Dear Mrs Petersen
As you will be aware, NHTEC has been an active, ethical horse training BHS Riding club since 2008. In 2012 NHTEC became the first PRO-CHOICE Riding club in the UK and in 2013 the club submitted a formal application requesting a rule change to allow bitless bridles and optional nosebands in bitted bridles in all UK horse sport.
Over the years NHTEC has been progressive in its approach to horse training, implementing and facilitating the opportunity for our trainers and members to have access to the highest calibre of Equestrian individuals who use objective, science-based behaviour principles (learning theory) to ensure the welfare and safety of horses and their riders/owners. These equestrians have included, Dr Andrew McLean, (2007 & 2009), Dr Helen Spence (2012), Suzanne Rogers, Catherine Bell, Ben Hart (2014), Dr. Sue Dyson (2007), Pete Ramey USA Farrier and Avis Senior BHSAI & Author, to name a few. NHTEC has established sound principles of welfare for the training and riding of horses and strong links have been developed with the scientific community, equine welfare charities and leading behaviourists.
In 2014, the British Horse Society (BHS), British Equine Federation (BEF) and British Dressage (BD) turned down NHTEC’s request for CHOICE and the rule change for both juniors and adults. If accepted, there would have been real improvements in horse welfare signifying a change in the mindset of equestrians which in turn would have created a positive impact on UK horse sport. NHTEC feel that the value of welfare was not taken into consideration. Put simply, many horses prefer to be ridden bitless, they perform better and become safer, more responsive rides. The club believes that the failure of BEF adopting a rule change supporting CHOICE was a lost opportunity for both horse and rider. The equestrian associations have not been able to put forward any supporting evidence to continue with the current, rigid, traditional status of banning bitless riders in many events.
Sadly, it appears that BEF, the BHS and BD are part of the problem, not the solution. In time, NHTEC are confident that bitless riders will be proved right and public pressure will continue to demand that riders be given the CHOICE regarding bitting. The inclusion of modern bitless bridles in all horse sport will be an ethical and progressive initiative in equestrianism. The BEF, BHS and BD should be leading the way rather than resisting such progress.
Since 2014 NHTEC has continued to encourage and facilitate individuals, associations and equestrian establishments that share the ethos of the club, to promote fairness and equality for those riders investigating kinder, non-aversive tack and training methods. NHTEC supports those organisations that promote benign training and interaction with horses that adopt the Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) principles. NHTEC aligns its energies to organisations that promote shared ethical principles such as the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC), Equine Behaviour Training Consultants (EBTA), International Society of Equitation Science (ISES), Animal Behaviour Training Council (ABTC), the Association of Pet Behaviour Consultants (APBC) and other such associations.
Unfortunately NHTEC does not feel the BHS has shared this view. While some progress has been seen, it is achingly slow, with reluctance by the associations in adopting non-aversive, evidence based training. The application of BHS training methods still relies largely on coercion and punishment. Indeed the BHS advocates that the horse is there to be used, any change or criticism is often seen as an infringement on the riders ‘right’ to use the horse in any way they see fit. NHTEC can only conclude that money is the fundamental reason to block change. There are very few organisations acting as the voice for the horse, because of the inherent drive for financial reward, interest only in the traditional status quo, pandering to membership fees, promoters, sponsors and indeed celebrity.
However, NHTEC have been pleased to see that, despite the punitive restrictions by the BHS in its licensed schools, interest has continued to flourish in bitless riding and welfare orientated ethical training. This change is now being adopted by other riding schools who are delivering an exciting and very popular level of ridden instruction to young equestrians, namely East Devon Riding academy and closer to home, Nine Acres Equestrian. On social media there is great interest in benign horse/human interactions across the equestrian disciplines through various groups such as Concordia ‘Putting Horses First’
Given the evidence, NHTEC feel the club can no longer justify supporting the BHS financially through membership. This decision has not been taken lightly and it is with sadness that the club has decided to cut its links with the BHS.
There is a national groundswell of ordinary riders getting involved using ethical training methods and making valuable changes in their behaviour resulting in increased levels of welfare and understanding of their horses. NHTEC will therefore, continue as a private, ethical training club, to support the many riders and horse owners who want to ride and own their horses in an ethical, informed, scientifically proven way.
NHTEC will continue to lobby for change for a fairer system for all horses and riders in UK competitions and to improve the welfare of the horse through ethical training and management protocols.