A new study by the University of Sydney has found that nosebands commonly used in show jumping, dressage and other eventing are causing stressful responses in horses. The bands, which halt horses from opening their jaws, have been found to pose serious welfare issues.
The study’s results uncovered stressful psychological responses when horses’ mouths are bound shut by the nose bands. The study found that though the nosebands are detrimental to horses’ mental states the bands are becoming increasingly popular with estimates suggesting that more than 50 per cent of horses in competition are unable to open their mouths.
Professor Paul McGreevy, the study’s lead author, said that the use of tightened nosebands cause stressful responses by limiting natural behaviours.
“In light of the current results, horse sport administrators may need to decide which oral behaviours they can afford to see eliminated in the name of sport,” said Prof McGreevy.
“Tight nosebands can mask unacceptably rough riding. While wearing a bitted bridle, horses are highly motivated to open their mouths to find comfort but in dressage competitions, this response attracts penalties.”
In an attempt to maintain a close mouthed in their horses, riders are using ‘crank’ nosebands, which the study found create a pressure so tight it has been likened to a tourniquet. The pressure from the crank system of levers and pulleys is so tight that it “often exceeds levels associated in humans with tissue and nerve damage”.
“The horse’s challenge when managing discomfort from a single bit is magnified if it is required to accommodate two bits, as is common at the elite level in dressage,” said Prof McGreevy.
“For example, every dressage horse at Olympic level must compete with a double bridle which means there are two metal bits in its mouth, one of which is a lever that tightens a metal chain under the chin. The incentive for riders to bind these horses’ jaws together to prevent displays of resistance increases accordingly.”
The study examined the causal link between noseband use and stressful responses in horses including their cardiac responses, behaviours and eye temperature.
“It was really quite alarming to me to see just how high the heart rates went, and the eye temp went up as well,” Kate Fenner, the study’s co-author told the ABC.
“Everything told us the horse was stressed physiologically.”