliminary study on the relation between subjectively
assessing dressage performances and objective welfare parameters. In: (ISES), I. S. F. E. S.
(ed.) ISES Symposium - 1st Conference. Sydney, Australia: ISES.
EQUESTRIAN AUSTRALIA. 2019. National Show Horse Rules [Online]. Sydney, Australia: Equestrian
Australia. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2020 2020].
EVANS, R. G. & LOWDER, M. 2012. Examination of the Depth of the Equine Hard Palate. Journal of
Veterinary Dentistry, 29, 228-230.
FEI. 2019a. Dressage Rules [Online]. Switzerland. Available:
f [Accessed 26 September 2019 2019].
FEI. 2019b. Eventing Rules [Online]. Switzerland. Available:
%20clean%20version_03Dec2018.pdf [Accessed 26 September 2019 2019].
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
FENNER, K., YOON, S., WHITE, P., STARLING, M. & MCGREEVY, P. 2016. The Effect of Noseband
Tightening on Horses’ Behavior, Eye Temperature, and Cardiac Responses. PloS one, 11,
HILL, E. & MCGREEVY, P. 2015. Apparatus use in popular equestrian disciplines in Australia. Journal of
Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 10, 147-152.
HORSES AND PEOPLE MAGAZINE 2020. Various articles, Queensland, Australia, Saddletops Pty Ltd.
HUNT, R. 1991. Think Harmony With Horses, United Kingdom, Ag Access Corporation.
ISES 2018. First Training Principles. Principles in Learning Theory - downloads. International Society
for Equitation Science.
epidemiology of horse-related injuries for different horse exposures, activities, and age
groups in Queensland, Australia. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 76, 205-212.
MARTEN, M. 2005. Problem Solving - Preventing and solving common horse problems, Texas, USA,
Western Horseman Magazine.
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, 18, 1-10.
MCGREEVY 2011. The fine line between pressure and pain: Ask the horse. The Veterinary Journal,
188, 250-251.
MCLEAN, A. N. & MCLEAN, M. 2008. Academic Horse Training, Victoria, Australia, Australian Equine
Behaviour Centre.
MELLOR, D. 2020. Mouth Pain in Horses: Physiological Foundations, Behavioural Indices, Welfare
Implications, and a Suggtested Solution. Animals (Basel), 10, 572.
MELLOR, D., BEAUSOLEIL, N., MCGREEVY, P. & MCLEAN, A. 2020. The 2020 Five Domains Model:
Including Human-Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals Balel, 10,
MORGAN, M. 1962. Xenophon: The Art of Horsemanship, London, [J. A. Allen.
OXFORD DICTIONARY 1975. The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, London, United Kingdom, Oxford
University Press.
MCGREEVY, P. 2020. Prevalence and Distribution of Lesions in the Nasal Bones and
Mandibles of a Sample of 144 Riding Horses. Animals (Basel), 10, 1661.
PODHAJSKY, A. 1965. The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, Munich, Germany, Nymphenburger
Verlagshandlung GmbH., Munchen.
RACING AUSTRALIA. 2017. Australian Rules of Racing [Online]. Australia: RA. Available:
cing_01_August_2017.pdf [Accessed 26 September 2019 2019].
STARLING, M., MCLEAN, A. & MCGREEVY, P. 2016. The Contribution of Equitation Science to
Minimising Horse-Related Risks to Humans. Animals (Basel), 6, 15.
TELL, A., EGENVALL, A., LUNDSTRÖM, T. & WATTLE, O. 2008. The prevalence of oral ulceration in
Swedish horses when ridden with bit and bridle and when unridden. The Veterinary Journal,
178, 405-410.
THE HORSE REPORT. 2020. The Horse Report [Online]. Queensland Australia. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2020].
ULDAHL, M. & CLAYTON, H. 2019. Lesions associated with the use of bits, nosebands, spurs and
whips in Danish competition horses. Equine veterinary journal, 51, 154-162.
VAN CAMPENHOUT, K., ROELANT, E. & VERVAECKE, H. 2014. Mouth lesions in riding horses:
associated bridle characteristics and management factors. 6th Annual Conference of the
Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level, 3-5 September 2014 2014 Clermont-
Ferrand, France. 89.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
VAN LANCKER, S., VAN DEN BROECK, W. & SIMOENS, P. 2007. Incidence and morphology of bone
irregularities of the equine interdental spaces (bars of the mouth. Equine Veterinary
Education, 19, 103-106.
