A Horse’s Hidden Stress: Bridling

Though a horse might not show typical outward signs of stress when he learns to be bridled, the introduction of a bit can be stressful. Nicole Bradley, a student at the Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire, England, completed a student dissertation project to assess the stress response of horses who had not been bitted before. Her work was led by Caroline Benoist and researcher Rebecca Brassington presented the findings at the International Society of Equitation Science conference.

The study bridled 11 horses over three days with a single or double-jointed loose-ring snaffle bit attached to cheekpieces, with the noseband and reins removed from the headstall. The horse was bridled by a handler on the left side, facing forward, who stuck her finger in the corner of the horse’s mouth and inserted the bit when the horse opened his mouth. The horse was then tied for one minute using a halter over the headstall, then he was turned loose in the stall.

Each horse’s stress level was monitored using eye temperature, heart rate and observed behavior. Though every horse’s heart rate went up during bitting on days one, two and three, there was less fluctuation as the days went on, indicating the horses were becoming used to the bit. There was no increase in eye temperature or observed behavior.

While the research showed that introducing a bit to a horse garners a clear physiological stress response, it may not be observed easily. It is unclear how much time is needed for the horse to completely accept the bit; more research to determine this is needed.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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