Expert on the Cruelty of Bits: “Its self-evident purpose to cause pain is bad enough, but its unintended consequence of asphyxiation brings to mind the method’s similarity to that of waterboarding.”

The following photos were taken by a photographer friend of HW at Saratoga Race Course July 16. I shared them with Emeritus Professor Robert Cook from Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and asked for his comments on the bridle equipment. Dr. Cook’s field of research is diseases of the horse’s ear, nose, and throat. On retirement in 1994, he continued his research by exploring what a bit does to a horse, concluding that it is harmful, unnecessary, and insupportable (see this recent article).

Dr. Cook’s statement on the Saratoga photos (all emphases mine):

All of these racehorses will run their forthcoming race in pain from the bit. A recognized principle of saddle-fitting is that the saddle should not apply direct pressure on the bone of the spine. The same principle is overlooked in relation to bit use, the declared purpose of which is to apply pressure on the bars of the mouth, the jawbone. Imagine how we would feel if we were ‘trained’ by the repeated pressure of one or more metal rods against both our shins? A horse’s mouth is much more sensitive.

“The horse is a nose-breathing animal and cannot mouth-breathe. In the wild it runs with a closed mouth, sealed lips, and a negative atmospheric pressure in the oral cavity. Suction pressure locks the soft palate onto the root of an immobile tongue to maintain an open airway. A bit breaks the lip seal, admits air into the mouth, and unlocks the soft palate, which now obstructs the airway. Consequently, none of these horses will be able to demonstrate their full potential for speed, but this is not all.

“A law of physics governing airflow in tubes (Poiseuille’s Law, 1846) explains why airway obstruction at the level of the throat will cause pressure damage (barotrauma) to the lungs and why all these horses will ‘bleed.’ As their lungs are repeatedly bruised and quickly waterlogged, at a rate of twice a second or more at each obstructed breath, some horses may experience severe chest pain and a frightening sensation of drowning. Any one of them could die from so-called ‘exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.’ A better name for this universal problem of the bitted-and-bleeding racehorse is ‘negative-pressure pulmonary edema’; a life-threatening emergency in human medicine. (An internet search reveals the similarity.)

“In a word, all of these horses will experience varying degrees of suffocation, aggravated by the extent to which each horse is rated by bit-induced poll flexion. I see that at least six of them are harnessed with two bits, a snaffle and a ring bit. A ring bit is especially severe and one horse is encumbered with this and a tongue-tie. The physical and emotional enormity of bit usage would be difficult to overstate. Its self-evident purpose to cause pain is bad enough, but its unintended consequence of asphyxiation brings to mind the method’s similarity to that of waterboarding.

“A galloping horse takes one breath for every stride. In the wild, it takes two strides every second; a respiratory rate of 120/minute. A galloping racehorse (bitted and throttled) breathes at a faster rate (c.130-140/min). In a five-furlong race, both lungs of a bitted horse could, at a conservative estimate, be bruised c.50 times. In mile races, the number of bruising breaths could be over 100 and in the four-mile Grand National, several multiples of this. In my opinion, a bitted rein is a whip by another name; an unrecognized lung-damaging device that, during extreme physical exercise, inevitably causes pain, suffocation and premature exhaustion; forecasting a high risk of poor performance and a low but ever-present risk of catastrophic accidents and sudden death.

“The necessary conditions for breathing by the ridden horse can be achieved by a bit-free method of rider-horse communication. I recommend that, to improve the welfare and safety of horse and rider/driver, racing jurisdictions, sport-horse administrations and pony clubs worldwide conduct bit-free trials; repeal mandated-bit rules; and retire Bronze-age bit usage.”

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  1. Patrick, this is excellent information and thank you for sharing it!!!!!

  2. The use of bull hooks on elephants was outlawed at various “entertainment” venues. The apparatus used on race horses is cruel and unusual punishment. Over the top level of “control”. This practice must be outlawed. Shut it down!

