Tight nosebands are prevalent in horse sport, and they do harm says ISES

POSTED ON  |  06-11-2019

Crossed noseband
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.

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