WANG, X., YU, C. & WEI, Y. 2012. Social Media Peer Communication and Impacts on Purchase
Intentions: A Consumer Socialization Framework. Journal of interactive marketing, 26, 198-
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 1
Veterinary conditions and unwanted behaviors: respondents’ views of the likelihood of them
being supported by scientific evidence (%)
010 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Constant tongue movement
Difficulty with bridling/unbridling
Excessive head/neck movement
Excessive salivation
Excessive tail swishing
Flattened ears
Impaired breathing
Injuries to mouth/head
Jaw setting/bit between teeth
Mouth gaping
Not going forward - jigging, backing up
Teeth damage
Teeth grinding
% Respondents
Behavior / Veterinary Condition
No Maybe Yes Don't know
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 1
Veterinary conditions and unwanted behaviors: respondents’ views of the likelihood of
them being supported by scientific evidence (%)
Bitted Bridle
126 (29.6)
174 (40.9)
91 (21.4)
34 (8.0)
Unbitted Bridle
43 (21.1)
74 (36.3)
74 (36.3)
13 (6.4)
Bucking / pigrooting
Bitted Bridle
119 (28.1)
177 (41.7)
105 (24.8)
23 (5.4)
Unbitted Bridle
37 (18.1)
77 (37.7)
79 (38.7)
11 (5.4)
Constant tongue movement
Bitted Bridle
15 (3.5)
124 (29.2)
279 (65.6)
7 (1.6)
Unbitted Bridle
4 (2.0)
37 (18.1)
159 (77.9)
4 (2.0)
Difficulty bridling / unbridling
Bitted Bridle
36 (8.5)
143 (33.6)
238 (55.9)
9 (2.1)
Unbitted Bridle
8 (3.9)
32 (15.6)
160 (78.0)
5 (2.4)
Excessive head, neck
Bitted Bridle
33 (7.7)
158 (37.1)
223 (52.3)
12 (2.8)
Unbitted Bridle
4 (2.0)
52 (25.4)
146 (71.2)
3 (1.5)
Excessive poll flexion
Bitted Bridle
25 (5.9)
137 (32.2)
255 (59.9)
9 (2.1)
Unbitted Bridle
6 (2.9)
39 (19.1)
156 (76.5)
3 (1.5)
Excessive salivation
Bitted Bridle
22 (5.2)
161 (37.9)
233 (54.8)
9 (2.1)
Unbitted Bridle
3 (1.5)
35 (17.1)
162 (79.0)
5 (2.4)
Excessive tail swishing
Bitted Bridle
59 (13.8)
203 (47.7)
145 (34.0)
19 (4.5)
Unbitted Bridle
9 (4.4)
71 (34.8)
115 (56.4)
9 (4.4)
Flattened ears
Bitted Bridle
62 (14.6)
198 (46.6)
146 (34.4)
19 (4.5)
Unbitted Bridle
14 (6.9)
76 (37.3)
107 (52.5)
7 (3.4)
Impaired breathing
Bitted Bridle
41 (9.7)
141 (33.3)
230 (54.2)
12 (2.8)
Unbitted Bridle
5 (2.5)
44 (21.6)
151 (74.0)
4 (2.0)
Injuries to mouth and head
Bitted Bridle
14 (3.3)
105 (24.8)
296 (69.8)
9 (2.1)
Unbitted Bridle
2 (1.0)
33 (16.1)
169 (82.4)
1 (0.5)
Jaw setting (bit between
Bitted Bridle
20 (4.7)
114 (26.8)
277 (65.2)
14 (3.3)
Unbitted Bridle
3 (1.5)
28 (13.9)
165 (81.7)
6 (3.0)
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 1 (Cont)
Existence of scientific evidence for behavioral / veterinary conditions: respondents' views
according to bridle type - n (%)
Mouth gaping
Bitted Bridle
18 (4.2)
116 (27.3)
276 (64.9)
15 (3.5)
Unbitted Bridle
5 (2.4)
34 (16.6)
164 (80.0)
2 (1.0)
Not going forward
Bitted Bridle
50 (11.8)
181 (42.6)
177 (41.6)
17 (4.0)
Unbitted Bridle
13 (6.4)
71 (34.8)
113 (55.4)
7 (3.4)
Bitted Bridle
49 (11.5)
178 (41.9)
184 (43.3)
14 (3.3)
Unbitted Bridle
11 (5.4)
74 (36.1)
115 (56.1)
5 (2.4)
Teeth damage
Bitted Bridle
21 (5.0)
125 (29.5)
268 (63.2)
10 (2.4)
Unbitted Bridle
2 (1.0)
42 (20.5)
158 (77.1)
3 (1.5)
Teeth grinding
Bitted Bridle
34 (8.0)
172 (40.5)
201 (47.3)
18 (4.2)
Unbitted Bridle
5 (2.5)
59 (28.9)
132 (64.7)
8 (3.9)
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 2
Preferred sources of information about bridles (%)
0.0 10.0 20.0 30.0 40.0 50.0 60.0 70.0 80.0 90.0 100.0
Advertisements (bits/bridles)
Equine celebrity endorsements
Textbooks on Classical Riding principles
Equine dentist (non-veterinarian)
Equine dentist (veterinarian)
Feed/produce store
General internet searches
Horse association meetings/newsletters
Horse magazines (print and / or e-magazines)
