“Monstrosities” such as the bridle which caused a social media storm in April will be outlawed in international endurance if new rules are adopted by the FEI General Assembly on November 19th.

Unlike other FEI disciplines, to date endurance has set out minimal rules and guidelines on tack, save for banning spurs, whips or other items used as whips, and regulating blinkers, earplugs and fly masks. Instead, the sport has relied on officials’ discretion over bridles. This has led to the unchecked use of metal chain nosebands and long-shanked bits, sometimes with a lever in excess of 15cm and ridden solely off the curb.

Matters came to a head when pictures were circulated of the sand-encrusted Techno de la Bassanne at a ride in the UAE this spring, wearing an apparently tight grakle noseband which was set too low, and a long lever bit.

Dr Sarah Coombs, a 4* endurance vet and trustee of World Horse Welfare, referenced this incident a few days later when explaining the tack rules in her role as chair of the FEI’s Endurance Temporary Committee. (Her remarks about tack at the FEI Sports Forum can be heard from 1.12.16 here.) She said that the changes would not affect the “average rider with the average horse at the average ride” but would remove the “monstrosities.”

“There is no doubt that some of the bits, nosebands, martingales etc are a serious cause of poor horse welfare and very bad for the public image of endurance,” she added.

“They are indicative of poor horsemanship. I freely accept you may need a stronger bit in the first loop…. there are some horses that go faster in the first loop than they should because their riders don’t have sufficient control. None of those things are a reason to allow long-shanked bits and some of the awful things we see.”

Under the new Article 825 of FEI endurance rules, there are general rules about fitting, plus detailed clauses mandating the attachment of reins directly to the bit; a maximum shank length for lever bits of 8 cm; control over tightness of the noseband and any type of rein or martingale restricting “free movement” of the head; bans on rein additions such as handles and bans on metal chain nosebands.

During the furore over Techno de la Bassanne, the FEI received many written complaints. It agreed the image was “distressing” and said: “We welcome third parties providing the FEI with evidence if they see incidents impacting horse welfare. This is particularly important in endurance where the nature of the discipline makes it difficult to monitor all areas of the extensive field of play.”

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