Researchers probe pressure from nosebands


noseband-stockResearchers from Ireland and Australia have completed preliminary development of two methods of measuring noseband pressure, which could impact on the welfare of the ridden horse.

Some riders believe a tight noseband enhances bit pressure, allowing rein aids to be more effective. This goes against the standard recommendation for adjustment of the noseband, where the space between the noseband and the nasal midline should easily allow the insertion of two fingers, allowing the horse normal jaw movement.

Orla Doherty, of the University of Limerick in Ireland, and her research team investigated the level of noseband tightness being used at equestrian competitions.

The researchers studied 850 show jumpers, and found only 20 percent were fitted with a simple cavesson noseband; the majority used flash or grackle nosebands.

“We are also interested in how tight these nosebands are being fastened,” said Doherty, who presented the findings of her team’s research at the recent International Society for Equitation Science annual conference in Delaware, in the United States.

“Of 201 young event and hunter horses studied, only 12 percent had nosebands loose enough to enable two fingers to fit underneath, and 47 percent had nosebands too tight to fit any fingers underneath.

In addition to possible physical damage, excessively tight nosebands may impact negatively on horse and rider safety.

“A horse experiencing pain while being ridden is more likely to display flight and fear responses, such as head tossing, bolting etc,” Doherty said.

The researchers developed two approaches to estimate noseband pressures on horses – one measuring dynamic tension in the noseband and inferring pressures based on the anatomical curvature of the horse’s nose; the other using pressure sensors deployed at specific noseband-tissue contact points.

In the first of two studies, an Irish cob was fitted with the bridle and noseband, where a “two-finger” tightness was established using the noseband taper gauge  promoted by the ISES.

Information was collected while the horse wore the noseband, and was fed both hay and hard feed. Results showed rhythmic peaking of pressures while the horse chewed, and when the animal was given the cue to back up.

The system is wireless, allowing data logging under normal exercise conditions.

In the second study, the same horse was ridden under saddle at walk, trot and canter through changes of rein. Inter-gait transitions were assessed; and the horse was also ridden over a small jump. Large pressure pulses were observed when the horse was ridden, which correlated to transitions, turns, during jumping, and when the horse stumbled.

The physiological impact of high pressures – either sustained or pulsed – on animal tissue is as yet unknown; however, in humans, high pressures are known to cause tissue and nerve damage.

Doherty said more data need to be collected to validate the measurement technique and demonstrate a correlation between anomalously high pressures and animal behaviour and welfare outcomes.

Researchers would like to establish objective metrics that could guide best practice.

“We really don’t know what happens to soft tissues when we tighten the noseband,” Doherty said.

“If the horse physically can’t open its mouth, then are the fluctuations in pressure or force going to be greater or less or displaced to the bit-oral cavity interface? Much remains to be done to answer these questions.”

Latest research and information from the horse world.

7 thoughts on “Researchers probe pressure from nosebands

  • August 10, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Interesting article,as I have been a preponent of 2 finger noseband for years, and had disagreements with coaches from Europe and NA over my stand. However, I also have horses that were schooled/shown by others, and some have a concave place where the noseband sits. I believe this is visual confirmation that the nosebands were too tight,and reshaped the horses frontal bones/tissue.

    • August 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      I’ve seen the same thing in some horses from top competitive horses more than any other type, but interestingly, my “bush-pony” has the same groove which apparently comes from being tethered with a halter on and him leaning on the halter… I get a lot of flak from people who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about, when they berate me for being cruel… They get a surprise when I invite them to check the fit of my noseband, for sure!

  • August 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    As professional bitting specialist in the uk we are very keen to see the results of this research as we are already aware that a horse with a tight nose and can prevent the horses lower jaw being able slide back when the horse drops into the outline, fundimental to the horse creating a relaxed outline which is tension free. We are also very keen to see if this information can also go on to prove the fact that a tight nose and, which then creates tension then effects the fitness of the horse ie the level of fatigue, that we know us related.
    Good luck to them and we certainly will be watching this outcome very closely!

  • August 13, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Have you tried to buy a bridle without a crank or hano noseband lately – it has been the standard feature in NZ brides for the past 10 years and is completely fashion driven. And the latest fashion in bits is the gag. When will sadderly suppliers get with the programme and start pick and mix bridles so that you can get the right fit and equipment for your horse.

    • August 19, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      I struggled with this one when I bought my ID-X mare two years ago but recently came across a website that offered a choice of nosebands and browbands(padded or unpadded, plain, crank or flash) to fit their basic bridle which also has a comfort headslip. Their products are made from lovely soft english leather, are beautifully made and cost much less than a lot of the big name brands so thanks and well done to this company for accomodating both horse comfort and owner pocket.

      • July 20, 2015 at 4:00 am

        Don’t keep us in suspense! Please provide a link or name!

  • July 19, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    I have given up using what we used to call dropped nosebands as I did not like what they were doing to my horse. Yes, it is true. It is almost impossible to find a Saddlery shop in New
    Zealand which has just normal nosebands and even those that do have an ugly piece of leather to accommodate the drop noseband!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.