  3. And this my friends is why you always see horses fighting with these nasty bits.most of us who have ridden bareback and bit less without force …well it’s a union between horse and rider that will never be duplicated in a race.

    • Ring bits, tongue ties,lip chains, extremely over tightened girths. Hated all of them! To prove a point we have ridden 1 of our farms horses bit-less with only a halter & lead rope on our now defunct 1 mile track until the other horse people complained to the outrider! The 2 year old gelding did absolutely fine & behaved perfectly well as he was used to being ridden that way all over our neighborhood on our county roads.We later used Dr.Cooks bit-less bridle that a friend acquired from another horse woman who did not care for it. We have discovered a bit-less bridle actually has better halting response with a lot less pressure.The pictures above show many horses clearly distressed & some have clearly given up on their lot in life.Sad to see! When we 1st start teaching a horse to be ridden we NEVER use a bit or saddle. Always climb aboard bareback with just a halter & lead with lots of prep work yielding to proper timing of give & release of pressure.

      • But then racing isn’t about good horsemanship or even what’s good for the horses. Sad to see all those babies beaten to an early grave.

        • That’s the issue, where there is money to be made, animal care goes out of the window 😡😡. Victorian barbarism

    • Besides the cruel and sadistic bits, these horses know what is up. They know that they’re not out for a pleasant walk such as a somewhat relaxing type of trail ride. The horses anticipate what they have been forced to do in training and in previous races, if it is not their first race. They know they’re going to be forced into the starting gate which is completely and totally abnormal for a horse!!!! They know they are going to be forced to jump out of the starting gate as fast as they can. They know someone else, not their own selves, is making the decision as to exactly when they are expected to jump out of the starting gate. They know that they are going to be whipped no matter what!!!! They know they’re out there to run like hell!!!! Relaxing and just being a horse is out of the question!!!! The jockeys are not out there for a relaxing pleasure ride and the horses know this!!!!! The horses know that they are going to be forced to run. It is expectable for them to get excited and nervous besides scared!!!! They know they’re going to be forced to do things that are abnormal for horses to do, things that are contrary to a horses nature other than running in fear!!!! The horses are going to be whipped and jerked and God knows what else in the starting gates and on the race track and other places. Add in the pain in their muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, mouths, tongues, stomachs, you name it and the drugs, both legal and illegal, that have been administered to their already stressed out bodies. This is deliberate ANIMAL CRUELTY to horses in every way, shape and form.

  4. To: News 10
    From: Dyan Kane on behalf of Joy Aten’s HORSERACING WRONGS
    Subject: Racing at Saratoga

    To whom it concerns:

    We contacted you yesterday regarding shutting down Saratoga Race Track during 90 degree temperatures. Now, here’s more info on how horses suffer & die, because mouth bits force racing horses to gulp air into their lungs. That causes bleeding, choking, and death. It’s torture, similar to waterboarding. Horse racing is a sadistic ‘sport’. Are all the monies made really worth torturing these magnificent, sentient beings? The answer is NO!!

    We need the media to keep shedding light on these issues, until the men & women who run this industry are held accountable, and this criminal enterprise is SHUT DOWN IN AMERICA!!!!

    Dyan Kane

  5. I’ve noticed recently that the racing folks are getting away from the rubbery, more forgiving figure 8 nose bands and are going to leather and nylon flash nose bands and figure 8s. So many are not being applied correctly and are essentially suffocating horses. Just more proof that many are incompetent and/or depend on grooms who have zero horse knowledge.

  6. All of these horses have the same look in their eyes. I’m sure most of we horse people had no idea of the breathing issue and all the pain caused on their heads. That doesn’t leave much that doesn’t cause them pain so that’s when they whip them. May karma win!!!!!

  7. Thank you Dr. Cook for taking the time to write such a detailed commentary about the pain and suffering these and all racehorses are forced to endure. It’s so important for people to see this cruelty up close and to learn exactly what these cruel tools are designed to do.

