The use of double bridles and spurs in FEI dressage looks to become highly divisive in the coming months.

Two major dressage nations want to make them “optional,” because they are considered harmful by the wider public, especially in the run-up to the 2024 Olympics where dressage will once again attract a large TV audience. But other stakeholders have moved to quell debate, saying this “peace offering” to the social licence lobby results from misunderstandings. They add that dressage should not be being singled out from the other disciplines.

In June, the FEI set up an Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission which is due to present initial findings to the FEI General Assembly in Cape Town next month. However, the International Dressage Riders Club and International Dressage Trainers Club learned that the commission was considering significant changes to tack usage and has published a joint response.

They state that existing rules are already a powerful incentive to use the two reins sympathetically and add: “The anatomy of the horse determines the effect of the bit (s) on the horse and the snaffle and curb bit function in different ways. The snaffle produces the flexion and exercises the muscles whereas the double bridle produces the bending of the haunches. It allows the shoulders to be framed to improve self-carriage and posture. This leads to a better balance of the horse and suppleness in exercises which require a high degree of collection.

“The double bridle enables the rider to improve the precision of his aids and to establish a refined communication with his horse. It literally ‘lies in the hand’ of the rider as the mobility and dexterity of the hands are the result of a correct seat and fine feeling.

“Similarly spurs give the rider the opportunity to give subtle and refined leg aids. And again, there are currently significant welfare measures in place.

“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. …. It would reduce the FEI’s credibility as an organization guided by principles and evidence.”

Meanwhile, leading dressage nations have proposed new rules limiting the use of double bridles and spurs. Consultation documents show that the FEI will not take these suggestions forward this year, but that all tack is scheduled for major review during 2023.

The Netherlands wants snaffle bridles to be optional for all CDI/CDIO3*/4*/5*/U25, CDI-Ws and Championships and Olympic Games “within the framework of horse welfare and based on good experiences and best practices within several national federation.” Where the double bridle continues to be used, they say the curb chain must have a leather, rubber or sheepskin cover – at present, a cover is optional.

Great Britain suggested making spurs optional, and that they could be made from non-brittle synthetics as well as metal. It said: “With some high-profile welfare issues raised at the Tokyo Olympics, where our sports are viewed by a non-equestrian audience, some view the use of spurs as a negative aid. While we should of course focus on the educational aspect and promote the correct use of spurs, with equine welfare now paramount it could be seen as contradictory to enforce a mandatory use of spurs in the rules.”