Researchers are saying that new regulations may be needed for nosebands on horses competing in equestrian events such as the Olympics in order to reduce pain and prevent distress. This is as a result of a study, published in the journal PlosOne, examining the physiological impact of these pieces of tack on the horses. The study showed that the horses struggled to breathe and chew, and their heart rates were increased when the nosebands were fitted too tightly around their heads. The warning has come in the run-up to the Rio Olympics, where three equestrian events will be featured. It is common at these types of events to use buckled, padded straps, known as crank nosebands, in the dressage events, where they are used in conjunction with a double bridle. The experts say that over-tightening of the band can be used to hide a bad riding technique, and this is causing distress to the horses.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the body governing all Olympic equestrian disciplines, issued a statement saying that there are clear rules on the fitting of nosebands for these types of events. They commented that FEI stewards check all of the tack, including the nosebands, and other equipment to ensure that the rules are being complied with, that the stewards perform a physical check that the noseband is fitted properly and not having any adverse affect on the horse. However the researchers dispute this, stating that there are numerous cases of bands being too tightly fitted and that consequently there need to be stricter rules regarding this issue.
The noseband is for the purpose of ensuring that the bits of the double bridle are kept in the right position in the horse’s mouth, and to make sure that the horse cannot put his/her tongue over them. It is traditionally recommended that a gap is left beneath the noseband where two fingers can be fitted, but concerns have been growing that the bands are now being put on so tightly that there is no space left between the strap and the horse’s nose. This trend for increasingly tight nosebands has been fuelled by dressage rules, comments Paul McGreevy, a professor of animal behaviour at Sydney University, who led the research project. The restrictive equipment, he argues, can help to mask poor horsemanship and the use of a tighter band may also increase the pressure of the bit in the horse’s mouth, making the animal more responsive to commands. McGreevy added that tighter nosebands can also cause cuts and ulcers in the mouth, where the horse’s cheeks are pushed into their teeth.
McGreevy has suggested that all nosebands on horses should be checked with a plastic gadget known as a taper gauge, which he believes will not only improve the welfare for the horses, but also improve the sport. However the FEI is for some reason reluctant to endorse this recommendation for these pieces of equipment, stating that at competitions, horses, like humans can be highly-strung and arguing that a physical check is still the safest and most reliable way of ensuring that the nosebands fit correctly.
Picture courtesy of www.theguardian.com