  8. I just have to get this off my chest …stupid ass new york has the most abrasive awful women in racing. They are the epitome of the evil in this non sport. Shut this corny as hell scumshit down. You feel good about yourselves you homely new york horse women ?You idiots are making a living off of the unimaginable suffering of the horses you supposedly love. If you truly cared about the horses you wouldn’t be pushing the hype for this evil. May you all someday suffer the way the horses you claim to love do. Why don’t you accompany them to the slaughterhouses,and then you can take your pictures of THAT? And, you are all homely🤣. Know this you scum, you’re as evil as the owners and trainers who send these horses to slaughter you evil scumbags.

  9. Powerful compelling words from
    Dr. Robert Cook and Horseracing Wrongs President, Patrick Battuello.
    Their words speak of the horrific treatment of racehorses by The Horseracing Industry. The images portray the brutality and suffering in the eyes of these horses.
    Education is the key to ending the torture of these innocent victims, the horses. Exposing The Horseracing Industry for what it truly is ……..

  10. Thank you Dr. Cook for writing such a detailed description of the proper use of these tools and showing up close the cruelty and suffering these racehorses are forced to endure!

  11. I absolutely love how the one horse, the one walking beside the woman with braided ponytail and sunglasses, has that look in his eye like I’ll kill you if I get the chance 🤣

  12. Gonna be very interesting to see what these animal abusers do the next 5 days or so. The heat and humidity are going to be suffocating. How much you want to bet a-hole ny will still go on with the show 🤮

  13. This is an excellent —(new-to-me & incredibly heartbreaking💔!)— scientifically-based article, Patrick. What really, really “got to me,” [i.e., particularly as a Vietnam-Era/Non-Combat U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps Veteran], is Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine Robert Cook’s statement, Below]:
    “The physical and emotional enormity of bit usage would be difficult to overstate. Its self-evident purpose to cause pain is bad enough, but its unintended consequence of asphyxiation brings to mind the method’s similarity to that of waterboarding.”

    So, bit usage is respiratorily/pulmonically SO BAD for the poor racehorses, i.e., that it’s even ………… hard to say ………… *H.O.W.* bad ………… it REALLY is!!

    Many young adult activists, as you know, are currently deeply “invested” in the Health And Welfare Of Animals ………… [e.g., All Across The Globe: widespread/abusive factory farming methods; continued trophy hunting of highly-endangered large animal species; decades-long confinement/ill-treatment of wild animals in certain large (select) zoos and of wild animals in smaller roadside zoos; the ghastly dog meat trade; continued tethering/chaining of unprotected dogs outdoors in all types of weather; etc.; etc.] ………… yet, I’d bet that most young adult animal activists have ~NO CLUE~ just how genuinely horrific, [i.e., similar to **WATERBOARDING**: *g.a.h.*!!], bit usage in horseracing actually is, you know.

    I’m certainly not a routine “TikTokker,” although I wonder what effect, if any, a popular young adult animal activist’s TikTok post graphically comparing —[i.e., perhaps in a STRONG/one-two-punch fashion?]— bit usage in racehorses ~TO~ human waterboarding torture ………… might possibly have?

    ‘Many, many thanks to Dr. Robert Cook for his extraordinarily-thorough research about bit usage ………… and for his speaking out.

  14. Outstanding analysis from a veterinarian scholar who has devoted decades to the study of equine ear, nose, and throat. People should pay attention to Professor Cook’s trailblazing analysis and change the way they do things. All kinds of unnatural conditions affect racehorses, like choking, gurgling, bleeding from the lungs, and worse. If you ever wondered why, now you know.

  15. For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Dodman, he is a world renowned veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior.

    • Yes! – and Dr. Dodman is one of Horseracing Wrongs’ advisory board members.

