Bit use and its relevance for rider safety, rider satisfaction and horse welfare in equestrian sport_CQU.pdf (998.12 kB)

Bit use and its relevance for rider safety, rider satisfaction and horse welfare in equestrian sport

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posted on 2023-10-16, 00:19 authored by Karen LukeKaren Luke, Tina McAdieTina McAdie, Amanda K Warren-Smith, Bradley SmithBradley Smith
Using a bit to communicate with and control the horse while riding is one of the longest standing traditions in horse riding. However, horses’ aversion to bits and high levels of bit-induced trauma have led some to question whether this practice is commensurate with modern understanding of animal welfare. This study represents one of the first attempts to compare horses ridden with and without a bit in terms of horse welfare, rider safety and rider satisfaction. Australian recreational and sport horse riders (n = 399, 94.4% female; Mdn age=46.0 years) from a range of riding disciplines were anonymously surveyed online. Only n = 20 (5.0%) participants reported riding without a bit, however, this is likely consistent with the recreational horse-riding population, given riding with a bit is mandated in most equestrian sports. A whole sample analysis and a case-matched analysis were performed where cases were matched based on horse breed and age, discipline, and rider age. Whole sample analyses found horses ridden without a bit have better relative welfare scores for management, and during riding and handling compared to horses ridden with a bit (Mdn 13.0, IQR 2.0 and Mdn 11.0, IQR 5.0; Mdn 35.0, IQR 9.0 and Mdn 32.0, IQR 6.0; and Mdn 24.0, IQR 3.25 and Mdn 23.0 IQR 4.0 respectively, p < 0.05), but did not differ in relation to health. Fewer ridden hyperreactive behaviours (bucking, spooking, rearing and bolting) were reported for bitless horses compared with bitted horses (Mdn 0.0, IQR 1.0 and Mdn 1.0, IQR 4.0, respectively, p = 0.04), however, rider safety and perceived control were similar for both groups. Riders of bitless horses were more satisfied than riders of bitted horses (Mdn 16.0, IQR 2.0 and Mdn 14.0, IQR 4.0, respectively, p = 0.01) and reported better horse-rider partnerships (Mdn 4.0, IQR 0.0 and Mdn 3.0, IQR 1.0, respectively, p < 0.001). More riders of bitless horses had knowledge of learning theory than riders of bitted horses (55.0% and 23.0% respectively, p = 0.003). Results from the case-matched analysis were consistent with the whole sample results, except for rider satisfaction and knowledge of learning theory which were not statistically significant. These findings suggest that bitless riding is not related to reduced horse control or rider safety, but is related to greater rider satisfaction and improved horse-rider partnership. Considering current challenges to the industry's social licence to operate due to poor horse welfare, increased adoption of bitless riding may present a valuable opportunity to improve horse welfare.




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Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

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  • Yes

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  • Appleton Institute

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  • Yes


Applied Animal Behaviour Science

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