January 31, 2012
The use of jaw-clamping nosebands to avoid competition penalties have been condemned by the International Society for Equitation Science, which says they are covering up poor training at the expense of horse welfare.
The society called for a return to the established practice of placing two fingers under the noseband to demonstrate that it had not been over-tightened. The society, in noting that horses were the only animals competing at the Olympic Games, suggested welfare questions could begin to arise around equestrian sports if current trends were allowed to persist.
It said the noseband, a common feature of contemporary bridle designs used on performance horses, was nowadays designed to be acutely tightened to restrict virtually all normal jaw and tongue movements. This, it added, was a fairly recent innovation in noseband design.
Forty years ago, nosebands were largely aesthetic rather than functional.
It said the practice of over-tightening nosebands to avoid penalties in competition is covering up poor training at the expense of horse welfare.
"Recent research suggests that horses wearing tight nosebands undergo a physiological stress response, are sensitized to bit pressure and may have reduced blood flow with potential to cause injuries and tissue damage, including nasal bone deformities, even when padding accompanies the noseband such as in the case of so-called crank nosebands," the society said.
It noted that, in the last few decades, there had been a steady increase in the design of nosebands that effectively mask evidence of a horse's discomfort.
"The incentives for athletes to over-tighten nosebands arise from the rules of dressage that penalize displays of discomfort such as open mouths and lolling tongues.
"These rules were written by the sport's governing bodies to promote excellent training and the demonstration of qualities such as freedom, harmony, lightness and acceptance of the bit without tension.
"Restrictive tight nosebands can prevent the horse from displaying unwanted behaviours such as opening, gaping or crossing the jaw, and are enabling competitors to mask signs of tension which judges should penalise as evidence of inferior training. Thus nosebands may hinder effective judging.
The society called for a return to the established practice of placing two fingers under the noseband to demonstrate that it has not been over-tightened.
This amount of space under the noseband allows horses to express tension or seek relief from the pressure of the bit and so aligns with the principles of ethical equitation.
» The ISES position statement on nosebands
It suggested that, for fairness and objectivity, a standard taper gauge should be used by stewards at competitions. The taper gauge should be placed without force at the nasal midline and be clearly marked to show the desired stop, which, in alignment with established industry guidance, should be the dimensions of two average adult fingers.
In most equestrian disciplines, stewards check that all equipment used on horses complies with the regulations specified for that discipline. With a taper gauge, stewards could ensure that the detrimental effects of over-tightened nosebands could be eliminated or at least lessened, it said.
The society is a non-profit body that aims to facilitate research into the training of horses to enhance horse welfare and improve the horse-rider relationship.
More information: www.equitationscience.com » Blog: Cranking up the lightness and grace in dressage
Horse abuse in the news
What are your thoughts on the topic?