British Dressage (BD) has responded to a rider’s calls for bitless bridles to be allowed in competition.
The rider, Tam Russell, contacted BD after being disappointed to find she could not ride her Arab in a bitless bridle in an unaffiliated competition run under BD rules.
When she backed her horse three years ago she chose to “explore, learn and use a more gentle way” and ended up riding bitless and has continued to do ever since.
Ms Russell called for the rule to be reviewed at the next BD board meeting.
“BD should be reviewing and changing their polices, guidelines and rules to reflect current times,” she said.
“I am aware that changing the rules would no doubt create argument and fear from its already existing member base, this is no reason not to re-evaluate them for the sake of horse welfare.
“I would think that BD, as with many other organisations, relies on the support of a wide selection of members and that by not reviewing the rules that have been in place for many years, only serves to discourage the amount of members it attracts.
“Surely a bitless horse is no threat to a bitted horse when competing against each other? And if it is? Even more reason to address archaic attitudes in the equine world.”
BD’s Jason Brautigam responded to Ms Russell and explained that the BD board has previously discussed this issue “at length”, following requests to change the rules to allow horses to wear bitless bridles in affiliated competition.
“At this point in time, the board unanimously agreed that BD should not permit bitless bridles, remaining in accordance with FEI rules,” he said.
“It is important that we have a level playing field for all competitors and this includes the tack and equipment permitted.
“This decision is based on one of the fundamental principles of dressage being built on the acceptance of the bit (while much of the terminology of this relates to acceptance of the bridle, it is widely understood that this is the acceptance of the bit).
“To change this principle would have far-reaching consequences, not least that we have to have a competition structure that progresses in to international sport. For this reason alone, we have to align closely with the FEI.
“While we do allow the use of a snaffle bridle up to grand prix level (should a rider chose this option), this does not go against the fundamental of acceptance of the bit.
“We have consulted the FEI and they are clear in their approach that they will not consider bitless bridles at this stage. For national competition, we believe it would not be fair to allow a horse ridden in a bitless bridle to be judged alongside one that was bitted.
“The submission criteria they were judged against would not be the same. Therefore, we do not believe that classes should contain these types of competitors combined.”
Mr Brautigam added that in 2015 a meeting took place between Norfolk Horse Training and Equitation Club (NHTEC), which has been campaigning for the use of bitless bridles in dressage, and the British Equestrian Federation, with representatives of the relevant disciplines and World Horse Welfare.
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“It was agreed the NHTEC would carry out a survey and independent scientific research,” said Mr Brautigam.
“As yet we have not received any further detail from the NHTEC to allow this matter to be further discussed.
He added that BD’s rules should not stop Ms Russell competing at unaffiliated competitions (if they are not run under BD rules), as BD has no jurisdiction on these events and how they are run.