Independent equine bridle consultants
Manufacturer's recommendations/product information
Other horse owners/friends/peer groups
Riding instructor
Horse breaker/trainer
Saddlery/equestrian supplies store
Scientific literature
Social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
Stable/agistment centre manager/staff
% Respondents
Not likely Somewhat likely Quite likely Very likely
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 3
Bridle choice with ‘tradition’ as the outcome (%)
Figure 4
Bridle choice with ‘rider safety’ as the outcome (%)
Not influential Slightly influential Moderately
Very influential
% Respondentsw
Bitted bridle Unbitted bridle
Not influential Slightly influential Moderately
Very influential
% Respondents
Bitted Bridle Unbitted Bridle
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Figure 5
Bridle choice with ‘horse welfare’ as the outcome (%)
Figure 6
Bridle choice with ‘club rules’ as the outcome (%)
Not influential Slightly influential Moderately
Very influential
% Respondents
Bitted Bridle Unbitted Bridle
Not influential Slightly influential Moderately
Very influential
% Respondents
Bitted bridle Unbitted bridle
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 2:
Unbiased, random sample of final survey question open-ended comments
(n = 42 of 249 comments)
I've often wanted to try bitless for my horses however I believe without the correct training for horse
and rider it can be dangerous or cause injuries (I have witnessed this with a horse’s nose/face
damaged by heavy handiness in a bitless as the horse had not been trained for the cues, etc and
the rider hung on to the horses face - defeating the purpose).
The bit design and size in relation to the size and shape of the horses’ mouth is essential. Double
bridles should not be compulsory in high level dressage as not all horses can comfortably handle
two bits in their mouth.
Structure your study so that each style of bridle is examined with a number of different types of bits.
The Pony Club of Australia Gear Checking Manual 2020 gives an excellent overview of different
classes of bits and the different modes of action they have on the poll, the bars of the mouth and
the tongue. Dr Portland Jones in Western Australia is a good reference for bits and bridles and
comfort of the horse. She gave an excellent presentation on causes of pain in horses due to bits
and bridles. The Pony Club Western Australia Gear Checking Group has an excellent Facebook
page where we discuss equipment. There are some very knowledgeable people in charge of this
I use a combination of different bits and bridles on 12 different horses and ponies I use for our
riding school. I also get their teeth done regularly (using a veterinarian) as well as provide physical
therapy by myself, staff and get professional chiro, acupuncture, laser and red-light therapy (by
veterinarians) on a regular basis. Conditioning is an important part of keeping a horse healthy and
ready to perform. Bitting is a very important part but no more than other things such as physical
therapy, food, housing, saddle fit, training. Thank you for this research. We look forward to reading
the final report.
I feel I’m generally open minded to what bridle or in my case what bit to use but then sometimes I
feel I’m stuck in tradition for lack of information or due to a lot of different opinions to really know
what is right or wrong. Especially as there are so many variables when it comes to horse’s
behaviors and welfare. For the same reasons I have not used bitless bridles I also haven’t used
what are considered harsh or strong bits. Except horse 2 I am considering using a leverage bit
when my 10yo daughter rides as advised by instructors...
