A study led by veterinarian Mette Uldahl during 2014 and 2015, which examined 3,143 Danish horses after their competition performance found almost 290 had lesions or blood on the commisures of the lips. The risk of mouth lesions increased the tighter the noseband was fitted.
The findings have been accepted for publication in Equine Veterinary Journal, and have resulted in the Danish Riding Federation establishing a limit for noseband tightness across all disciplines.
3,143 horse/rider combinations competing in Danish Equestrian Federation competitions in dressage, show jumping, eventing and endurance were examined post-competition by trained evaluators who recorded the presence and type of spurs, bits, nosebands, and whips.
Further evaluations recorded noseband tightness, the presence of hair or blood on spurs; hair loss, lesions or blood on the ribcage behind the girth; abrasions and/or blood at the commissures of the lips; and swelling, lesions or blood on the forequarters or hindquarters.
Statistical analysis was performed to determine relationships between discipline (dressage, show jumping, eventing, endurance), level of competition (level 0-7), type/tightness of equipment, and incidence of injuries.
More than 100 riders had hair on their spurs (3.2% of horse/rider combinations) and 13 riders had blood on the spurs (0.4% of horse/rider combinations).
Longer spurs and lower competition levels were significantly associated with hair on the spurs and worn hair on the horse's ribcage.
The researchers recorded mouth lesions or blood visible at the commissures of the lips in 290 horses (9.2% almost 1 in 10). The statistics increased with level of competition but did not differ between bit types or bitless bridles. (The more educated horses were more likely to have mouth lesions.)
Tighter cavesson nosebands increased the risk of mouth lesions. Nosebands that were different to a cavesson increased the risk of lesions at the commissures of the lips 2.39 times compared with the loosest cavesson noseband.
The Danish Equestrian Federation launched this latest comprehensive study in 2014 to record the various types of riding equipment and tack used for competition horses and to provide evidence-based knowledge that can form the basis for the governance of horses, development of regulations and contributions to research in the future.
Researchers were not allowed to look inside the horses' mouths, as the rules of the equestrian federation do not permit a full intra-oral examination at competitions.
New noseband rule
As a result of these findings, new rule officially came into effect on 14 January this year that stipulates a minimum spacing of 1.5cm must be achieved between the noseband strap and the horse’s nasal bones. The hope is that limiting noseband tightness will decrease the number of lesions of the skin or mucosa at the commisures of the lips.
To help officials enforce the rule, a tapered gauge has been specially designed and manufactured from wood.
The researchers also suggest that limiting the length of spurs would decreas the lesions on the ribcage, however, there has been no announcement of changes to the rules that govern the use of spurs.
Danish Riding Federation officials and the Danish Riders and Coaches Association members gathered to learn the background which led to this rule change and to discuss how it should be implemented. They each received one of the noseband tightness measuring gauges and were shown how to use it; that is, sliding it under the noseband strap at the nasal plane.
Everyone agreed the overall approach when implementing the rule must be to encourage dialogue between competition officials and riders. At the event’s conclusion, Helle Madsen, Technical Delegate and Board member of the Danish Riding Federation spoke with Ridehesten magazine:
“It was a good and informative meeting with good and constructive dialogue. My impression is that TDs are positive and ready to dialogue with riders, so that, together, we can ensure the welfare of competition horses and ponies.
“Dialogue is the way forward,” Madsen continued, “But, for us, it’s nice that we have a unit of measurement that we can use if there is doubt about whether a noseband is too tight.”
The officials were told, if they suspect a noseband is too tight and may breach the rule, they should first dialogue with the rider in order to find a constructive joint solution. If a solution is not found through dialogue, the official should measure the tightness of the noseband using the tapered gauge.
If the gauge shows the noseband is too tight, the rider should be notified and asked to loosen the noseband. Sanctions will be progressive - first a warning, then a fine and, finally, elimination.
After discussion with the Danish Riders and Coaches Association, it was agreed the process of checking nosebands using the official gauge must be done after the competition performance. Officials may also check noseband tightness at random times, but any measurements must only be taken after the riding session has ended.
In addition to monitoring the tightness of the noseband, Danish officials have been instructed to inspect the lips of the horses for the presence of lesions. Riders have been advised not to start a competition when their horse or pony is known to have mouth lesions.
All noseband tightness checks are to be officially recorded, and riders whose horses or ponies are checked should be issued with a copy of their record stating the result and, if applicable, the presence of mouth lesions. These records will be used to evaluate the outcomes of the implementation of the noseband rule later this year.