Noseband Tightness' Effect on Performance Horse Behavior

Noseband Tightness' Effect on Performance Horse Behavior

Tightening the noseband just one hole appears to reduce the amount of rein tension needed to maintain bit contact.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

What's the purpose of your horse's noseband--do you choose it for comfort? Better performance? Keeping the horse's mouth shut? Whatever the reason, according to a leading British equitation scientist, it could be time to reevaluate how tight the noseband is, because it's likely to affect how you ride your horse.

The amount of tension a rider puts into the reins to maintain contact with the bit varies significantly with the tightness of the noseband, said Hayley Randle, PhD, researcher in the equitation science department at Duchy College in Cornwall, U.K. The looser the noseband is, the more tension is needed on the reins to get the same contact with the horse's mouth and, in turn, the desired effect, she said.

"Noseband tightness definitely seems to increase sensitivity to the bit, as it has an effect on rein tension applied to achieve medium contact," Randle said during her presentation at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands. "Therefore we should take this very seriously, and careful consideration needs to be given to the fitting of nosebands and in particular riders' use of noseband tightness as a means to achieve a required outcome in equitation."

In their study Randle and her colleagues evaluated six Duchy College geldings all ridden in tests by a single rider. Fitted with their own regular bridles, the horses were tested when walking, trotting, and stopping, as well as through related transitions, with three levels of noseband tightness: at the "normal" hole that the horses were used to, loosened by one hole, and tightened by one hole. The horses were outfitted with masks so the rider was blinded to the tightness of the noseband. The tension the rider put on the reins during testing was measured with the Rein Check device.

The team determined that tighter nosebands generally resulted in slightly less rein tension, but the biggest difference was with looser nosebands, according to Randle. "When the noseband was slackened just one hole, the horse seemed to habituate very quickly and then was sort of releasing a bit, and therefore the tension that was needed was increased," she said.

"This suggests that noseband tightening makes the horse more sensitive to the bit," she noted. Essentially, tightening the noseband just one hole appears to reduce the amount of rein tension needed to maintain bit contact.

A better understanding of how noseband tightness affects rein tension could lead to better welfare for the horse, Randle said, especially as it pertains to conflict behavior.

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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