In English

Kimo hevonen seisoo korvat hörössä kun ihminen pitää sen ohjista kiinni.

Operantit Ratsastajat ry (”Operant Riders”) is a Finnish equestrian association affiliated with the Equestrian Federation of Finland. Our aim is to integrate current scientific knowledge with traditional, horse friendly training methods.

The club was founded in 2015 and one of the first topics we raised can be found below.



Proposals to change the national competition rules at the Equestrian Federation of Finland General Assembly April 24th, 2016

At the meeting the sports director of the Equestrian Federation of Finland (EFF), Aki Ylänne, gave an update on the progress of the rule change proposals made by Operant Riders (OpeRa).

According to EFF rules, changes to the competition rules are made as follows. First, a rule change is proposed by a member (in this case, Operant Riders, a member club of the EFF). After this, the EFF asks for statements from the committees of the disciplines in question and/or other experts. After this the rule committee makes a proposal for a rule change. In the case of a proposed change to the rules of separate riding disciplines, the rules are approved by the board of the EFF.

Ylänne commented that the proposals made by OpeRa are well prepared and are made in the same spirit as the current competition rules. They don’t propose to delete any current rules but to add more possibilities. They are generally formulated and don’t include specific sentences to be added or replaced. (OpeRa promised to deliver specific suggestions at a later date.)

At the moment of the assembly in April, the board of the Equestrian Federation of Finland has delivered the proposals to the different committees in question and are awaiting their response. The rule committee has also received the proposal for preparation. The proposal has been discussed with the official trainers of the national teams and also with other experts.

The proposals have also been the topic of discussion at the FEI Sports Forum and will be discussed at the meeting of the Nordic Equestrian Federations later this spring.

Sports director Ylänne and the Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of Finland Fred Sundwall said that the reactions to the proposals have been generally very positive. The same topics are being discussed in other countries as well. Some practical issues were mentioned, for instance who will be measuring the tightness of the noseband at shows and the topic of qualifying class results if the national rules allow different bridles than the FEI does.

Summa summarum: Because the rule changes must be approved by the board and not the General Assembly, the proposals weren’t voted on. The rule changes are handled the way all rule changes are according to EFF rules. The proposals have generated huge interest and created a lot of discussion both in Finland and worldwide and this has proven that the welfare of the horse is a still more current subject which is taken seriously.

Links to more information and stories about the proposal:


Operantit Ratsastajat ry (”Operant Riders” OpeRa) has submitted the following propositions to change the competition rules of the Equestrian Federation of Finland (SRL) on February 23th, 2016.

The propositions will be put to the vote at the SRL General Meeting on April 24th, 2016.

The goals of OpeRa are to improve horse and rider welfare and safety. The proposals below for rule changes concerning use of the noseband, draw reins and spurs stem from these same goals.

We hope that our proposals will encourage a debate on these issues well before the General Meeting and we hope that as many SRL member clubs as possible will choose to vote for as many of the proposed rule changes as they see fit.

We’re happy to receive any comments and will be pleased if this link is shared as extensively as possible.

Please note that this is an approximate and amateur translation of the original Finnish document. Any irregularities are the fault of the translator, Minna Tallberg, who assumes no responsibility whatsoever for anything.

Proposed changes to the competition rules of the Equestrian Federation of Finland

Operantit Ratsastajat ry proposes the following changes to the competition rules of SRL:

1. Use of the noseband to be voluntary in all dressage classes

2. Determining the greatest allowed tightness of the noseband and measuring noseband tightness at competitions

3. Allowing the use of bitless bridles in all dressage classes

4. Allowing the use of snaffle bridles in all dressage classes

5. Prohibiting the use of draw reins in the warmup at competitions in all disciplines

6. Use of spurs to be voluntary in all dressage classes

We also propose that the Finnish Equestrian Federation submit the same proposals to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) for the same rule changes to be made to the FEI international competition rules.

1. Use of the noseband to be voluntary in all dressage classes

Operantit Ratsastajat proposes that competing without a noseband shall be allowed in dressage.

According to the FEI Code of Conduct the welfare of the horse is paramount. The definition of horse welfare is that the horse may live as naturally as possible, to behave as naturally as possible and live without discomfort or pain, illness or injury and without fear (Hockenhull & Whay 2014). The noseband is an addition to the bridle that is used to balance the bit, keep the horse’s mouth closed (McLean & McGreevy 2010) and to sensitize the horse to the bit (Casey et al 2013 & McGreevy et al 2013).

