Equestrian Noseband Tightness


Nosebands are used by riders to prevent the horse from opening its mouth, to increase control and, in some cases, to comply with the competition rules. Equestrian textbooks may recommend that two adult human fingers should fit (side by side and flat against the nose) under a fastened noseband.


Two adult fingers inserted under the noseband at the front of the nose.

However, noseband tightness levels are not, in general, regulated in competition. Possible detrimental consequences for the horse, of excessively tight nosebands, include discomfort, pain or tissue damage.

In a recent study [1], noseband usage in equestrian competitions was investigated. Data regarding noseband type, position, width and tightness were collected from 750 horses in eventing (354 horses), dressage (334 horses) and performance hunter (62 horses) competitions in Ireland, England and Belgium.  The ISES taper gauge was used to classify results according to the number of ‘fingers’ that could fit under the noseband at the nasal planum. The key findings were:

  • In all, 44% of horses fell into the zero fingers classification where it was not possible to insert the narrow tip of the ISES gauge under the noseband.
  • Only 7% were in the two fingers classification.
  • The flash noseband was the most commonly used noseband (326 horses) and was significantly tighter than the cavesson, drop noseband and the Micklem.
  • