Noseband Tightness in Competition Evaluated

Noseband Tightness in Competition Evaluated

Of the nosebands evaluated, 44% were so tight that even the tip of the gauge could not fit underneath at the frontal nasal plane.

Photo: iStock

While the “two-finger” recommendation for noseband tightness might be widely understood, recent study results suggest that its application is not. Researchers found that only 7% of horses in competitions had nosebands tightened to within this recommended limit. The rest, they said, were too tight.

“We really need regulations in place as well as better education of coaches to protect horses from the effects of tight nosebands,” said Orla Doherty, MVB, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, of the University of Limerick, in Ireland. Doherty, whose research was supported by the Royal Dublin Society, presented her study at the 12th Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES), held June 23-26 in Saumur, France.

Tight nosebands can reach pressure levels that exceed that of tourniquets used to restrict blood flow, Doherty explained. In fact, she added, during certain movements like jumping, those pressure levels can exceed three times the pressure used in tourniquets. While researchers are still trying to figure out how to evaluate pain related to noseband tightness, scientists have already studied pain levels in relation to tourniquet tightness in humans. Half the volunteers in one study had to withdraw because they found the pain intolerable, even though it was at pressure levels lower than what scientists have recorded for noseband tightness, she said.

Doherty, in collaboration with colleagues, including Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVSc, professor of animal behavior and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia, evaluated 750 competing horses in three countries. They measured the horses’ noseband tightness immediately before or after a performance in a national or an international competition in England, Ireland, and Belgium. The researchers used the ISES noseband gauge, designed to provide an objective measurement of one or two ‘’fingers,’’ to measure noseband tightness.

Only 7% of the nosebands were loose enough to be classified as two-finger tightness, Doherty said. There were 19% at the 1.5-finger level and 23% at the 1-finger level. However, the vast majority—44%—were so tight that even the tip of the gauge could not fit under the noseband at the frontal nasal plane.

Researchers found the tightest nosebands among the eventers, with dressage horses following close behind. The lowest level of tightness occurred among performance hunter classes, she said.

Nosebands bind the horse’s face in an area comprised of many kinds of very sensitive tissue, Doherty said. The horse’s nose at the noseband level features bone just under the skin, the bulge of the teeth, the infraorbital nerve that transmits neurologic information to and from the nose, and many muscles and blood vessels. “It is also likely that the temporomandibular (jaw) joint is restricted by a very tight noseband from opening,” she said.

The pressures used in tight nosebands have already been determined by previous studies to be equivalent to those shown to cause tissue damage in other species (such as in tourniquet use), she added.

“Unlike tourniquet pressure, the pressure exerted by nosebands is pulsatile (intermittent), and further research is required to ascertain the effect of these pressures on sub-noseband tissues,” Doherty said. “However, given the frequency of nosebands tightened to the extent found during this study, this practice may cause uncomfortable levels of pressure and pain in horses and is difficult to justify on welfare grounds.”

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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