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.”