  16. This is disgusting, as is everything else about horseracing. One more reason to abolish horseracing.

  17. Thank you so much Dr. Cook for providing this highly-informative and disturbing information about bits. I’ve loved horses and owned four in my lifetime, a grade horse, and three Arabians. I’ve always used bits but they were always snaffles which I mistakenly thought were mild bits. Age has definitely educated me and changed my mind about what constitutes skilled, humane horsemanship and horse management in general. It is extremely disturbing to know how race horses suffer every day of their lives and yet the general public never gives it a thought. No wonder deaths due to pulmonary issues and increasing drastically. What I learned from your research is deeply disturbing. But, as with all information–positive and negative– we have the opportunity to learn from it, and God-willing, evolve and change our behavior. Horses are wonderful, intuitive, beautiful creatures. To know that every single day of a race horse’s life is a sentence of pain and misery must surely cause each one of us to act. When you are educated to the truth, you have a responsibility to act. We all need to step up our opposition to racing. Anyone with a mildly-functioning conscience can clearly see that abusing and exploiting animals for profit and amusement can no longer be tolerated in a truly civilized society. Again thank you so much, and thank you Patrick for facilitating this excellent information.

  18. I have long been an admirer of Dr. Cook and his pioneering work with bitless bridles for horses. He has effectively demonstrated that traditional bits are not only cruel but impede a horse’s performance through painful distraction and impaired breathing.

    Any horse can be effectively trained with a bitless bridle and he/she will move more freely whether in the field, the show ring or in competitive sports. All riding disciplines require excellent communication between the rider and horse. The bitless bridle facilitates better and more natural communication by distributing the contact points more broadly and to much less sensitive areas on the entire head.

    There is no valid reason why racehorses should be subjected to torturous control devices. The damage inflicted by traditional bits is counterproductive.

  19. When children learn to ride a horse, very seldom, almost never, are they taught about the purpose of bits. They learn nothing about the pain that these instruments cause. If they purchase a horse, many times, the bridle and saddle comes with the horse. Without question, they use both and know nothing about why they are putting a metal device into the horses mouth and a chain under his chin. I’ve been able to ride horses with a halter and two lead ropes. From the pictures I’ve seen of these racehorses, the metal ring and snaffle bits, along with the lip chains are torture. Even the halter is too long, cutting off the horse’s ability to breath. I can only surmize that these devices are being used because the people have fear of the horses. There is no mutual trust, but why would there be, the entire racing industry exists by abusing horses in every way possible.

    • You’re absolutely right, Susan! This abusing horses in every way possible in horseracing includes the use of performance enhancing drugs. Anyone who wants to achieve a greater degree of horsemanship skills and is interested in the best interest of the horses, as opposed to winning races, doesn’t use Performance Enhancing Drugs, illegal street drugs, shocking devices, whipping or tongue ties and cruel bits. Racing to win is not about what is in the best interest of the horse, not even close!

  20. If ever there was a must-read, must-circulate article, this particular posting is it! I do hope people check out the entire Abstract found at the link provided above by Horseracing Wrongs:

    You will note there are 28 cited supporting references. I challenge the Jockey Club or any racing veterinarian or entity to provide a response.

    Dr. Robert Cook is outstanding in his field and his lifetime of experience is there for all to absorb and acknowledge the health danger (including death) and cruelty imposed on every horse forced to endure the use of bits, tongue ties, lip chains and the like.

    The pictures shown are typical for racehorses at every track and let no one tell you otherwise. Imagine running for your life, while being whipped, unable to breathe properly while you slowly feel yourself suffocating. What more can be done to these magnificent beings used solely as gambling objects?

    Thank you, Dr. Cook, for your exceptional work. Thank you, Horseracing Wrongs for sharing this with all of us. Thank you to all who read this in anticipation of you distributing this far and wide.

    We all can make a difference so let’s do it!

  21. I have used Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle for years! it’s wonderful. I am a long time advocate for bitless bridles. No horse should be ridden with a bit.

  22. Every time I see the garbage that is put in horses mouths, it makes me sick.

  23. Look at the expression in his eyes-it sums up his condition. Disgusting.

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