The noseband is not an essential piece of equipment nor is it used to improve communication between rider and horse. It is possible to ride a horse without a noseband. When additional equipment is used you should always determine why it is used. The reason should not be purely aestethical. If the use of an additional piece of equipment is detrimental to horse welfare, there is no good reason for using it and using it shouldn’t be compulsory.

A tight noseband causes the inside of the horse’s cheeks to be pressed against the edge of the teeth and causes ulceration to the mucous membranes (McLean & McGreevy 2010). Miettinen (2015) found most of the lesions inside the mouth in parts in contact with noseband and bit. The edges of the horse’s molars are supposed to be be sharp to aid in mincing roughage (ie. hay). When a noseband is used it is necessary to prevent injury to the cheeks by using a rasp to make the teeth smooth so as to avoid cheek ulceration, but this interferes with the horse’s ability to chew hay.

A tight noseband has been shown to limit the ability of the mouth and tongue to move, to interfere with swallowing saliva (Manfredi et al 2005, McGreevy et al 2011), with opening the mouth (Manfredi et al 2010) and to weaken the circulation in the head (McGreevy et al 2012). A tight noseband has been shown to sensitize the horse to the bit (Casey et al 2013 and Randle & McGreevy et al 2013) as the horse cannot redistribute the pressure from the bit by moving his mouth and tongue nor alleviate excessive pressure to the sensitive areas of the mouth, as in the interdental space of the lower jaw (Manfredi et al 2010).

By using a tight noseband the false impression that the horse accepts the bit may be given and better marks in a dressage test reached at the expense of the horse’s welfare (McGreevy et al 2012). The discomfort and/or pain caused by a tight noseband causes the horse stress. This can be shown using thermography which has been proved to show an increase in the temperature of the eye and by using a heart rate monitor to indicate increased heart rates (McGreevy et al 2012). Increased stress increases behavioural problems during riding.

2. Determining the greatest allowed tightness of the noseband and measuring noseband tightness at competitions

Operantit Ratsastajat ry proposes that the noseband taper gauge developed by the International Society of Equitation Science, ISES, is routinely used in all classes and on all horses that uses a noseband, also on horses ridden in bitless bridles. We propose that the tightest allowed noseband is at the ”two finger” mark on the ISES gauge.

The FEI dressage rules (2015) states that the noseband should never be so tight as to cause injury to the horse. The rules do not, however, state how to measure the tightness of the noseband nor what the suitable tightness is.

Traditionally it has been considered acceptable to tighten the noseband so that two fingers can be fitted below it. It has never been defined whose fingers should fit below the noseband, a woman’s or man’s, adult or child and how far and at what point the measurement should be taken (McGreevy et al 2012). The tightness will then differ according to who measures it. McGreevy’s (2012) study found an average size of the middle joint of an adult’s index and middle fingers and based on this ISES developed a noseband taper gauge. There are two lines on the ISES gauge, one indicating the width of one finger, the other one two fingers. The ISES gauge guarantees an objective and accurate result and is not prone to wrong interpretation.

The ISES gauge [using the two finger mark] makes sure the horse has enough space to move his mouth and teeth to a certain extent. The horse still isn’t able to fully express his natural behaviour, for instance yawning, so even a loose fitting noseband interferes with the natural behaviour of the horse. Miettinen (2015) found most of the ulcerations to the mouth at the areas influenced by nosebands and bits. An ulceration to the soft tissues of the mouth causes the horse discomfort.

The tightness of the noseband should be measured at all competitions on all the horses using nosebands. The tightness should be measured on top of the nasal bone (McGreevy et al 2012) as the bone isn’t flexible, as opposed to the soft tissues below the jaw. This assures as accurate a measurement as possible. The maximum noseband tightness allowed should be at the two finger mark of the ISES gauge. Any use of a tighter noseband during warm-up and test should be disallowed. Particular attention should be given to the so-called pullback nosebands, where the lever impact makes it possible to tighten the noseband excessively (McGreevy et al 2012).

3. Allowing the use of bitless bridles in all dressage classes

Operantit Ratsastajat ry proposes that the use of bitless bridles are allowed in all dressage classes and that the dressage rules are changed accordingly, replacing the term ”acceptance of the bit” with ”acceptance of the bridle”.

To assure horse welfare the rider should be allowed to choose the equipment which is the least detrimental to the health and welfare of the horse. We propose that the following bitless bridles be allowed (images 2 a-g): crossunder, sidepull, cavesson, hackamore/flower hackamore, LG/Star Wheel and Micklem bitless bridle.

