From April 1st 2019, in The Netherlands, nosebands will have to be loose enough to allow a 1.5 cm gap between the strap and the nose bones in all disciplines regulated by the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS).
The KNHS follows a handful of other countries in limiting noseband tightness with a standard measure, however, their rule and official statement is ground-breaking because it is the first time that an official sports-governing body acknowledges that tight nosebands restrict natural behaviours that horses must be allowed to perform, such as swallowing, chewing, yawning and relaxing the lower jaw.
The KNHS is also the first official body to recognise the validity of important scientific findings from a study published in 2013 which showed that tight nosebands increase pain and sensitivity to bit pressure, and a study from 2016 that showed tight nosebands cause a stress response in horses. Previously, such studies had been dismissed and criticised in public forums.
The KNHS has followed the Danish Horse Rider's Federation rule in specifying a space of 1.5 cms, which they demonstrate as loose enough to insert two adult fingers under the strap.
The Swiss Equestrian Federation, announced a rule for all disciplines that specifies a spacing of 2 cms, but their rule will not be in effect until January 2020.
Dressage New Zealand have also implemented a rule but, because tack checks are not compulsory, they failed to specify an objective measure.
Importantly, all the countries who are implementing an objective rule and a limit to tightness have specified that it must be checked at the nasal bones. This is important, because the nose and the jaw bones are the only points where pressure will be definite and highest. This is due to the so-called 'hammock effect' - where a hammock can be loose in the middle but pulls on the two posts it's attached to.
In their official statement, the KNHS say:
Research has shown that horses that wear an over-tight noseband, can suffer stress, are more sensitive to the pressure of the bit and have poorer blood flow. The consequences [of over-tight nosebands] are that the horse is not comfortable, has pain or tissue damage, or can not function properly.
There are many different types of nosebands. In all cases they must not be adjusted too tightly. From 1st April 2019, the KNHS will apply the rule that at least 1.5 cm space must be achieved between noseband and nose bone.
The noseband is considered well adjusted if:
- There is at least 1.5 cm of space between the noseband and the nose bone;
- There is enough space between the lower tip of the cheekbone and the noseband;
- The noseband is located under the 'foramen infraorbital' (the opening in the skull halfway up the upper jaw). From the foramen infraorbital all come nerves and blood vessels;
- The noseband does not restrict the breathing of the horse;
- The noseband is not lower than the 'processus nasalis ossis incisivi' (the notch of the nasal bone).
Is the noseband good, then:
- The horse can move the body well
- The horse can show natural behaviour, such as swallowing, chewing, yawning and relaxing the lower jaw.
- The horse does not suffer any pain due to the pinching of the structures or the restriction of movement.