The rules for what gear can be used with a horse in competitions in Australia is decided by Equestrian Australia (EA) and internationally by the Federation Equestrian International (EFI). The rules for acceptable gear at Pony Club is set by Pony Club Australia. Currently at competitions in Australia the EA rules state that it’s acceptable to use bitless bridles when showjumping and at eventing competitions in the showjumping and cross-country sections (a bit is still required for the dressage component). Pony Club Australia does not allow bitless bridles at any of its events. Bitless bridles are permitted at all endurance events and trail-riding clubs. Bitless bridles are not permitted for show horses, driving or vaulting. In reining bosals are permitted.
The fact that the EA allows bitless bridles for showjumping and cross-country makes it pretty obvious that they do not think riding bitless is dangerous. These are two of the most dangerous horse sports. The more sedate events such as dressage and hacking where the horses are in a small area and not going over any obstacles must be done with a bit. This shows that what we are dealing with is an old fashioned, archaic mentality of complete power and domination of horses using pain and an unwillingness to embrace kinder, more humane options now that they are available. This unwillingness is difficult to understand but perhaps reflects how far we still have to travel as a species to become more evolved and kind to our fellow creatures and ourselves.
The recent rule passed by the Dutch to allow bitless riders to compete against bitted in dressage is fantastic. Follow this link to learn more about the recent rule changes in the Netherlands. http://www.dressage-international.com/?p=16420
South Africa is the first country in the world to allow bitless bridles at shows.
Below is a link for a letter written by Dr Robert Cook to the USEF (the main equine body in the USA) which includes some awesome letters by prominent equine scientists of our day. Dr Dwight Bennett (US equine bitting expert) who wrote a scientific book about bits, now endorses bitless bridles! And a fantastic letter written by the Presidential Council of the International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) fully requesting that the USEF endorse cross-under bitless bridles. This letter is signed by Dr Andrew McLean (Australian Institute of Equine Behaviour), Prof. Natalie Waran and Prof. Paul McGreevy (author of numerous books on equine behaviour)! This is ground-breaking stuff, it really is happening. http://www.bitlessbridle.com/RuleChangeProposal092313.pdf
World renowned dressage riders such as Uta Graf and Alizee Froment have been doing bitless Grand Prix demonstrations. I also noticed online photos of our very own Australian Grand Prix rider, Sally Evans, riding her stallion A’ Seduction in a bitless bridle.
For any frustrated bitless dressage riders out there you have 2 options. One is to enter online dressage competitions and compete against riders from around the world plus win ribbons/rosettes and prize money! You just upload a video of yourself doing the test (bitless of course). A great online dressage site is: http://www.interdressage.com/
The other option is to compete Hors Concurs. Riding hor concours at a dressage competition means you are not actually competing. You will still pay an entry fee, receive a number and be judged by the judge (so you get your feedback), however you will not be considered for placings. This is a great way to get out there and enjoy yourself and your horse and to show the judges how well horses can go in a bitless bridle.
Change comes slowly but it does come. By moving steadily toward a kinder world we not only benefit our horses but ourselves as well. Every time a horse transitions into a bitless bridle people see it and talk about it and a seed is sown. So go out there and proudly ride your bitless horse and enjoy the wonderful relationship you now have due to your compassionate choice.