Bit specialist speaks out over “misinformation” in FEI rules

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An Australian bitting specialist is “calling out” the FEI and Equestrian Australia over what she describes as misinformation printed in rules books about bits and bitting.

Charmae Bell, of BitBank Australia, said she was taking a stand against the misinformation printed in the eventing dressage bitting rules, and expressed surprise at the stance against French-link bits.

The FEI recently released a statement confirming that the use of the French link for eventing dressage at FEI level is not allowed. The rule does not apply to lower level or national classes.

Charmae Bell showing how a boucher bit works.
Charmae Bell showing how a baucher bit works.

Bell describes this latest ruling as “mind-boggling”, because the French-link has been “bundled into the same group as plate bits”, such as control plate bits and Dr Bristol bits. Bell says the French link is “old technology”, but it is not a harsh or severe bit at all, and “it certainly does not  create any excess pressure on your horse’s tongue.”

In a video released on Thursday, Bell shows the differences between the French link and control plate bits. “When you take contact in a plate bit, it pushes down in the tongue and creates quite a sharp, forceful tongue pressure, so it is a really severe bit.

“I absolutely believe this should not be permitted in dressage. But the humble French link? So many horses use them; we’ve used them for centuries. So not the most modern bit, but certainly not harsh or severe in any way, so I’m disappointed to see that rule.”

Bell says the errors in the rule books relate to the action of bits, firstly the nutcracker action of a single-jointed snaffle. She says this is a common misconception. “People think the nutcracker action refers to the bit cracking your horse up in the palate. This can’t happen unless you’re leading your horse from under the chin. Under normal circumstances, it actually pushes the mouthpiece down into the horse’s tongue. The nutcracker action actually refers to the bit closing up under contact and creating a vice-like effect on the lower jaw, or, like a nutcracker.”

Bell also says the action of the baucher bit is incorrectly explained in the rule book, saying that it uses mild leverage and works on the poll and the lips. “We know from multiple peer-reviewed studies that this is simply not the case. The baucher actually provides poll relief. The mouthpiece picks up in the mouth, and loosens off at the poll.”

In the video, Bell shows what is required for a leverage bit and shows how the baucher works. “There is no leverage or poll pressure from a baucher snaffle.”

Bell said she was writing to the FEI and EA to stop the spread of misinformation about the action and mechanics of bits “especially coming from that level”.

“It is my purpose to make bitting as easy and as ethical and comfortable as possible. We just can’t do that if we are getting misinformation from our governing bodies.”

Bell said she was more than happy to consult with the FEI or EA on any bitting query.

“I just want your members to be getting the right information and to be able to use the right bit and the most comfortable bits on their horses.”

6 thoughts on “Bit specialist speaks out over “misinformation” in FEI rules

  • February 22, 2020 at 1:32 pm
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    Finally, someone that actually knows how to apply physics to bit action as attached to the bridle!
    Plus bits (and bitless headgear)create a series of multi levers including the jaw, poll, base of neck, and therefore the individual structure (conformation) of which also affects action, as horses use their strengths rather than weaknesses in seeking the most comfortable position with which to “hold” their forehand in response to that particular bit action.
    I’ve worked with gaited horses using dressage techniques for decades, after writing my thesis on “Equine Locomotion: Visual Perception vs Reality” and have been surprised at how much reliance there has been on misleading perceptions without responsibly checking these suppositions with real science, in many aspects of horsemanship- especially at upper levels, in many equestrian and breed organizations.
    Its leaving the wellbeing of horses so vulnerable….

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  • February 22, 2020 at 3:21 pm
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    I absolutely agree with what is being said here. Dr Bristol bits should be banned since they have the link at an angle and dig into the tongue. However, ordinary French links do not do this and are a very mild bit. They should not be banned. It has now become very confusing. I hope ESNZ takes notice of this. Angela Mackie New Zealand

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  • February 23, 2020 at 11:31 pm
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    I read this article and the comments with great interest and respect. Qualified and knowledgeable people, speaking out for the well being of horses is both admirable and necessary. I welcome a similar analysis on the AQHA – American Quarter Horse Association equipment. In the AQHA Rule book, a twisted wire ‘scissor bit’ is acceptable for a Hunter class. There is lots of room for analysis in this realm.

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  • February 24, 2020 at 6:33 am
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    There are four ways one can put a Dr. Bristol snaffle on the bridle. One of these ways makes it a gentle bit, gentle enough so that for years and years the horses I ride accepted this bit–until my Multiple Sclerosis further made my hands worse.

    These horses preferred, with my iffy hands, the Dr. Bristol over French Link, three-piece-lozenge snaffles and the Mullen mouth snaffles in my hands.

    I made the mistake at first of putting on the Dr. Bristol so that the edge of the plate dug into the horse’s tongue and no horse would keep contact with me. When I turned the bit over so that the
    plate rested flat on the tongue the horses cheerfully took contact and they would play with the center plate, without any signs of distress until my MS got a lot worse.

    So–a Dr. Bristol, put properly on the bridle, enabled me, a person with MS, ride cheerful horses for years, only stopping when my hand tremors, lack of a proprioceptive sense, and trouble keeping my hands in the correct place got too much for the horses.

    I wish my hands would return to where they were years ago. If that ever happens I will cheerfully go back to the Dr. Bristol bit because the horses liked it and I LOVED riding with it since it gave me superior communication with the horse.

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  • February 25, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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    Brilliant video… Finally!

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  • February 26, 2020 at 2:53 pm
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    The problem is not the French-link snaffle itself, but the way bits are checked at eventing competitions. Without taking the bit out of the horse’s mouth completely, you can’t tell if it’s a French-link or a Dr. Bristol. I’ve been checking bits at national competitions for years and I cannot tell the difference. Several FEI stewards have told me the same thing.

    A better solution may be to change the way equipment is checked. It should be done after the test, when the horse is done and winding down. Then the bit and bonnet can be removed entirely (if needed) without interfering with the ride. Spurs could still be checked ahead of time, or everything could be done after the fact, including checking for spur marks. Noseband tightness should be added to the list of rules, and would be easier to check right out of the ring. Riders could leave a halter+lead with their groom or at ringside. Riders who have questions can always approach a steward before their ride to confirm their equipment – that is what stewards are there for. There are ways to do these things safely and logically; it’s just a matter of making an effort.

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