Nosebands – Latest Published Research


Latest Published Research on Nosebands

Nosebands are certainly not anything new in the equestrian world. In fact, there is very good evidence that nosebands were used before bits around 7000 years BC. Today we have a lot of choices when it comes to nosebands: Cavesson, Crank, Swedish, Flash, Drop, Grackle, and many variations. There has been a trend to increased use of drop and Grackle nosebands in particular to keep the horse’s mouth closed to prevent evasion of the bit and to ostensibly “afford more control”. Mounting concern over the tightness of nosebands led the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) to develop a noseband tightness gauge. The ISES has this position on “restrictive nosebands”:

  • are prevalent in many equestrian disciplines;
  • are associated with elevated physiological stress responses and increased prevalence of mouth injuries, thereby compromising equine welfare;
  • reduce the horse’s ability to swallow, yawn, chew and lick freely;
  • exert high pressures on many sensitive tissues in and around the horse’s head;
  • may mask pain, discomfort and training methods which do not align with learning theory;
  • may give an unfair competitive advantage to riders relying on sustained and restrictive pressures in place of appropriate and ethical training methods; and
  • should be subject to regulation during competition and standardised monitoring at the frontal nasal plane.

Both the ISES and a number of researchers, in particular Paul McGreevy from Australia, have highlighted the likely negative welfare impact of overtight nosebands. This focus has been strengthened by the publication of a recent study involving collaboration between researchers and vets in Mexico, the USA and Australia. The findings are essentially that in a population of 144 Mexican Cavalry horses, around 1/3rd had changes to the nasal bones on x-rays and 80% had evidence of increased nasal bone deposition by palpation. These figures are quite alarming and likely relate to noseband type and use. However, the authors quite rightly conclude “….we note that current study provides no evidence of a causal link between any piece of gear or its putative tightness and the lesions in these anatomical locations”. However, this will no doubt continue to increase focus on the use of restrictive nosebands in all equestrian disciplines. 

This study is OPEN ACCESS and can be downloaded here>


Pérez-Manrique, L.; León-Pérez, K.; Zamora-Sánchez, E.; Davies, S.; Ober, C.; Wilson, B.; McGreevy, P. Prevalence and Distribution of Lesions in the Nasal Bones and Mandibles of a Sample of 144 Riding Horses. Animals 2020, 10, 1661.

Simple Summary (from the paper)

The use of restrictive nosebands in equestrian sports is of increasing concern to veterinarians and equitation scientists. Tightly fitting (restrictive) nosebands are primarily used to keep the horse’s mouth closed in a bid to increase the rider’s control of the horse and avoid penalties that may arise from mouth opening during competitions. The chief concern is that restricting behaviour by tightening the noseband may cause distress and apply pressure to the tissues of the horse’s head. It has been suggested that this pressure may cause injury to the soft tissues of the face and possibly the underlying bones. This opportunistic study of mature cavalry horses (n = 144) was designed to explore relationships between visual and palpable damage to structures that underlie the nosebands of horses and any related bony changes in affected horses, as evidenced by radiography. For nasal bones, the radiologists reported bone deposition in at least 6.9% of the horses and bone thinning in at least 33.3% of the horses, respectively. By palpation, at least 82% of the horses had palpable bone deposition of the nasal bones and at least 32% had palpable bone thinning. For the lower jaw, the radiologists reported increased bone deposition in 18.8–32.6% of the horses but no bone thinning. By palpation, at least 30.67% of the horses had palpable bone deposition in the lower jaw and at least 10.4% had palpable bone thinning. These radiographic results suggest that bone thinning is more apparent in the nasal bones than in the lower jaw and that both palpable and radiographic bone deposition are more likely in the mandible than in the nasal bones. This is the first confirmation of bony lesions at the site typically subjected to pressure from restrictive nosebands. That said, we note that the current study provides no evidence of a causal link between any piece of gear or its putative tightness and the lesions in these anatomical locations. The causes of these palpable and radiographic changes at the site of nosebands merit further investigation because inadvertently damaging the bones of horses as part of equitation is difficult to justify on ethical grounds. 



About Author

Dr Kirstie Pickles BVMS MSc PgCert(CounsSkills) PhD CertEM(IntMed) DipECEIM MRCVS RCVS RCVS and European Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine Kirstie is a European Specialist in equine medicine and has spent over 20 years working in private equine practice and academia in the UK, USA and New Zealand. She is currently a Clinical Associate Professor in Equine Medicine at Nottingham Veterinary School and is passionate about education at all levels, whether that is horse owners, vet students or practising veterinary surgeons.