Bitless campaigner eliminated for riding with bit under horse’s chin

A rider who was eliminated because his horse was not wearing a bit in the conventional manner is lobbying for British Eventing (BE) to allow bitless bridles in the dressage phase.

Mark Smith, a campaigner for bitless riding, was eliminated at Chepstow for riding with the horse’s bit attached the bridle, but sitting behind the horse’s chin.

Rule 7.19.3.4 states that “a bridle with a bit is compulsory and must be used in the conventionally accepted manner… The loop of the reins must be above the horse’s neck with the reins attached to the bit and reins are to be held in the conventional way.”

Mr Smith told H&H there is no mention of the bit having to be in the horse’s mouth in the rules.

“I am using the bridle and bit to form part of the sending of signals to the horse,” he said.

“I am also using by body and legs, as I am sure all the other riders are, confirming my assertion that this is the conventionally accepted manner. I may not be wearing it in the conventionally accepted manner, but that is not the rule.”

Paul Graham, BE’s chief sport officer, told H&H Mr Smith was eliminated as the bit was “not being used in the conventionally accepted manner”.

“It is commonly known and understood that both BE and British Dressage do not permit dressage tests to be ridden in a bitless bridle,” he said.

“This has been much debated by both national governing bodies and reported heavily in the media for a number of years.

“In Mark’s case, although a bit was attached to the bridle, it was not being used in the conventional manner i.e. in the horse’s mouth. In most of the equestrian disciplines the ‘conventional’ manner is accepted and deemed to be riding with a bit in the horse’s mouth.”

But at Chepstow, Mr Smith rode his dressage test while the stewards contacted BE headquarters to check whether the arrangement was allowed.

Mr Graham added: “He was subsequently eliminated for performing the test in incorrect tack for which he had not received permission to use.”

Mr Smith, who has had previous disputes with BE over his tack arrangements in the dressage phase, said he is trying to appeal.

“My point obviously that I’m always making is that the welfare of the horse should come first,” he said.

He added he cannot understand why bitless bridles are not allowed in dressage when they are allowed in the other phases, and when the British Horseracing Authority will also allow horses to be ridden in them on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Graham added: “BE has horse welfare at the forefront of any decisions and rule changes which are implemented.

“There is a formal process for requesting BE to consider rule changes which is available to all members.

“The use of bitless bridles in the dressage phase has been considered by the BE sport committee recently and it was agreed that no change to this rule is required.”

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