Are horse bits cruel?

Are horse bits cruel?

Even though bitless bridles are becoming more and more common, the majority of horse riders still require a bit to control their mount. 
While some individuals think the bit is superfluous and unpleasant, others believe it is required for riding.

Although they might make the horse uncomfortable and hurt, horse bits are not always cruel. Everything is based on the rider's hands and the kind of bit. Any bit, nevertheless, has the potential to harm the horse's mouth permanently if used forcefully.

Unfortunately, even the gentlest bits, such a snaffle, still make the horse uncomfortable. Bits can, however, be a useful tool for facilitating respectful and responsible dialogue between the rider and the horse.

The purpose of horse bits while riding

The practice of using horse bits has astonishingly successfully withstood the test of time. Bits, which were invented in the Bronze Age (3300 BC to 1200 BC), are still the main method by which horseback riders command their mounts.

Riders typically use horse bits for the following reasons:

Instantaneous Reaction

In the space between the incisors and the premolars, bits rest directly on the soft tissue of the horse's mouth. Horses will rapidly react to even the slightest pressure in this area since it is so sensitive. 

Bits are a particularly efficient teaching tool since there is little to no lag between the rider's signal and the horse's response. With a bit, riders can accomplish goals considerably more quickly than without it, which is why they are so popular in equestrian circles.


Total Command

Bits often ensure that the rider has complete control over the horse. For an extended period of time, horses cannot ignore the pressure in their mouths and will be eager to ease the discomfort by reacting to the signals.

This degree of control has a price, though. Some horses could come to despise and rebel against the bit, which can lead to a variety of issues.

According to Dr. Robert Cook, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, bits can occasionally even be detrimental. Bits can make horses "run from the pain" and cause them to speed up rather than slow down if they are handled too aggressively. The appropriate and careful usage of bits is crucial, for this reason.


Horse riders benefit from the security and assurance that horse bits provide. When riding in traffic or on trails, many riders believe it is risky to ride without a bit and rely on its strength.

Problems with Horse Bits

While bits have many benefits for the rider, the horse does not benefit in the same way. Dr. Cook discovered over 200 bad behaviors and 40 diseases that can come from bit use in one of his numerous studies on the impact of horse bits.

Mouth Injury

Damage to the horse's mouth is a pretty evident risk of employing a horse bit. The bars, premolars, tongue, hard palate, and corners of the mouth are among the structures that frequently sustain the most damage.

The horse may experience pain throughout the face, nose, mouth, eyes, and ears even though pressure is most intense here. The poll and chin groove are subjected to increased strain from bits that utilise leverage action, such as the Pelham or Tom Thumb.


Spiky bones

Small protrusions called bone spurs develop on bones after trauma and bone remodeling. The bars of the horse's mouth are one place that is particularly prone to bone spur development.

Dr. Cook estimates that the gum covering the horse's lower jaw is only about 2 mm thick. As a result, the bit doesn't need to be used very often to harm the bars and promote excessive bone growth. Bone spurs may not be discovered for the duration of the horse's life, which will make the mouth discomfort worse.

Stress on the Nerves

All sorts of bits apply some pressure to the horse's head's nerves. The trigeminal nerve is a nerve whose damage from bit use is frequently severe.

This superficial neuron regulates the chewing muscles as it descends from the base of the ear to the muzzle. The trigeminal nerve can become oversensitive and produce headshaking, a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia, when the bit is repeatedly jostled against the jawline.

Impaired Breathing

Research has demonstrated that bits can impair a horse's ability to breathe by inducing a "eating reaction."

As they move around in the mouth constantly, bits naturally urge the horse to spit, chew, and swallow. Dr. Cook claims that the throat prepares for swallowing by enlarging the food route and constricting the air channel. As a result, less air can enter the lungs, which makes breathing difficult.

Movement and Balance Are Compromised

If worn by a novice rider, the bit can impair the horse's balance and mobility because it directly regulates the position of the head and neck. Furthermore, according to veterinarian Joyce Harman, bits can change the gaits of horses by shortening their strides.
Dr. Harman claims that some tongue muscles in horses are connected to the hyoid apparatus, a group of bones. Two significant neck muscles that link to the breast bone and shoulder blade also originate from these bones.

As a result, tension in the tongue also manifests in the neck and shoulder. As a result, the horse lacks flexibility and relaxation in these regions, performing below par.

Behavioral Issues

Last but not least, bits might cause the horse to exhibit a variety of unfavorable behaviors. Head shaking, bucking, bolting, sleeping, rearing, and excessive salivation are a few examples.

Horse bits: Are They Moral?

The usage of horse bits is unethical because it involves purposefully causing the animal pain and distress. Many people contend that horseback riding is unethical in and of itself.

The use of horses for human entertainment is opposed by a sizable group of vegans and animal rights campaigners. They believe that because horses can live in the wild without humans, it is wrong to exploit animals in any way.

However, other scientists contend that domestication by humans may have prevented the extinction of the horse in the past. Due to human overhunting, several huge Ice Age animals have vanished off the face of the planet.

Do Horse Bits Hurt the Horse?

Bits frequently hurt the horse, especially when handled roughly. Additionally, discomfort and pain can be brought on by bits that are not properly fitted to the horse or are the wrong size.

Riders should remember that they are in close proximity to the animal's mouth when they are mounted on a horse wearing a bit. Riders should always utilize the lightest aids possible in conjunction with leg and weight signals because this area is particularly sensitive.

When fitting a bit to a bridle, two furrows in the horse's mouth corners signify a secure fit. Too-tight bits can quickly lead to oral injuries like cuts and sores, which prevent the horse from accepting the bit.

Here is a video that demonstrates how horse bits function and how they can hurt a horse:

Is a Horse Rideable Without a Bit?

With the aid of bitless bridles, it is possible to handle a horse completely without using a bit. They come in a variety of styles, from delicate to brutal, and are gaining popularity.

The benefits of bitless horseback riding are numerous. Horses are typically more comfortable and willing to work when they don't have a metal piece pressing against their mouth. The horse's freedom from the confines of the bit has also been associated with more expressive movement, according to riders.


Are Bits Comfortable in the Mouths of Horses?

The majority of horses often dislike having a bit in their mouth. However, other riders prefer to toy with the bit, which allows them to concentrate more on the rider's assistance.

As strange as it may sound, some horses depend on the bit's direction and become disoriented without it. This is more common of horses that have had positive experiences with bit training from an early age.

Read more about horses:
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