I start my horses in a headstall and usually their first rides are bareback trail rides. I have never
had any problems with this. When more advanced the horses will stretch down looking for the
same contact into the hand, through the headstall, as they would with a bit.
I believe riders deserve more choice when it comes to bits. I've had issues in the past trying to ride
bitless at my adult riding club - but mind you, most people don't realise you're bitless, when the
bitless bridle looks traditional. Some horses just go better without a bit in their mouths, and often,
you have MORE control without a bit. The type of bitless bridle (or bitted bridle) DOES have an
impact on the horse’s comfort levels and their responsiveness. The 'traditional' equestrian bodies
need to move with the times and consider different options for gear.
I run a riding school for beginners and l only use bitless bridles. My students are not balanced or
skilled enough to use a bit without hurting the horses. They live it and it is part of my marketing as
they like that we care for our horses that much and we use kind equipment and techniques.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 2:
Unbiased, random sample of final survey question open-ended comments
(n = 42 of 249 comments)
"The only bit a horse needs is a bit of understanding", a quote from my favourite horseman Carlos
Tabernaberri :)
I am considering going to a bitless bridle for my young Standie. I have used sweet iron snaffle bits
on my previous horses - as that’s what I was told to use by natural horsemanship trainers in the
past. And I was not allowed to use a rope halter at ARC. It was deemed ‘unsafe’... I feel my young
horse would benefit from a softer piece of equipment and will be exploring options once Covid-19
restrictions are softened.
Thanks for choosing this research topic. Endurance riders are already partly converted and more
training for me and my horse would assist me to make the change to bitless. I look forward to the
For some time now I have ceased to believe that a bit in a horse's mouth would cause it to go either
better or worse. It has been my finding that both of my horses in question definitely go along far
more softly and kindly. I have also noticed that I have needed far less DIRECTION and far less
LEG since riding bitless.
Training ‘wild’ Brumbies from scratch has been a massive eye opener to how humans have
interfered so much with the way horses naturally move and function mentally and physically. My
Brumbies are light and soft as they’ve had no previous bad experiences with human aids, such as
bridles and bits. Compared to my 18yr old pony who was already bitted and broken when I bought
her when she and I were both uneducated. She can be heavy and strong to ride due to rider fault
and learnt behavior (but I love her!). I believe if I’d known more and re-started her as bitless many
years ago, I’d be riding a very different feeling horse today.
I am very much wanting to swap to bitless but am confused as to which offer the best welfare.
Thank you for making the effort to create change. Tradition is for fools who shun progression in
fear of admitting they could have done better.
My mare with the damaged TMJ joints had made me aware of how a horse can be much more
comfortable and relaxed in the mouth.
Riding bitless is still trial and error for me and my horse. I Look forward to reading more about the
science of it and for it to be accepted in competition at all levels.
Further research into this area is very welcomed. Though I use bitless I am not very happy with my
bridle and can’t seem to find one that not only fixes the issues with it, but is suitable to my horse
Ill-fitting or incorrect bridles for the horse can cause a myriad of problems, and this isn’t just in
respect to being bitted/unbitted. Different bits themselves sit differently in the horse’s mouth,
horses’ mouths are also individually shaped which can add to discomfort so a simple jointed snaffle
might be fine for one, but in another it causes pain due to differing oral anatomy. This also goes for
shape of bridles, with some putting unwanted pressure on the poll or over the cheeks which again
could cause discomfort and lead to behavioral differences.
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 2:
Unbiased, random sample of final survey question open-ended comments
(n = 42 of 249 comments)
As a Jumping Judge and Course Designer for over 28yrs I have watched many horses compete
and bitting is still very misunderstood. Many horses are not happy in their face. My pet hate is
bigger and bigger bits on 'strong' horses who are clearly just running away from the pain in their
I use and love the Micklem bridle due to scientific evidence of equine comfort. I think the
compulsory use of nosebands in Equestrian Australia sports is wrong and displays old thinking
which ignores new research and proven equine welfare.
