What’s going on?

By Sue Palmer

FEI dressage rules, article 248, point 1 includes the sentence:

  1. Neither a cavesson nose band nor a curb chain may ever be as tightly fixed so as to harm the Horse


There is mounting evidence that tight nosebands ‘harm the horse’, with increased levels of stress (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/may/03/new-rules-on-horse-nosebands-needed-to-prevent-distress-say-researchers), and lesions to the mouth (https://www.pressreader.com/uk/horse-hound/20180426/283124249497065) .  This article from Trot On has a great video from Concordia about why we shouldn’t have tight nosebands, including demonstrating that you can grate a carrot on the bars of the mouth!!!

There are also officials and organisations looking into lesions made by spurs and by whips (https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/denmark-bans-tight-nosebands-2018-635162).  I know some horses have sensitive skin, and that the incidences were ‘very low’, but just how hard must you have to hit a horse with a whip to cause lesions?!

The study mentioned in the Horse and Hound article above was published in 2018, and as well as confirming the correlation between tight nosebands and lesions in the mouth, found that 3.2% of riders had hair on their spurs, with 0.4% having blood on the spurs.  I’m not discussing here whether or not spurs should be used, but surely, even in a sensitive horse at the top level, they shouldn’t have blood on them?  Doesn’t that indicate that they’ve been used continuously to the point where the skin has worn thin, or that they’ve been used so harshly that they’ve drawn blood?

I don’t know, I’m not competing at the top level, and I have the frustrating habit of always being able to see both sides of the story.  So when a world class eventer contacted me to say that she felt tight nosebands were essential at top level cross country as that’s the only way of staying safely in control on some horses when there’s a huge fence looming in front of you, I’m not sure how I feel.  Should we not be jumping fences that are so big that we have to create pain in our horses to maintain control?  Should tight nosebands be allowed only in cross country, where the solid fences create so much greater a risk?  Are we on the slippery slope of saying we shouldn’t ride at all because the act of sitting on a horse causes a level of discomfort that the horse has not requested (please note, whilst I can see the viewpoint of people who state this, I personally believe that many horses clearly enjoy their work, whether or not it causes them discomfort, and that it’s about listening to the individual horse and doing your best to act ethically that matters)?

The answer, I believe, is ongoing research and evaluation, and more mindfulness in equestrianism.  If you have a favourite author / blog / newsletter related to equine welfare, pain, behaviour or performance, it’d be great if you’d share it here so that others can take a look 🙂

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