Seck, M., Jobling, R., Brown, A. F. 2023. Trialling locally made, low-cost bits to improve bit-related welfare problems in cart horses: Findings from a study in Senegal. Animals 13(1), 2.
Bits used for cart horses in Senegal are typically made of recovered construction iron and often have defects related to design, shape, fit and metal quality. Consequently, there is widespread presence of bit-related oral injury amongst these equids. It was hypothesised that improving bit design would ameliorate bit-related welfare issues for working cart horses. This study aimed to develop locally made alternative bit prototypes and test their efficacy as less harmful to working horses, and their acceptability to their drivers. Eight animal-based welfare indicators (four physical and four behavioural) were designed to measure positive or negative effects of the new bits. Following a testing phase to appraise and mitigate potential animal welfare risk associated with the alternative bit designs, a total of 540 driver/horse combinations were opportunistically selected across five municipalities in Senegal. Welfare indicators were observed when new bits were introduced and again after 21 weeks of daily use. The results indicated statistically significant improvements in all welfare indicators measured (i.e., lesions on lip commissures, tongue, buccal mucosa and bars; and open mouth, tongue loll, head toss/shake, and head tilt/turn behaviours). None of the drivers reported any difficulty with horse control, nor chose to revert back to their original bits. Whilst acknowledging the limitation of inability to control all potential confounding variables, these preliminary findings suggest the bit itself as an important contributor to oral injury, and the possibility to improve this through alternative bit design that is low-cost, locally produced and acceptable to drivers.