I've always taken a ‘less is more’ approach and I feel annoyed when competition rules dictate that I
have to use more, or more severe, gear than I would normally use. I have previously enjoyed more
classical dressage training and have horses that work from the rider's seat so that the bit and bridle
are more about support and balancing. I would like to see less reliance in the competition arena on
the latest and greatest bit, bridle or other gadgets. Let’s get back to good training.
You should also consider nosebands. It is now nearly impossible to buy a bridle that is not a
Hanoverian with the flash attachment and next to no horses at any competition go in a plain
cavesson noseband. I don't believe that they all need the flash and I've noticed the same with
figure eight nosebands.
It strikes me there is no nuance in this question. Is there a difference between a bitted bridle with a
tight noseband and an unbitted one? What about bitted no noseband vs unbitted but very tight
around the lower jaw. Fitting of otherwise acceptable tack might be more of an issue than whether
it’s bitted or not.
Would like to see research directed towards the development of a bridle design that is the kindest
for horses - improving on what is already available.
Any type of bridle whether bitted or bitless can become an instrument of torture in the wrong hands.
I’ve been riding for over 40 years. I have found over this time that bits and bridles are often trial
and error. What works on one horse doesn’t necessarily work with another. A bridle or bit may
seem better in theory but not actually help the horse in practice.
I hope the study also includes the racing industry which uses some shocking bridle additions like
anti-rearing bits and tongue ties. Incorrect positioning of nose bands and over tight nose bands
also are a major source of pain for horses and need to be considered in the overall examination of
bridle usage.
In regard to how I decide on products for my horses I see ads in various places even before the
internet and then do lots of reading to figure out if they are a fad or have good research and it make
sense. I used to work for an Equine Vet so have a bit of a background in science and research as
a source of information.
I've ridden both bitted and bitless for years, my (now retired) old horse was ridden predominantly
bitless unless attending a club or competition which required a bit. I like to have my horses
confident both bitted and bitless so I can adapt to the situation I am in without causing confusion for
my horse. If you wish to compete a bit is still compulsory for many disciplines. I think it's important
to remember that any piece of equipment can be used positively or negatively. Bits can cause a lot
of pain and discomfort when incorrectly used, more than a bitless bridle. Especially with some bits
Judith Matusiewicz CSU Student No.: 68602822 ASC532 Master’s Dissertation
Table 2:
Unbiased, random sample of final survey question open-ended comments
(n = 42 of 249 comments)
designed to maximise leverage and pain. But a bitless bridle can still cause pain and discomfort.
Some bitless bridles also rely on leverage and discomfort. The key seems to be rider education, as
they are the ones who cause the pain and discomfort.
Bodyworkers also have influence over bit and bridle fitting. I often do basic checks then refer on to
the dentist or bit fitting specialist.
Really, I put them in the previous space. I think the bulk of the problem is to get through to horse
enthusiasts the benefits of researching a problem, rather than doing/buying whatever is the flavour
of the month...
I guess my overall consensus is, that if there is something wrong with your horse, you're unlikely to
find an easy, one-dimensional solution, such as changing or removing the bit, though doing so is
always worth a try if it will contribute to your horse's wellbeing. There are thousands of variables
that could be contributing to a horse's behavior and they aren't all physical either.
I wish you all the best with this study, the lack of knowledge in the horse industry surrounding the
effect of different bits is an issue I'm quite passionate about so I look forward to seeing the results
of your research!
Question 38 asks whether participant competes or does not compete. There is no option for
‘previously competed’. Suspect many bitless bridle users may fall in to the ‘previously competed’
category but no longer do so due to disillusionment with very archaic ethics and rules.
I would be very much interested in the outcome of this study.
Glad someone is finally doing this Thank you.
I think any item of horse equipment is difficult to study due to the range of motives for use among
equestrians. For example, the exact same bridle can be regarded as a device for control, or a
device for communication. This may mean it is used in quite different ways. I'm not sure how you
would build that into scientific studies.
Some questions I couldn’t answer as none of the choices applied to me
Think there was a problem with horse 2 as I selected that use bit for training and competition but
then kept asking about my use of bitless bridles?
