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New Zealand has the Chance to Pave the Way for Dressage Horse Welfare

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Author: Jody Hartstone/Sunday, May 13, 2018/Categories: Blog

New Zealand has the Chance to Pave the Way for Dressage Horse Welfare

Dressage NZ is holding its annual conference in Palmerston North on the 30th of June and 1st of July.

Amongst the various prizegivings, budgets, 10-year plans and so forth are a raft of remits that propose changes to the rule book.  These cover topics ranging from the timing of prizegivings at shows, to arena familiarisation rules, and development plans for judges. 

But one rule up for discussion could be a real game-changer for horses.  It is the remit to make it illegal to have the horse’s noseband tighter than the universally accepted two-finger rule.

This remit was submitted by Jody Hartstone and supported by Dressage Bay of Plenty and the North Island Rider’s Representative Alicia Zee.  Jody Hartstone is a former member of the Council of the International Society for Equitation Science (www.EquitationScience.com) where she stood for many years in the role of Practitioner Representative.  It was during her tenure on the ISES Council that Jody became more aware of the welfare implications that tight nosebands can cause.

“I have witnessed first-hand, dressage horses with permanent indentations in their nasal bone from restrictive nosebands.  That has to be extremely tight and very uncomfortable to cause bone to remodel itself.  I find it disturbing that the current FEI rule on noseband tightness states that as long as one finger can be inserted into the side of the noseband by a steward, then it is deemed to be acceptable.  I set up an experiment at home that I videoed with my own horse – you can see first hand that even when the noseband is done up extremely tight to the point where you can’t even get a finger nail under it, the FEI “one finger in the side” rule is still an easy target to make.”

You can view the video I made by following this link:


 The remit eludes to the use of a standardised taper gauge that has been produced by the International Society for Equitation Science to make it simple and infallible for stewards and riders to be able to check their noseband tightness.  A link to the ISES Position Statement on Restrictive Nosebands and the science behind it can be found by following this link:  https://equitationscience.com/equitation/position-statement-on-restrictive-nosebands

 Here is the proposed remit as it appears in the Dressage New Zealand Remits Document:

REMIT: That all Dressage New Zealand stewards be provided with an approved Noseband Taper Gauge in order to test the tightness of nosebands in an equitable way. This Noseband Taper Gauge needs to be used on the Nasal Planum (front of nose) to ensure that there is room for two fingers placed beside each other horizontally underneath the noseband. Stewards MAY check noseband tightness at any time during an event. Any official / judge can ask a steward to check the tightness of a horse’s noseband at any time during an event. If the noseband is found to be too tight before a dressage test has been ridden, the rider will be given the opportunity to loosen the noseband until it is of the correct tightness. If the rider is found to have ridden a horse/pony in a test with a noseband tighter than set out in the guidelines for the Noseband Taper Gauge, they will be eliminated from that test. Stewards MUST check noseband tightness using the taper gauge at all mandatory inspections

 Is there Scientific proof that restrictive nosebands cause pain and discomfort to horses?  This may seem a no-brainer for all animal lovers out there – but there have been a number of studies done over the past few years on the prevalence of tight nosebands and their effect on the horse.

Some interesting studies are listed below:

Randle, H., McGreevy, P.D. 2011. The effect of noseband tightness on rein tension in the ridden horse. Proceedings of the 7th International Equitation Science Conference, Eds: M. van Dierendonck, P. de Cocq, K. Visser, Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen. 84.

McGreevy, P., Warren-Smith, A., Guisard, Y. 2012. The effect of double bridles and jawclamping crank nosebands on facial cutaneous and ocular temperature in horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Accepted.

Uldahl, M., Clayton, H.M. 2018.   Lesions associated with the use of bits, nosebands, spurs and whips in Danish competition horses.

Doherty, O., Casey, V., McGreevy, P., Arkins, S.  2017.  Noseband Use in Equestrian Sports – An International Study

Crago, F., Shea, G., James, O., Schemann, K., McGreevy, P.D. 2018. An opportunistic pilot study of radiographs of equine nasal bones at the usual site of nosebands.Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Accepted.


Fenner, K., Yoon, S., White, P., Starling, M.J., McGreevy, P.D. 2016. The effect of noseband tightening on horses' behavior, eye temperature, and cardiac responses. PLoS One. 11(5):e0154179. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154179


Kienapfel, K.; Preuschoft, H., 2010: Viel zu eng! Über die Verschnallung der Nasenriemen. Pferdeheilkunde 26, 178–185.


 What does NZ law state in relation to restrictive nosebands?


Looking at the Animal Welfare Code of New Zealand (29 January 2016) you can find the following information pertaining to noseband use in horses: 

Minimum Standard No. 9 – Saddlery and Equipment - Equipment used on horses must be maintained in good condition and be fitted so as not to cause injury. Equipment must be used in such a way as to avoid pain, injury or distress to the horse.

Example indicators for Minimum Standard No. 9 – Saddlery and Equipment

* Equipment is regularly cleaned and inspected to ensure that leather/synthetic fibre etc. is supple and all parts of the equipment are in good order

* Equipment does not pinch, rub or cut horses on which it is used

*  Every effort is made to ensure that equipment is fitted correctly for the individual horse on which it is being used

*  Equipment that is restrictive for the horse is used by knowledgeable and competent persons only

General Information:   The use of restrictive equipment (e.g. harsh bits and over tightened nosebands) used for controlling a horse needs to be reduced to a minimum through the application of appropriate, effective and safe training and handling techniques so as to maintain the horse’s welfare. It is important that all equipment is assessed for its suitability and fit before use, with consideration given to the horse’s natural movement, behaviour, temperament and physical capabilities


 New Zealand has been a world leader in many fields – Kate Sheppard getting women the vote, Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom, Ed Hillary claiming the summit of Mount Everest as his own...  Here’s hoping we can also lead the way in championing the cause for better welfare for our dressage horses.

 What can you do to play your part in lobbying for a rule change?  It’s simple – contact your local dressage group President and tell them you are in support of this remit.  Do it not just for the sport, but for the dressage horse who has no voice.


Jody Hartstone

May 13th 2018

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