The horse doesn’t have an anatomical empty space for the bit, so the bit always takes up the space of some other tissue in the mouth (McLean & McGreevy 2010). The communication using the bit is based on pressure and release of pressure. This uses the very sensitive sense of touch and pain inside the horse’s mouth. The pressure of the bit is distributed in the areas of the corners of the mouth, tongue, the interdental space between premolars and incisors and, through the bridle, to the poll and nose. The bit can also cause pressure to the hard roof of the mouth and it may touch the teeth.

The bitless bridle also uses pressure and release of pressure for communication but the pressure is situated in a less sensitive area of the head. A study has shown that horses halt better when using a crossunder bitless bridle than when using a snaffle bit and even halt as well as when a curb bit is used (Randle & Wright 2013). A bitless bridle is as safe or even safer as a bit for communication and control of the horse.

The bit is a foreign object in the horse’s mouth. A horse not used to the bit will try to get rid of this foreign object by opening his mouth and pushing the bit with his teeth. The bit is suspected of activating the digestive system of the horse and activating saliva production as well as the swallowing reflex (Cook 1999). When the horse becomes habituated to the bit he keeps it still in his mouth unless pressure is applied (Manfredi et al 2010). By moving his tongue the horse can influence which part of the mouth the pressure of the bit is applied to. On the other hand the pressure of the bit influences the ability of the tongue to move and may interfere with swallowing saliva (Cook 1999). It is still not known which amount of pressure causes the horse discomfort. The border between pressure and pain is unclear (McGreevy 2011).

Incorrect use of the bit, including severe long or short term tension of the reins or using a bit which is not completely smooth, can cause ulcerations to the horse’s mouth. Studies have shown that the bit and the noseband are one of the most common cause of ulceration in the mouth (Tell et al 2008, Miettinen 2015). Tell (2008) showed that horses who were ridden with a bit had significantly more ulceration in the cheek and corner of mouth areas than horses not being ridden.

Miettinen (2015) showed in her study that 78% of horses ridden with a bit had changes in pigmentation in the corners of the mouth, caused by the bit, and 78% also had one or more lesions in the areas under the noseband or bit. Björnsdottir et al (2014) found that the use of a curb bit significantly increased risk of injury to the bony interdental space of the lower jaw. When a curb bit was used, 67% of the injuries to the interdental space were severe. The interdental space doesn’t have the ability to distribute pressure as the soft and elastic tongue does.

Miettinen (2015) found that 59% of horses ridden with a bit showed wear of the front and upper sides of the first premolars. The first premolars are damaged when the horse takes the bit between the teeth to avoid the pain from the bit pressure. The wear to the tooth may cause the revelation of the sensitive core of the tooth and may cause the need for a root canal to the tooth. When the horse is ridden in a bitless bridle there is no bit in the mouth that would cause wear to the teeth or pressure to the soft tissue or bony interdental space inside the mouth.

Pressure caused by the bit in the mouth has been suspected to cause many of the problem behaviours seen during riding (Cook 2002). Problem behaviour always indicates a welfare problem. Miettinen (2015) found several common behavioural problems which points to the bit as a cause, including opening the mouth, being heavy on the reins and the tongue hanging out of the horse’s mouth. None of the horses ridden bitless had signs of blood in the mouth nor were they pushing the tongue out of the mouth.

Cook (2002) found that over 50 behavioural problems were solved when the snaffle bit was exchanged for a crossunder bridle. Cook described some of these problems as being heavy in the reins, putting the tongue over the bit, the tongue hanging outside the mouth and head shaking.

It is easier to cause the horse discomfort using a bit than when using a bitless bridle. The bit has been suspected to cause the displacement of the soft palate (DDSPE) (Cook 2002). The displacement of the soft palate causes interference with the airways, a distinctive sound during physical stress and can also interfere with performance.

Some horses get so called wolf teeth in the interdental space in front of the premolars. The bit may hit the wolf teeth and cause discomfort to the horse. It is still recommended to have the wolf teeth removed if they interfere with the use of the bit. If bitless bridles are allowed in competition, the normal anatomy of the mouth can be left intact.

4. Allowing the use of snaffle bridles in all dressage classes

Operantit Ratsastajat propose that the snaffle bridle is allowed in all dressage classes. In dressage, the horse’s acceptance of the bit, harmony and lightness are assessed (FEI 2015). The goal of riding is to have the horse trained to obey as small a pressure as possible. On the surface it may seem that the horse accepts the curb bit better than the snaffle bit but in reality the curb bit, because of the lever effect involved, can cause a greater pressure to the horse’s mouth using less tension of the rein (McLean & McGreevy 2010).

