CPR (Australia): “The Extraordinary Cruelty of the Bit”

Our own Jo Anne Normile has previously addressed the cruelty of bits in this post about the various “tools” used by racing. One of our international partners, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (Australia/New Zealand), recently took a deeper dive. CPR’s comprehensive, meticulously-sourced piece – here – begins thus:

“While beating a horse with a whip is considered animal abuse by those with common sense, it’s the other obligate tool of the racing industry, the bit, that delivers the most harmful blows of all.”

Some other highlights:

“The only possible experience for a horse of this pressure from the bit in its mouth is pain. The bit induces such high levels of pain which, due to its intensity and location, can override all other pain a horse might experience, including fear. It’s this attribute that makes bits the highly effective, albeit cruel instrument of control they are. Bits allow riders to push horses well past safe physiological limits, control them in painful and frightening circumstances, and are a contributing factor, if not the cause of many of the falls, shattered limbs, asphyxia and sudden death experienced by horses on the racetrack.

“Proponents of the bit suggest it is merely a tool of ‘communication’, being more or less gentle depending on the hands that use it. In truth, a bit is no more a tool of communication for the horse than a thumbscrew or medieval rack is a tool of communication for people. In other words, a horse’s response to a bit should not be taken as solicitation or agreement by the horse of the ‘requests’ of a rider but is always, and only because of the pain the bit induces.

“Richly innervated and densely packed with sensory receptors, pressure to the interdental space induces sensations that are consciously and acutely felt by the horse. The pain of the bit is immediate and intense and captures the attention of a horse in a way that nothing else can. Aside from the immediate physical pain mentioned, the bit induces fear and panic by affecting the horse’s ability to draw breath resulting in sensations of breathlessness and suffocation.

“Perception becomes reality, and the illusion of a somewhat co-operative, excited, prancing racehorse has been actively portrayed as ‘normal’ in the minds of the public. Research by experts unquestioningly show that those very same behaviours – the wild eyes, teeth grinding, gaping mouth, salivation, jigging, tongue lolling, head shaking, rearing, straining neck, tail swishing – are behavioural signs of extreme pain and fear in a horse and…are clear indications of compromised welfare.”


  1. Lower photo demonstrates tying down the tongue of the horse. This cuts off circulation and will eventually cause tongue paralysis. Horrible practice.

  2. Ring bits.tongue ties, lip chains hated the use of all of them! We ride our horses in a Dr. Cook`s bit-less bridle.The use of these items were some of the many reasons we quit participation in racing in 2005. Always hated galloping a horse in a ring bit. Unneeded amount of hardware in a horses mouth & did not really give you any control of a horse wanting to runoff with you as we experienced several times.

  3. The cruelty of bits crosses all lines and is also quite widespread in rodeo, most specifically the reining, barrels, and roping events, where galloping horses are time after time abruptly pulled to harsh sliding stops by the bits in their mouths, viciously yanked and aggressively jerked around by the bits in their mouths, to the point where the horses in daily practices and timed competitions have terrified and almost psycho looks on their faces and act like spastic out-of-control nut cases from the constant painful never-ending heavy-handed abuse of forceful application of the metal bits in their delicate mouths. The horses are mesmerizingly beautiful and very well built, but oh how they are made to suffer from the severe use of the bits and the torquing and twisting of their legs and joints causing untold injuries. It seems that very few horses can escape the brutality of humankind.

  4. This is inhuman and shame to mankind,difficult to watch, watching them is like mental harassment to me,please stop this nonsense

    • It is mental torture to see people jerking horses around by their mouths!!!! It is very disturbing to me also!!! The racing industry people as well as many other riding “disciplines” think it is “normal” because, evidently because, they’re so vile they can’t comprehend doing something that isn’t vile.

  5. This popular Dexter racing bit not only exerts pressure on the sensitive bars of the horse’s mouth (snafles act like pinchers), but the ring puts pressure on the jaw of the horse. Just examine its structure and you’ll understand how it works. In the hands of a skilled horseperson, a bit is an AID, not a control device. You train a horse to respond to your commands and cues ON THE GROUND, FIRST, BEFORE EVER GETTING ON THEIR BACKS! But what do jockeys and trainers know about aids? Trainers call themselves “horseman/women”. Nothing could be further from the truth! I’ve always loved the beautiful, fancy silver bits created by the Mexican Vaqueros and I took time to study how they are made, their function, and the misconceptions about how they work in a horse’s mouth. For those of you who actually have experience riding and training horses, you’re probably knowledgeable about the “spade” bit. It’s not a vicious cruelty device. Rather, it is a device that horses learn to carry and respond to. That doesn’t happen overnight and certainly not in the hands of a heavy-handed brute. It takes years of patient training to develop a true “bridle” horse. And if you’ve never watched a skilled Vaquero or Cowboy knowledgeable in the mechanics of a “spade” bit, you’ve missed out, The horse becomes so light and responsive that the mere lift of a finger delivers a signal to him to respond. There is no room for heavy-handedness. These horrific racing bits–ring bits, spoon rings, figure-eight nosebands, tongue ties, are nothing but a brutish man’s attempt to CONTROL a horse without proper training. Let’s face it, racehorses don’t undergo training. They’re simply and cruelly forced to wear these horrid devices, carry a jockey, be forced into the extreme close confinement of a starting gate stall, and then run their hearts out and in doing so, break limbs, fracture bones, dislocate shoulders, spines, hips, all while being whipped brutally with an unforgiving crop, Horse-racing is one of the cruelest, most exploitive equestrian activities man ever created. Only when the average bettor or race-goer experiences the kind of sensibility that will show him this truth, will horse-racing be tossed on the scrap heap of other unjust practices masquerading as entertainment. Sorry for being so long but I felt compelled to respond.

    • I understand something of what you’re saying, except that I’ve never actually learned the SPADE BIT stuff from experience with it. I’ve read about it and have seen pictures of it. They start them out with BOSAL HACKAMORES before progressing to the bit. Of course, in the usual way of starting colts/fillies in the bit is to use a SNAFFLE BIT before moving on to the CURB BIT. I’m not 100% convinced that the Mexican Vaqueros are as kind as you are saying. If you look at some of the pictures (photographs, paintings & illustrations) of Mexican Vaqueros, the horses mouths are open SOMETIMES, and as you may know, that is a sign that the bit and the pressure of same is causing PAIN in the horse’s mouth. Bits ARE control devices. Sorry, but that is the reality in any riding discipline. The only way that they can keep their mouths from coming open in the case of a lack of horsemanship skills and patience with the horse and A LACK OF LIGHTHANDEDNESS is to use a CAVESSON to keep their mouth closed, so it doesn’t look as cruel! Anyway, just stuff that’s good to know so a person won’t be deceived.
      Another thing that is a substitute for HORSEMANSHIP and horsemanship skills is the cutting of certain muscle/s inside the tail. This is the “new” LOWER standard for the American Quarter Horse Association Reining classes in AQHA horse shows. When horses have a problem with the way they are being expected to perform the physical demands of carrying a rider that wants what he/she wants WHEN the rider wants it, the horse’s react with tail-switching. This will lose points in a horse show competition because it is a sign that the rider is doing something wrong. So for a lack of horsemanship skills and for the selfish, greedy desire to win prizes and money, shortcuts and literal cuts are made at the horse’s expense. (It’s kind of like when a dog’s vocal cords are cut. They can’t be heard.)

  6. Perhaps a bit should be placed in a human’s mouth. These animals are MAGESTIC. They were not created for our entertainment. Racing needs to END. It’s ALL about the money. The abuse and suffering of these horses is finally coming to light. BE THEIR VOICE!!!

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