Noseband November

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Noseband November – how tight is too tight?

By Lindsay Grice

Lindsay is an renowned Ontario riding coach, horse show judge. You may know her as a columnist or speaker, specializing in equine behavior and equitation science.

Standard equipment in English disciplines. Training equipment in western. While nosebands are designed to prevent bit evasion, in the horse business, we’re inclined to think, “If a little is good, more is better!
 
Equestrian Canada initiated “Noseband November” , following a noseband measuring project at horse shows last year. (See below for horse show rules and current research findings re nosebands).
 
The question upstream from noseband “restrictions” is -Are we masking bit evasion without asking WHY the horse might be resisting?
 
The International Society of Equitation Science responded to the dilemma of cranking nosebands in equine sport with studies and by designing a noseband gauge for horse show ring stewards:
 
“Some equestrian manuals and competition rule books propose that ‘two fingers’ be used as a spacer to guard against over-tightening, but fail to specify where they should be applied or, indeed, the size of the fingers.”
“When this device was used to check noseband tightness on 737 horses at a variety of national and international dressage and eventing competitions, 44% of nosebands were found to be too close to the horse’s face to accommodate the tip of the taper gauge under the noseband. By extrapolation, this revealed that we are routinely preventing swallowing, chewing, yawning and licking in the name of sport.” I.S.E.S.
 
The EC rule, amended last year reads:
Cruelty can be defined as causing pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse. As examples, an act of cruelty can be but is not limited to any of the following:
a) nosebands used in such a way that they interfere with the horse’s breathing, or be tight enough to cause pain or discomfort
Although we cannot interview horses to ask them how it feels to have an over-tightened noseband, the research is convincing that it’s a significant welfare issue.
 
Here’s a summary:
Horses wearing tight nosebands, have demonstrated elevated physiological stress responses (Fenner et al., 2016; McGreevy, 2012), are prevented from performing normal oral behaviours such as chewing, licking, and tongue resalivation (Fenner et al., 2016; McGreevy, 2012), experience stress due to constant unrelenting pressure, may experience physiological damage to nasal bones (Crago et al., 2019), and commonly experience pressure that greatly exceeds that of a tourniquet, which in humans restricts arterial blood flow and causes significant pain and potential nerve damage (Casey et al., 2013).
 

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