There have been many studies which show how a tight nose band can place a painful amount of pressure on the nerves and delicate bones in the horse’s head. However, despite this, some trainers and riders still believe that using the noseband to keep a horse’s mouth closed will make a horse ride better as it stops them fighting which means they then concentrate more on the riders aids.
Many people think that if a horses mouth is shut and quiet then the horse is riding well. But a quiet mouth should be the result of good training and keeping it artificially closed with a noseband shouldn’t be used as shortcut. The horses jaw and tongue should be as free and supple as the rest of the body and more importantly these structures tie into the efficient movement of the rest of the body. If you create tension here then you will only create tension somewhere else.
The Hyoid bone which links into the tongue, also links into muscles that are involved in the movement of the horse’s forelegs so by creating tension here you will restrict the range of movement in your horse’s forelimbs. An equine dissection also revealed that when pressure was applied to the jaw causing the hyoid bone at the base of the tongue to move up and/or back in the jaw, this left the hind legs and hips extremely restricted. As soon as pressure was released, the leg and hip was then freely moved again.
So when our horse opens his mouth, we need to ask what they are communicating to us, and work out how to release tension and improve their their balance and suppleness, not silence them with a flash or tighter noseband. Our horses voice can only be heard by those willing to listen.
I can't help but wonder if our horses even need to wear a noseband at all, particularly when training, apart from the fact that they look good on some horses. Has it just become the norm that a ridden horse has a noseband on at all times?
I'm interested to hear from anyone who rides either with a loose or tight noseband or without a noseband at all and the reasoning behind your choice.
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As a result of research the Danish Riding Federation have set a limit for noseband tightness in competition which is a start but why is change taking so long and is it enough?
The study conducted in 2014/15 examined over three thousand Danish horses after they had performed in dressage, show jumping, eventing and endurance competition and found that almost one in ten of them had lesions or blood on their lips.
The incidence of these mouth lesions was proven to be linked to those horses wearing very tight nosebands with tighter cavesson nosebands increasing the risk of mouth lesions and other styles of nosebands increasing the risk of lesions even more when compared with the loosest cavesson noseband. These findings did not differ between bit types or bitless bridles but the incidents increased as the level of competition got higher.
As a result of these findings the new ruling stipulates that there must be a minimum space of 1.5cm between the noseband and the horse's nasal bones and officials have been given a wooden tapered gauge to make sure that competitors adhere to it.
It worth noting that the researchers were not allowed to look inside the horse's mouths however as equestrian federation rules do not permit a full intra-oral examination at competitions. If they had it would have probably uncovered more damning evidence of the effect of tight nosebands. It's a shame they couldn't also measure the hidden bruising caused by tight nosebands around the nasal bone and lips. Others have already done research into the 'distress' caused by overly tight nosebands but obviously only physical signs have an impact on those who make the rules. Although they seem to have been ignoring their own eyes for far too long!
Unfortunately, we've still got a long way to go to change attitudes to training horses. There are still those who want fast results and to subdue horses and mask the lack of correct training with gadgets and tight nosebands. Shutting a horse's mouth with a tight noseband is simply a way to 'shut it up!' At least competition horses in Denmark now have at least 1.5cm worth of room to show how well they have been trained! But why aren't all countries doing the same?
More information HERE
As equestrians, we must occassionally ask ourselves difficult questions, even if it means question methods of horse care and training used by top riders.
The bridle, first used over 600 years ago is still the predominant tool we use to direct and control our horses. So is it about time that we questioned this outdated and rather primitive method of control which applies pressure on the most sensitive parts of the horses’ head, lips, tongue, chin and poll? The Crank noseband in particular came under fire last year at the 2016 Olympics, as the horses competing in Dressage seemed severely constrained by the crushing tension of the bridle and there was a startling lack of the well regarded two finger gap beneath the noseband. Competitors in Olympic Dressage are penalised for any mouth-opening, and the extremely tight fit of the noseband prevents this. Essentially, equine discomfort at this level can be put down to a need for aesthetic perfection. And so high level Dressage becomes all about forced submission rather than a demonstration of harmony.
The Federation of Equestre internationale (FEI) asserts that “Any practices which could cause physical or mental suffering, in or out of competition, will not be tolerated”, but despite this sympathetic code of conduct, sadly, many competitors seem devoid of this consideration. It's all about looks rather than feel. An international study on the use of nosebands in equestrian sport was published in January this year, suggesting there is evidence that over half of the equine participants in the study were strapped into bridles with a 0% gap between the noseband and chin, and only 7% were given the desired two finger gap.
In Eventing, some might argue that when it comes to the most risky element, the cross country phase, that riders need to have the optimum level of control. It has been discovered that increased noseband tightness is directly related to an increase in bit pressure, so the tighter the noseband, the more likely it is that your horse will effectively respond to your hands. Because the horse is enduring so much pressure they have no choice but to submit to the riders will, and for some this is thought to be the safest option all round.
Yes, when the horse opens his mouth, gets his tongue over the bit and shifts the bit around his mouth it can reduce the rider’s level of control. By closing the mouth, you're shutting off his means of communication. What these so called 'evasions' are telling you is that the horse isn't balanced or the your hands and other aids aren't good enough.
It seems that riders are looking past issues of equine comfort and the need for better training. Instead horses are being forced into a choice-less submission because no-one can be bothered to put more years into training a horse well. When nosebands are used correctly, and the two finger rule is implemented, I don't personally think there is anything cruel in this equipment- although some people would argue for no nosebands at all. The limiting effects of the excessively tight noseband are only to the advantage of the lazy rider. There is little or no proof about whether or not there is any lasting physical or emotional damage caused by this apathy, but it is still unnecessary in my book. To all the high level competition riders out there that decide to cut corners with blatant disregard for their horse’s well-being, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
I would love to know what you guys think of this topic, it’s a sensitive one and I welcome some debate!