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Restrictive or 'crank' nosebands, which are increasingly being used in the equestrian disciplines of dressage, show jumping and eventing, are designed to prevent horses from opening their mouths during competition. ‘Crank’ nosebands have a pulley mechanism that allows them to be fastened so tightly that they apply excessive and continuous pressure around the horse’s nose and jaw area.
The main reason for riders using restrictive nosebands is to reduce the likelihood of horses opening their mouths in the competition arena as this can attract a penalty, as well as giving the rider greater control. However, the use of these nosebands has been found to cause significant discomfort, distress and injury to the horse.
Research has indicated that the use of restrictive nosebands prevents horses from performing basic behaviours such as yawning, licking and even swallowing. When applied with excess pressure, evidence indicates that these nosebands can cause both physical injury and psychological stress. A recent study has shown that horses exhibited behaviours that were denied whilst the restrictive noseband was applied, such as yawning and swallowing, at a much higher frequency after the noseband was removed, compared to normal baseline levels (1). In addition, physiological measurements from this study also demonstrated that the restrictive nosebands cause stress, providing further evidence that these nosebands compromise welfare.
Excessively tight nosebands can also result in the inside of the cheeks being cut by the teeth causing pain and lacerations. In severe cases, damage to bony structures can lead to significant pain and discomfort. Research undertaken by scientists in Ireland and Australia has shown that the resulting pressure from applying a ‘crank’ noseband, was comparable to the level which has been associated with causing nerve damage and other complications in humans (2).
Many riding manuals and competition rulebooks previously applied the ‘two finger’ rule, where the noseband is loose enough to allow at least two fingers to be easily slipped under it. However in recent years this rule has been removed as it was not consistently measurable. RSPCA Australia supports the International Society for Equitation Science's Position on restrictive nosebands which proposes changes to competition rules to require the routine use of a taper measuring gauge by competition stewards to measure the tightness of the noseband and prevent the use of restrictive nosebands.
A recently published paper has confirmed that many competitors in equestrian events are disregarding the potential dangers of using tight nosebands (3). The study of 750 horses in Ireland, UK and Europe showed that 44% of horses had nosebands which were so tight that the measuring gauge could not be inserted and only 7% passed the 'two finger' rule. The highest proportion of very tight nosebands was found in horses used for eventing, with the lowest level in performance hunters. This study raises serious concerns regarding the short- and long-term effects on the behaviour and health of horses subjected to very tight nosebands.
(1) Fenner K, Yoon S, White P, Starling M and McGreevy P. (2016) The effect of noseband tightening on horses’ behavior, eye temperature and cardiac responses.PLOS One dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154179
(2) Casey V, McGreevy PD, O’Muiris E and Doherty O. (2013) A preliminary report on estimating the pressures exerted by a crank noseband in the horse. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 8, 479-484
(3) Doherty O, Casey V, McGreevy P and Arkins S (2017) Noseband use in equestrian sports - An international study. PLoS ONE 12(1) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169060