Research on Noseband Tightness and Horse Stress

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grey dressage horse

Research from Australia showed that over-tight nosebands caused stress.

Restrictive nosebands are common in equestrian sport. However, recent evidence suggests that very tight nosebands can cause a physiological stress response, and may compromise horse welfare. 

The objective of this research, conducted in Australia, was to investigate the relationship that noseband tightness has with oral behavior and physiological changes that indicate a stress response. 

Twelve horses wearing a double bridle and crank noseband (common in dressage at elite levels) were randomly assigned to four treatments: unfastened noseband, conventional area under noseband with two fingers of space available under the noseband, half conventional area under noseband with one finger of space under the noseband, and no area under the noseband. 

With no area under the noseband, horse heart rate increased, heart rate variability decreased, and eye temperature increased compared with baseline readings, indicating a physiological stress response. 

Chewing decreased during the half conventional area under noseband with one finger of space under the noseband and no area under the noseband treatments. Similarly, licking was eliminated by the no area under the noseband treatment. 

Following the removal of the noseband and double bridle during the recovery session, yawning , swallowing, and licking increased compared with baseline, indicating a post-inhibitory rebound response. This suggests a rise in motivation to perform these behaviors and implies that their inhibition may place horses in a state of deprivation. 

It is evident that a very tight noseband can cause physiological stress responses and inhibit the expression of oral behaviors. Riders should comply with rules that prevent excessive tightening of the noseband. For more information on this study, click here.

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