Open letter to FEIF 21/11/2017
When the news about allowing ported Icelandic bits in competition, appeared on my Facebook page the other day I first read it twice, before I went back and checked the date, to see if it was something old. Then I had to read it the third time to realize what’s happening. It’s new, and it actually means that FEIF now allows the use of bits that systematically harm our horses when used in competitions and shows. The former ban, based on scientific publication is replaced by “gut feeling” from, as far as I know, unpublished reports, (hopefully yet to come).
According to official Icelandic regulation on horse welfare, it’s forbidden in Iceland to ride competitions and shows with any ported bit with a leverage effect, and that cannot be changed by FEIF.
Ported bits do not put pressure on the tongue as most other bits. Instead they put the pressure on the bones underneath the tongue (the bars) where the very sensitive periosteum (surface of the bone) is only defended by a thin layer of tissue – with hardly any resistance. The pressure the iron puts on the bones results therefore easily in lesions and pain. As bruises and other pressure lesions, don’t become apparent until some hours later and hardy ever bleed, they can’t always be seen directly after a ride. Repeated pressure on the bruise will finally lead to a painful inflammation in the periosteum and even affect the bone permanently. The study performed in Iceland was based on data collected from Landsmót and Islandsmót, where the competitions continue for up to 6 days for horses qualifying for the finals. Repeated examinations showed that all the horses using bits with leverage and a port, except one, had lesions on the bars at the last day of the competition. The lesions were in most cases regarded as serious concerning animal welfare. The study did not identify any difference in the harm done, between non-broken ported and double broken ported Icelandic bits. Still, the sport committee of FEIF now allows the use of double broken Icelandic bits with a port while they find the unbroken ones unacceptable.
Interestingly on the FEIF homepage it says : “One of the missions of FEIF is to focus on horse welfare – and one of our goals is to put the welfare of the horse first in everything we do. This is clearly described in the General Rules and Regulations with reference to the FEI Code of Conduct. FEIF would like to stress the importance of this part of our mission. There is a growing focus on injuries on horses in sport – specifically oral wounds and other wounds.”
These days all equine sports are under the microscope of animal-welfare organisations and there are a lot of people in the world that strongly argue that it should be forbidden to use horses for competition. We, who do have passion for the sport and want to be proud of it, will have to prove that the welfare of the horse is always our first priority, and that we use science to help us to help the horse. Only that way we can explain why the rider is not too heavy for this” little” horse, why the gear we use is not harming it and how our training and competition actually produce happy, healthy and durable horses!
The world championship was great in many ways. The pace-disiplines stood out representing durable competition horses and I saw breathtaking good riding in the ovaltrack. The disappointment was the use and amount of harsh bits used on this supple, nice, gentle and easy-going breed of a riding horse. Why do grownup, healthy people have to use all these gadgets and chains and reins to be able to ride some rounds in a fenced oval track? Are we entering the age of the monsterbridels? For me and many people I spoke to during and after the event, the development was obvious, and I expected and hoped that something would be done to turn it around. Then the message arrives that FEIF will rather allow a bit that has actually been proven harmful in competitions. And it is not only this specific type of a bit, it is the direction that we are going in, the message we are giving. The obvious thing would be to support further research on other ported bits, do they maybe also harm the horses?
And I start to wonder—do we need this bit so badly? It has been forbidden for some years now—did we in some way get hurt because of that? Were we not able to participate because we couldn´t use this bit? Or did someone need to sell more bits? I can’t think of anything that can possibly defend this decision of the sport committee.
We could be initiators, making sure our sport meets the standards and demands of the future. Let’s protect our sport, our lifestyle and not least our horse!
- Research paper on “Bit-related lesions in Icelandic competition horses”: https://actavetscand.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s13028-014-0040-8?site=actavetscand.biomedcentral.com
- Rules on horsekeeping iceland: https://www.reglugerd.is/reglugerdir/allar/nr/910-2014
- Icelandic animal wellfare law: http://www.althingi.is/lagas/nuna/2013055.html
- Feif homepage https://www.feif.org/