The bitless bridle has been advocated as an alternative to traditional bitted bridles in many equestrian disciplines in order to avoid bit injury and distress that has been reported in previous research. Anecdotal observations and lay publications suggest that the bitless bridle has become very popular amongst riders and horse owners in the United Kingdom. The bitless bridle has been compared favourably to the use of the bit in foundation training with improved performance in bridling, long-reining and riding reported for some horses in the bitless sample group. Similarly, improved dressage test scores and comments by a judge have been attributed to the use of the bitless bridle with a comparison of tests ridden in a bitted and bitless bridle one after the other. However objective data do not exist on the alternative use of bitless bridles by leisure riders for the majority of horses in the UK, used primarily for hacking, local shows and riding club purposes. The aim of this study was to compare the behaviours exhibited by leisure horses whilst wearing the bitless bridle with those shown when ridden in the usual bitted bridle. A second qualitative study involved the collection of data from a specifically designed questionnaire to obtain an understanding of the term leisure rider. The quantitative study entailed 12 subjects randomly selected from a population of privately- and college- owned horses which were ridden by a single qualified rider in the Preliminary 4 British Dressage test in their usual bitted bridle and 2 bit and in the Dr CookTM brand Beta Bitless Bridle. All tests were videoed continuously allowing the subsequent instantaneous recording of behaviour. An ethogram developed specifically for the study was used to collate identified conflict behaviours exhibited by the horse. Assessment of pilot data demonstrated that six different conflict behaviours occur with both types of bridle (tail swish, open mouth, cow kick, hollow, fall out and pull down). The frequency of each behaviour was recorded, along with the total number of behaviours exhibited (Behavioural Intensity) for both conditions. Whilst a similar amount of conflict behavioural activity was observed with both bridle types, significantly more tail swishing was observed with the bitless bridle (median occurrence/test =3.00; range 0-37) than with the bitted bridle (median occurrence/test =2; range 0-23; Wilcoxon T12=1.00; P<0.05).

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