I would be interested in the outcomes of a study that concluded the best bridle and bit options,
which considered the welfare of the horse foremost.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Restrictive nosebands are used in equestrian sports to hold the bit in place and reduce mouth-opening, a response that can attract penalties in some sports and is thought to reduce the rider's control of the horse. Sustained pressure from such tightly fitted (restrictive) nosebands denies normal behaviour and thus, causes frustration and distress that can jeopardise horse welfare. It also may push the cheek against the molar teeth, compress soft tissues including blood vessels and nerves, and possibly induce chronic changes to underlying bone. This study of mature cavalry horses (n = 144) was designed to explore relationships between visual and palpable damage to structures that underlie the nosebands of horses and any related bony changes in those horses as evidenced by radiography. Working independently of each other, two researchers inspected the horses for visual changes and palpable changes before the horses were radiographed. The radiographs were assessed by a separate pair of veterinary radiologists, again working independently of each other. Among the current population of horses, 37.5% had one or more radiographic changes to the nasal bones according to both radiologists, and 13.8% had one or more radiographic changes to the mandible. For nasal bones, the two radiologists reported bone deposition in 6.9% and 8.3% of the horses and bone thinning in 33.3% and 56.9% of the horses, respectively. By palpation, they found that 82% and 84% of the horses had palpable bone deposition of the nasal bones and 32% and 33.4% had palpable bone thinning. For the mandibles, the radiologists reported increased bone deposition in 18.8% and 32.6% of the horses but no bone thinning. By palpation, the two examiners reported 30.6% and 32.7% of the horses had palpable bone deposition and 10.4% and 11.1% had palpable bone thinning. This is the first report of lesions to the mandible at this site and this article presents the first confirmation of bony lesions at the site typically subjected to pressure from restrictive nosebands. These results suggest that radiographic bone thinning is more apparent in the nasal bones of riding horses than in the mandible and that both palpable and radiographic bone deposition are more likely in the mandible than in the nasal bones. That said, we note that the current study provides no evidence of a causal link between any piece of gear or its putative tightness and the lesions in these anatomical locations. Further studies are needed to identify risk factors for these clusters of lesions. The inadvertent deformation of bones in the horse's head for competitive advantage is difficult to justify on ethical grounds.
Full-text available
A proposition addressed here is that, although bitted horses are viewed by many equestrians as being largely free of bit-related mouth pain, it seems likely that most behavioural signs of such pain are simply not recognised. Background information is provided on the following: the major features of pain generation and experience; cerebrocortical involvement in the conscious experience of pain by mammals; the numerous other subjective experiences mammals can have; adjunct physiological responses to pain; some general feature of behavioural responses to pain; and the neural bases of sensations generated within the mouth. Mouth pain in horses is then discussed. The areas considered exclude dental disease, but they include the stimulation of pain receptors by bits in the interdental space, the tongue, the commissures of the mouth, and the buccal mucosa. Compression, laceration, inflammation, impeded tissue blood flow, and tissue stretching are evaluated as noxious stimuli. The high pain sensitivity of the interdental space is described, as are likely increases in pain sensitivity due to repeated bit contact with bruises, cuts, tears, and/or ulcers wherever they are located in the mouth. Behavioural indices of mouth pain are then identified by contrasting the behaviours of horses when wearing bitted bridles, when changed from bitted to bit-free bridles, and when free-roaming unbitted in the wild. Observed indicative behaviours involve mouth movements, head-neck position, and facial expression (“pain face”), as well as characteristic body movements and gait. The welfare impacts of bit-related pain include the noxiousness of the pain itself as well as likely anxiety when anticipating the pain and fear whilst experiencing it, especially if the pain is severe. In addition, particular mouth behaviours impede airflow within the air passages of the upper respiratory system, effects that, in their turn, adversely affect the air passages in the lungs. Here, they increase airflow resistance and decrease alveolar gas exchange, giving rise to suffocating experiences of breathlessness. In addition, breathlessness is a likely consequence of the low jowl angles commonly maintained during dressage. If severe, as with pain, the prospect of breathlessness is likely to give rise to anxiety and the direct experience of breathlessness to fear. The related components of welfare compromise therefore likely involve pain, breathlessness, anxiety, and fear. Finally, a 12-point strategy is proposed to give greater impetus to a wider adoption of bit-free bridles in order to avoid bit-induced mouth pain.
