To ensure fairness and safeguard horse welfare, noseband tightness should be officially evaluated prior to equestrian competitions, according to the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES).
In its position statement released yesterday (Jan. 30), the ISES announced that the traditional “two finger rule” should be applied with nosebands in competitions. This rule requires that at least two average-sized adult fingers be able to fit easily between the noseband and the horse’s nasal midline. To verify compliance, show stewards should officially measure the noseband tightness with a taper gauge, the statement indicated.
“The gauge should be placed without force and be clearly marked to show the desired stop which, in alignment with established industry guidance, should be the dimensions of two average adult fingers,” the statement read. “Riders should be advised and encouraged to use the same gauge in practice.”
Noseband tightness directly affects rein tension, suggesting that it increases sensitivity to the bit, according to Hayley Randle, PhD, researcher in the equitation science department at Duchy College in Cornwall, U.K. “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,” she said during her presentation at the 2011 ISES Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands.
Tight nosebands could mask “problem behavior, bad training, and/or pain caused by the bit,” today’s ISES statement added. Without nosebands, some horses might display undesired behavior in the show ring such as opening, gaping, and crossing the jaw, resulting in penalties under current dressage rules, according to an associated ISES press release. “The practice of over-tightening nosebands to avoid penalties in competition is covering up poor training at the expense of horse welfare,” the release read.
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Dressage rules are designed to “promote excellent training and the demonstration of qualities such as freedom, harmony, lightness, and acceptance of the bit without tension,” the release continued. “Thus, nosebands may hinder effective judging.”
The new recommendation does not propose consequences of using over-tight nosebands at this time.
The full statement, including references to supporting research, is available online.