Horse tack. Nosebands – how tight is too tight?

Standard equipment in English disciplines. Training equipment in western.  While nosebands are designed to prevent bit evasion, in the horse business, we’re inclined to default into thinking “If a little is good, more is better!

Glad to see that Equestrian Canada has added a 2021 horse show rule addressing nosebands. The question upstream from noseband “restrictions” – are we masking bit evasion without asking WHY the horse might be resisting? (See below for relevant horse show rules).

The International Society of Equitation Science responded to the dilemma of cranking nosebands in equine sport with a study and by designing a noseband gauge for horse show ring stewards:

“Some equestrian manuals and competition rule books propose that ‘two fingers’ be used as a spacer to guard against over-tightening, but fail to specify where they should be applied or, indeed, the size of the fingers.” 

“When this device was used to check noseband tightness on 737 horses at a variety of national and international dressage and eventing competitions, 44% of nosebands were found to be too close to the horse’s face to accommodate the tip of the taper gauge under the noseband.  By extrapolation, this revealed that we are routinely preventing swallowing, chewing, yawning and licking in the name of sport.” I.S.E.S.

Equestrian Canada ARTICLE A517 […]
3. Cruelty can be defined as causing pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse. As examples, an act of cruelty can be but is not limited to any of the following:

  1. nosebands used in such a way that they interfere with the horse’s breathing, or be tight enough to cause pain or discomfort;

I appreciate AQHA’s uniquely thorough, user- friendly description of  permitted and non-permitted horse show and training tack – continuously updated as horse people come up with new “ideas”. Here’s a link to a nifty image on my site.