Full-text available
Restrictive nosebands are common in equestrian sport. This is concerning, as recent evidence suggests that very tight nosebands can cause a physiological stress response, and may compromise welfare. The objective of the current study was to investigate relationships that noseband tightness has with oral behavior and with physiological changes that indicate a stress response, such as increases in eye temperature (measured with infrared thermography) and heart rate and decreases in heart rate variability (HRV). Horses (n = 12) wearing a double bridle and crank noseband, as is common in dressage at elite levels, were randomly assigned to four treatments: unfastened noseband (UN), conventional area under noseband (CAUN) with two fingers of space available under the noseband, half conventional area under noseband (HCAUN) with one finger of space under the noseband, and no area under the noseband (NAUN). During the tightest treatment (NAUN), horse heart rate increased (P = 0.003), HRV decreased (P < 0.001), and eye temperature increased (P = 0.011) compared with baseline readings, indicating a physiological stress response. The behavioral results suggest some effects from bits alone but the chief findings are the physiological readings that reflect responses to the nosebands at their tightest. Chewing decreased during the HCAUN (P < 0.001) and NAUN (P < 0.001) treatments. Yawning rates were negligible in all treatments. Similarly, licking was eliminated by the NAUN treatment. Following the removal of the noseband and double bridle during the recovery session, yawning (P = 0.015), swallowing (P = 0.003), and licking (P < 0.001) significantly increased compared with baseline, indicating a post-inhibitory rebound response. This suggests a rise in motivation to perform these behaviors and implies that their inhibition may place horses in a state of deprivation. It is evident that a very tight noseband can cause physiological stress responses and inhibit the expression of oral behaviors.
Full-text available
The symbolism of the horse in Eneolithic society is explored in this paper. Recent excavations in the Eurasian steppes demonstrate the importance of horses before domestication and horse riding became common; showing they were eaten, exploited and revered.
Horseback riding is a rewarding and thrilling sport and recreational activity. However, it does not come without risks. A high percentage of riders will experience some sort of injury, with different degrees of severity, throughout their riding careers. In an attempt to direct educational efforts for injury prevention while around horses, a deeper understanding of the types of injuries, and what causes people to be admitted to the hospital, are needed. This study looked at 2017 horse-related injuries data from the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital. Out of 251 total patients, 191 were treated in the Emergency Department and released, and 60 were admitted to the hospital. The study population consisted of the 60 admitted patients. These numbers indicate that the admission rate to UK Hospital is 23.9% for horse-related injuries. The age of all patients ranged from 1 to 75 years of age, 147 were female and 104 were male. There was no significant difference between gender in this population. The population was divided by age groups (children: 0–12; Teenagers: 13–19; Young Adults (20–35); Adults (36–55); Seniors (>56). The admittance rate was higher in children and seniors (p<0.05). The mean hospital cost was higher in seniors (p<0.05). Although there was no significant difference between age groups regarding the body region injured, the regions that were most frequently affected were thorax and abdomen, and limbs (p<0.05). The majority of injuries were the result of a fall (p<0.05). This data does not diminish the concern for head trauma as we assume that the majority of concussions did not result in admission to the hospital. However, it does indicate areas that need to be addressed with education and injury prevention methods that may have been previously overlooked, and provides data to make a case for the importance of horse safety.
Background: Information is needed to guide sport administrators in formulating rules for equipment use in competitions. Objectives: To seek associations between spurs, bits, nosebands and whips with injuries in horses during competitions in four equestrian sports. Study design: Cross sectional study. Methods: Post-competition evaluations were performed in 3,143 horse/rider combinations competing in Danish Equestrian Federation competitions in dressage, show jumping, eventing and endurance by trained evaluators who recorded the presence and type of spurs, bits, nosebands, and whips. Further evaluations recorded noseband tightness, the presence of hair or blood on spurs; hair loss, lesions or blood on the ribcage behind the girth; abrasions and/or blood at the commissures of the lips; and swelling, lesions or blood on the forequarters or hindquarters. Statistical analysis was performed to determine relationships between discipline (dressage, show jumping, eventing, endurance), level of competition (level 0-7), type/tightness of equipment, and incidence of injuries. Results: The presence of hair (3.2% of horse/rider combinations) and blood (0.4% of horse/rider combinations) on spurs were highly associated. Longer spurs and lower competition levels were significantly associated with hair on the spurs and worn hair on the horse's ribcage. Oral lesions or blood were visible at the commissures of the lips in 9.2% of horses and increased with level of competition but did not differ between bit types or bitless bridles. Tighter cavesson nosebands increased the risk of oral lesions. However, the absence of a cavesson increased the risk of lesions at the commissures of the lips 2.39 times compared with the loosest noseband. Main limitations: The rules of the equestrian federation did not permit a full intra-oral examination. Selection of rider/horse combination was not random. Conclusions: Lesions of the skin or mucosa at the commissures of the lips may be decreased by limiting noseband tightness and lesions on the chest wall may be decreased by limiting the length of spurs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagelifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization. David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony describes his discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding. And he introduces a new approach to linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language. The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagesolves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.
