Eventing horses should be monitored for bit-related injuries, say researchers

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Organisers of eventing competitions are being urged to carry out systematic oral inspections of horses. Photo: TheOtherKev/Pixabay

A fresh study has shown the need to monitor the bit area of horses in eventing competitions.

The study by researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki found bit-related lesions were observed in half of the eventing horses examined after competitions.

Since most oral lesions are not accompanied by bleeding outside the mouth, the bit area should be monitored, they said.

It was found that eventing horses that wear thin or thick bits in competitiion had a greater risk of moderate or severe oral lesions compared to horses wearing medium-sized bits, while straight bits were associated with lesions in the bars of the horse’s mouth.

“Our recommendation is to use a jointed bit of moderate thickness, that is 14 to 17 millimetres, if the size of the mouth is not known, paying particular attention to the handling of mares and both warmblood and coldblood event horses,” says doctoral student and veterinarian Kati Tuomola.

“They were seen to have a greater risk of mouth lesions compared to geldings and ponies.

“Since most mouth lesions are not evidenced as bleeding outside the mouth, the bit area should be monitored, and event organisers should carry out systematic oral inspections,” Tuomola adds.

The research group has previously investigated oral lesions in trotters.

The object of the current study was eventing horses — those who compete in the discipline composed of three phases: show jumping, dressage and a cross-country test.

The study was conducted in cooperation with the Equestrian Federation of Finland, and participation was voluntary.

“As many as 95% of the equestrians invited for the study wanted their horse to participate, for which we are thankful,” a pleased Tuomola said.

For the study, 208 randomly selected horses who were 4 to 19 years old were examined in eight events in western Finland in 2018 and 2019.

The front part of each horse’s mouth was examined after a cross-country test, the last phase of the events.

A total of 127 of the horses were warmbloods, 52 coldbloods and 29 ponies. Of the 208 horses examined, 52% had lesions in the bit area. Bruises were found in 39% of the horses and wounds in 19%. Among the group, 48% had no acute lesions, while 22% had mild, 26% moderate and 4% severe lesions. Blood was observed inside the mouth of one horse.

Consequently, event horses had fewer and less severe lesions than the trotters studied earlier.

“The field scoring system developed by Kati Tuomola in her doctoral thesis makes it possible to conduct comparative studies of different groups of horses, something that was previously impossible,” says Professor Anna Valros with the university’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

» Earlier Horsetalk report

Tuomola K, Mäki-Kihniä N, Valros A, Mykkänen A and Kujala-Wirth M (2021) Bit-Related Lesions in Event Horses After a Cross-Country Test. Front. Vet. Sci. 8:651160. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.651160

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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