Restrictive nosebands are prevalent in many equestrian disciplines and can compromise horse welfare, the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) says.
The organisation spells out its opposition to restrictive nosebands in no uncertain terms in an updated position statement released this week.
It is much-expanded on its previous position statement, released in 2012.
ISES says restrictive nosebands should be subject to regulation during competition. It also questioned the standard of FEI checks on nosebands, saying they are taken at the wrong place.
The organisation defines a restrictive noseband as one that is tight enough to prevent the placement of two adult fingers between the noseband and the frontal nasal plane of the horse.
It says their use is associated with elevated physiological stress responses and increased prevalence of mouth injuries, thereby compromising equine welfare.
They reduce the ability of horses to swallow, yawn, chew and lick freely. Additionally, they exert high pressures on many sensitive tissues in and around the head.
Such nosebands may mask pain, discomfort and training methods which do not align with learning theory. They may give an unfair competitive advantage to riders relying on sustained and restrictive pressures in place of appropriate and ethical training methods.
ISES says they should be subject to regulation during competition, with standardized monitoring at the frontal nasal plane.
The new statement, which reflects additional scientific evidence of potential adverse effects gathered since 2012, says horses are mainly trained through the use of pressure and its release, a process known as negative reinforcement.
Tack designed to apply pressure carries with it the risk of imposing excessive pressure or failing to release it. In such cases, learning will be less likely to be successful, and the welfare of the horse may be affected.
“A noseband that is tightly fitted is an example of a device that applies constant pressure that cannot release when the horse offers a desired response, unlike during normal use of negative reinforcement. It restricts mouth, jaw and tongue movements, and has the potential to cause pain and injury.”
ISES notes that traditional guidelines for noseband fitting have recommended that the noseband is fitted loosely enough to place two fingers under it when fastened.
However, recent studies have revealed that, among nosebands on 737 horses competing internationally, mainly in eventing and dressage, only 7% were fitted loosely enough for two fingers to fit under the noseband at the frontal nasal plane.
In contrast, 44% were fastened too tightly to allow any measurement device to even fit under the noseband at that location.
Another study involving 3143 competition horses highlighted a significant association between restrictive nosebands and injuries to the corners of the mouth, and suggested that such injuries might be reduced by limiting noseband tightness.
ISES says restrictive nosebands can exert extremely high forces on skin, nerves and bone under the noseband. “These may result in discomfort or pain and injury. The effect of tight nosebands on the underlying structures has not yet been investigated.”
It says the governing bodies of horse sports should endorse and, where appropriate, enforce the use of a standard measuring tool to measure noseband tightness. The most reliable, repeatable and consistent location at which to measure noseband tightness is the frontal nasal plane.
“Since 2016, FEI tack stewards have been advised to conduct a noseband tightness check by introducing an index finger between the horse’s cheek and the noseband.
“However, research has shown that an extremely tight noseband will still allow a finger or measuring device to be introduced easily between the horse’s cheek and the noseband due to the much flatter and in places, concave or hollow, shape of the horse’s face at the side.
“The scarcity of reported incidents of riders being penalised for excessively tightened nosebands in competition suggests a lack of objective monitoring of noseband-related guidelines and recommendations.
“Subjective noseband tightness checks performed without a uniform approach including use of a standardised tool at the frontal nasal plane will result in inconsistent measurements and outcomes. Horse welfare may be compromised as a result.
“Given the peer-reviewed evidence of the high prevalence of restrictive nosebands and their welfare consequences for horses, monitoring noseband adjustment should be prioritised in all horse-sports.”
It argues there is an onus on governing bodies in equestrian sport to participate in further research required in the field through funding, collaboration, open communication and active participation, to help address (or challenge) the remaining questions regarding possible noseband related threats to welfare of the ridden horse.
ISES urges governing bodies to introduce and enforce noseband regulations in all horse sports, specifying that an objective measuring tool of standard circumference, such as the ISES Noseband Taper Gauge, to the two-finger level, is used in all cases.
All should measurements should be carried out at the frontal nasal plane.
Governing bodies should offer greater transparency on how decisions are made in relation to permitted tack and its usage, as well as providing sufficient evidence said regulations are protecting horses from being harmed, ISES says.