Calls for double bridles to be optional fall on deaf ears – again

  • THE FEI has rejected a proposal to allow riders to choose whether or not to use a double bridle at all levels of international dressage.

    H&H has reported on the debate caused by the FEI-appointed independent ethics and wellbeing commission’s recommendation to make double bridles optional. This came to light last autumn, when the International Dressage Riders Club and International Dressage Trainers Club published a letter strongly opposing the idea.

    Under current rules, double bridles are optional up to CDI2* level – but mandatory at CDI3* and above.

    “This change, introduced in 2019, reflects a progression in the level of skills of the athlete and training of the horse from low and medium level to the highest level of performance,” an FEI spokesman told H&H last year, adding that the FEI dressage committee supported mandatory use of doubles at grand prix level.

    The debate continued; the first draft of FEI rules for 2024 this summer did not include the recommendation, and the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES), which promotes equine welfare by improving horse-human interactions through research and using evidence-based practices, wrote an open letter to the FEI calling for double bridle use to be optional at grand prix.

    In the final draft of rule changes, to be considered at the FEI general assembly (18-21 November), a proposal from the Dutch and Swedish equestrian federations has been listed under “Proposed rule changes that have been rejected or deferred to a future rules revision”.

    The proposal read: “We would like to propose to make it optional and allow riders to use a snaffle if they deem this in their best interest as a combination. The [Dutch federation] has been allowing the snaffle bridle up to and including grand prix for 15 years (best practice) and it works really well. To keep the curb mandatory does not comply with the welfare of the horse. If riders are convinced that it is better to compete their horse only on a single bridle, it should be allowed.”

    British Equestrian (BEF) said it agrees with the FEI that use of double versus snaffle bridles, when fitted and used correctly, is not a welfare issue; “there is insufficient scientific research or data to reach this as a conclusion”.

    “However, snaffle bridles are already optional in Britain at national competition, to give riders the choice to use the bridle that is most suitable for them and their horse,” the BEF said.

    “The primary consideration for the FEI is to ensure that there is a level playing field in competition and that all bridles are fitted and used correctly. We would support the FEI’s recommendation that further scientific research is conducted in this area to thoroughly understand the implications of using a double bridle versus snaffle bridle and the resulting consequences of these proposed changes.”

    The German federation said it supported the FEI, and the Norwegian federation agreed that “focus on the bits alone will not solve the challenges of horse welfare”.

    “Riding skill is always the most important element, regardless of the bridle or other equipment (within certain limits),” the federation said. “The double bridle belongs to the classical equipment for the fully educated/trained horse and rider. That said, we must still be willing to change if there is reliable evidence that a type of bridle or other equipment in itself is the reason for poor horse welfare. Therefore, we support the plan to gather a multidisciplinary team to develop study/research to understand all pros and cons about both the double bridle and other bits/bridles before changing the rules, and across the disciplines. Such knowledge must also be used for outwards communication on horse welfare in riding.”

    In response to feedback, the FEI said its dressage committee “firmly maintains its position”, stated in June, that use of snaffle or double bridle is a technical (sport) matter and not a matter of wellbeing/welfare.

    “We understand the topic of social (media) perception, but from the results of the online survey that were made available to this committee we could not find scientific evidence, nor unquestionable data, that allows us to reach a different conclusion at this moment,” the FEI said in June. “It is time to gather a multidisciplinary team, which includes experts from all stakeholders, to develop study/research to understand all pros and cons about the proposed change. Once this study/research is carried out, we will be in condition to have an informed, conscious and well-balanced opinion on the matter.”

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