A greater pressure increases the risk of pressure injuries and ulceration in the mouth.

The curb bit requires greater skill, lighter contact and quicker reactions than the snaffle bit. This makes the rule prohibiting the use of the double bridle in lower dressage classes well founded. In the upper classes the rider should have the option of choosing whether to use a snaffle or double bridle. The only reason for using a curb bit and double bridle shouldn’t just be aesthetic.

It is contradictory that harsher equipment is favoured at a higher level. The skill of the rider shouldn’t be judged on whether he or she can use harsher equipment correctly but on whether he or she has learned to communicate with as little pressure as possible. The rider should have the option to choose the equipment that is the best for the horse’s welfare.

Fitting a double bridle can be difficult on some horses because of the anatomic conformation of their mouths. Miettinen (2015) measured the space between upper and lower jaw at the level of the bit. This measurement indicates how thick a bit can be used without it causing unneccessarily strong pressure to the tongue or preventing the horse from closing his mouth. The measurements were 24-49 mm (Miettinen 2015).

Normally the tongue fills the whole mouth cavity and the bit always takes up space from the tongue and causes pressure to the tongue (Clayton & Lee 1984, Engelke & Gasse 2003). The thickness of the tongue varies. In reality a horse with a distance of 24 mm between the lower and upper jaw with a legal snaffle bit of 12 mm in his mouth has only 12 mm left for the tongue itself.

Too thick a bit causes compression of the tongue, constant discomfort to the horse and forces the horse to open its mouth or stick the tongue out. A horse who has a small space between the upper and lower jaw may be impossible to fit with a double bridle conforming to current rules without causing discomfort to the horse simply by putting two bits in its mouth. This would make using a thin snaffle bit the better option for a horse like this.

Dressage should reward and aim to use equipment that have the least possible impact on the health of the horse’s mouth and the horse’s welfare. Equipment should not be used to hide communication problems between rider and horse, to prevent the horse from showing discomfort caused by equipment or the rider’s aids. This makes it possible for the judges to accurately assess the level of training and the horse has a possibility to perform in the best way possible.

5. Prohibiting the use of draw reins in the warmup at competitions in all disciplines

Operantit Ratsastajat proposes that the use of draw reins is prohibited during the warm-up and on the show grounds in all disciplines. Draw reins are additional equipment used to guide the horse into holding a static position. Draw reins use a lever effect which makes a lesser rein pressure cause greater pressure in the horse’s mouth. Draw reins may be used to force the horse into a frame where the horse’s neck shortens, but the highest point of the neck is different to when the horse goes ”on the bit” voluntarily and the nose may be behind the vertical (McLean & McGreevy 2010). When the horse is forced into a position by severe pressure to the mouth, the neck muscles are tense and the normal movement of the head inherent to the gaits are prevented (McLean & McGreevy 2010). Draw reins may be used to induce hyperflexion of the neck during warmup. Hyperflexion is suspected to cause stiffness of neck and back muscles and muscle tension, to cause stress to the intervertebral discs and neck ligament and predispose the horse to lameness.

6. Use of spurs to be voluntary in all dressage classes

Operantit Ratsastajat proposes that the use of spurs should be voluntary in all dressage classes. Spurs are additional metal equipment which is attached to the boot of the rider and are used to intensify the rider’s leg aids. At the moment the rules of SRL say that spurs made of metal are part of the dressage test dress code. Pony riders may use spurs in pony classes if they wish. All riders shall use spurs in open classes. Fake spurs without knobs are allowed.

In dressage equipment that is the most beneficial for horse welfare should be used and it shouldn’t be compulsory to use equipment which may harm horse welfare. The use of metal spurs cause severe pressure to the side of the horse, as the squeezing action of the leg is concentrated in a very small area. The use of spurs may cause pressure injuries, ulceration and pain to the skin and muscle tissue of the horse. The goal in riding is to train the horse to respond to the lightest possible pressure.

The use of spurs gives the incorrect impression that the horse is responsive to small aids when in reality a small leg aid may cause a great pressure to the horse’s flanks. The correct use of spurs calls for great skill as they may easily be used incorrectly and cause the horse discomfort. The goal of dressage is, however, that the horse should respond to the smallest aid of the rider.

These proposals were drafted by Mirjami Miettinen Lic. Vet. Med. (Licentiate of Veterinary Medicine)

Contact info: Milla Lind, email:


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