Bit and bridle accessories improperly fitted in ridden horses can cause oral trauma such as bone spurs, commissure ulceration, and tongue lacerations. This study was used to identify, grade, and compare the types of oral traumas commonly found within polo ponies and race horses. Injuries were assessed visually and by palpation on the tongue, lips' commissures, and interdental space. A total of 50 polo ponies and 50 race horses were sampled in the South of England. A Poisson model was successfully fitted to the data (p < .001), and the variables of discipline (p < .001), injury type (p < .001), and age (p < .001) were significant. Race horses with snaffle bits were predisposed to significantly higher severities and prevalence of oral trauma than were polo ponies in gag bits. Only polo ponies were observed with tongue trauma. Race horses had higher severities of injuries in the commissures and bone spurs. Positive correlations were found between age and/or time in sport and induced biting injuries. Polo ponies had been playing longer before the occurrence of injuries.
The apparatus that riders use to restrain or communicate with horses have progressed over time. With the increased awareness of animal welfare, the use of some of these devices are now questioned more deeply. Many equestrian disciplines have rules about apparatus to which competitors must adhere. In this study we aimed to identify the routine use of various items of apparatus in particular disciplines. Using an online questionnaire, we surveyed the use of common bitted and bitless bridles, nosebands, whips and spurs in relation to each of the 1,101 respondent’s preferred discipline. We also explored the use of nosebands, whips and spurs in relation to preferred bridle type. We found that dressage riders were more likely to use a noseband and a whip but, possibly as a reflection of the rules, were unlikely to use a bitless bridle. Western performance riders were most likely to use a curb bit and spurs, but do not often use nosebands or whips. These results provide no indication of the techniques associated with each piece of gear, the way in which they are used or any welfare problems associated with them. Nevertheless, the results inform the growing debate about the mandatory use of apparati, especially severe bits, in certain sports.
The dangers associated with horse riding, a popular activity throughout Australia, are well documented; yet, few studies have comprehensively described injuries caused by horses to nonriders. This study aimed to facilitate targeted injury prevention strategies and appropriate trauma management by describing all horse-related injuries, for both riders and nonriders, in Queensland, and identifying those at greatest risk. Horse-related injury data from 2005 to 2009 were extracted from the Queensland Trauma Registry. Descriptive comparisons were undertaken for demographic, injury, and acute care characteristics between riders and nonriders, between pediatric and adult cases, and between sports/leisure and work injuries. The relative risk of surgery by sex and between riders and nonriders was assessed. More than 25% of injuries occurred in people not riding a horse. Nonriders sustained a significantly higher proportion of internal organ injuries, open wounds, as well as facial and pelvic/abdominal injuries. Females accounted for more than 80% of children who were injured while riding a horse. For adults, 25% were injured while working, and more than 66% of injured workers were male. Injuries most commonly occurred in regional areas. Surgery was most common among children, nonriders, and those with Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 1 to 8. The likelihood of surgery was 25% higher for nonriders (95% confidence interval, 1.14-1.38%). Horse-related injuries are most prevalent in identifiable populations, particularly young female riders and adult males injured while working. Injuries inflicted by horses to nonriders contribute more than 27% of all horse-related injuries; however, most previous research has been limited to injured riders. Compared with riders, nonriders more frequently sustain internal, facial, and pelvic injuries; are male; and undergo surgery. The results of this study may be used to tailor prevention strategies and inform trauma management specific to the type of horse exposure, patient age, and activity engaged in when injured. Epidemiologic study, level III.