by Linda Chamberlain
Meet the Ambassadors of a world-wide association which is launched this week in a bid to end discrimination against riders of bitless horses who are banned from some equestrian competitions.
The World Bitless Association will be campaigning to allow horses ridden in modern, humane bitless bridles to be judged on an equal basis to bitted horses. Its focus will be primarily on compassionate training whether a horse is ridden in a bitless bridle or bitted since shameful treatment of a horse is not acceptable, whatever tack it is wearing.
The bitless movement has been growing rapidly in the last few years as more and more riders realise they don’t need the forcible ‘brakes’ of a bit in their horse’s mouth; they simply need to communicate and gently train their horse. There is also evidence that a bit can cause damage to the horse’s tender mouth even if it is used softly.
Sadly, the governing bodies of many equestrian competitions remain deaf to the changes and keep bitless, and sometimes barefoot, horses out of some classes.
The fledgling organisation already has the support of some bridle manufacturers for its ambassador initiative which awards rosettes to bitless equestrians competing around the world. And some pioneering riders are sporting huge smiles as their approach to riding is recognised.
The gallery of ambassadors on the WBA website shows how well bit-free competitors can do given the chance.
Here is Lomax ridden by Aaliyah at a show in the UK this year where the pair won 15 rosettes, two trophies and a £10 prize – barefoot and bitless.
I remember Lomax whose transformation from a rather poor and bedraggled pony to a glossy equine was shared on Facebook’s Barefoot Horse Owner’s Group a couple of years ago.
It’s wonderful to see him doing so well and setting such a good example – what a shame that he was the only bitless horse at the show. But there are other brilliant ambassadors.
Another horse, Tara, (below left) is a good example. Many riders might be sceptical they could manage their equine in a challenging situation such as a cross country event.
Rider, Daniee, said the horse went round the course like a pro wearing an Orbitless bridle.
‘It was also only our second cross country ever! She was impeccably behaved the whole time and lots of people were interested in our bridle and asking questions.
‘Tara was nervous about the water jump and had to follow a human helper through for some confidence so we got eliminated, although lots of other horses were also eliminated here because it was a very scary water jump, going through the water into a dark wooded area! But she flew round the rest of the course like a pro, showing everyone that you don’t need a bit to be in control in cross country!’
It’s in the world of dressage that bitless riders can face the most discrimination and much controversy surrounds one of the stated reasons by the authorities – that bitless riders are not able to show that their horse is ‘on the bit’ as required.
Lower levels of competition are able to take a more relaxed approach.
It is heartening to see the only bitless rider at an event in Tasmania (Fiona on Cavalier Crusader) clinched a winning test with a score of 71 per cent. The horse was ridden in a Transcend bridle.
Brittany riding Skye’s the Limit won a rosette with no bridle at all – wish I had done that when I was younger! She has been competing all year without a bridle and hopes to qualify for year-end awards. Surely, spectators would be queuing up to see such a brilliant performance.
Below left you can see Polly-Ann riding Dakota in the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association in France. She said: ‘It was my first ever riding competition at the age of 59. Got second place in Novice ridden class. Dakota is a QH aged 16. It was his first ever competition as well. I was the only rider bitless in the novice class.’
Then there is Tam riding Blue (below right) in Brocconoc, Cornwall, UK, during a grade 140k endurance ride.
And Joanne with Marina competing in endurance in South Africa.
Check out more about the ambassadors scheme and the aims of the WBA on its website – only £15 a year to join! It’s lovely to see so many comfortable horses, ridden without gadgets and unnecessary bits of metal. I think the public will love to see more riders like this in showgrounds across the world – much more impressive to see someone achieve so well, with much less.
One day they will be allowed to compete unfettered by rules and regulations which sometimes exclude them – most notably for the UK in some ridden showing classes and dressage. But the prejudice seeps into places you wouldn’t expect. I still remember the day that my daughter was banned from a Pony Club show for riding her pony in a hackamore. There are better bitless bridles around now and the hackamore is admittedly harsh but the irony hasn’t left me. There was no ban on young riders using spurs, whips or the harshest bits and we had to watch on the sidelines as they strutted their stuff.
A couple of articles ago, a few readers alerted me to some derision on Facebook. Apparently my pages carry wordpress adverts from betting companies. I would like point out that I don’t receive this massive amount of revenue but I do find it mildly amusing. I don’t see the ads as I have an ad blocker at work on my lap top but, since I sometimes write about barefoot race horses, no doubt the betting industry was attracted. Or perhaps it’s because this blog has had more than 300,000 views since its launch. This has got me thinking – it would be great to carry some FREE ADS that are helpful to horses. So if you have a product, an event or a service that is good for the horse I would love to include it in a list after each blog. Please get in touch via Facebook (see link below) – unlike betting, you have nothing to lose.
HERE ARE the first free ads – Barefoot Horse Magazine issue 19 in print and digital is out now. Full of brilliant articles on navicular, the link between diet and laminitis, hoof boot news, the benefits of special plants. Check it out.
And have you found Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook? – for the best support and advice on riding without shoes. There are now 23,000 members – an awful lot of bare hooves.
The Total Contact Saddle is a unique treeless saddle that has just reached the shortlist for the Saddle Research Trust Awards for 2018. Get more info about the saddle at its website total-contact.co.uk
The WBA’s Ambassador scheme is sponsored by Transcend, Orbitless, Light Rider and NuturalX bitless bridles.
My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.
My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.
‘I originally bought this book from Linda at a horse show a couple of years ago but only just got round to reading it. I wish I had read it ages ago! I was absolutely gripped from the first page. It is brilliantly written, well researched, and told with compassion.’ – Amazon UK reader.
I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend!