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‘Controversial’ proposal around double bridles and spurs sparks debate

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A proposal to make double bridles and spurs option in international grand prix dressage have sparked discussion
Equestrian sport. Portrait sports stallion in the double bridle.The legs of the rider in the stirrup, riding on a brown horse. Dressage of horses in the arena.

A proposal to make double bridles and spurs optional at grand prix level in international dressage has sparked debate.

Last month, the International Dressage Riders Club (IDRC) and International Dressage Trainers Club (IDTC) published a joint letter to the FEI and the FEI’s independent Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission opposing the proposal – stating “neither the double bridle nor spurs represent a welfare risk to horses” and there are already “sufficient controls” to ensure against misuse.

The discussion arose after the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission – established in June – held a consultation and submitted a number of recommendations to the FEI in August for “internal discussion”, including the possibility of making double bridles optional in grand prix dressage – and spurs optional in all FEI disciplines.

The IDRC and IDTC said opposition to the double bridle comes from a “lack of understanding” regarding how and why it is used.

“Yes, the misuse of the double can lead to force and injury, this is true with the snaffle or any other bit, or even a hackamore. For this reason there are restrictions on exactly which bits can be used, for example length of shank or size of port,” the letter states, adding that proper use of a double bridle demonstrates “the ultimate in expertise”.

“There is close scrutiny of the horse at the end of any test. Any indication of injury results in elimination. This is a powerful incentive to ensure riders are judicious in their use of the reins.”

The letter adds that proper use of double bridles – and spurs – allow riders to give refined aids, and making these optional would have “no positive impact on horse welfare”.

“While it might be tempting to make these items optional as a ‘peace offering’ to critics in the hope that they will be satisfied, that approach is incorrect and naive. But more importantly, giving in to unwarranted or ignorant criticism is practically and ethically wrong,” it read.

In response to the letter, the FEI told H&H it is “firmly committed” to horse welfare and ensuring good governance standards, and it was the FEI’s duty to “keep an open mind” and seek meaningful solutions to recurring problems through dialogue and consultation.

The FEI spokesman said the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission’s recommendations have been shared with the technical committees for their feedback and an interim report will be presented at the General Assembly next month.

“These proposals are part of an ongoing consultation process. We take note of the concerns expressed by the IDRC and IDTC, which will be brought to the attention of the board and the equine ethics and wellbeing commission.”

World and European medallist Gareth Hughes told H&H he understands both arguments and said he trains all his horses in snaffles and doubles.

“Nice riding is nice riding whether you do it in a snaffle or a double,” he said. “That’s what we should be more fixed on; riding that produces horses nicely, and how the sport moves forward in terms of what the judges are looking for in the arena that stops other sorts of riding coming into the sport – and promotes that harmonious side to it. When you ride like that, it really doesn’t matter if you have a snaffle or a double on.”

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H that it was “curious” why the proposal should be controversial.

“Surely it is how the horse performs that is of most relevance, rather than the bitting or other accessories used? Double bridles can be a useful tool, but they are also a powerful tool, and it seems right to give riders the choice,” he said.

“A constant mantra for the sport must be around challenging the status quo, including questioning our practices. Some might ask, why make this change? We’d ask, why wouldn’t you?”

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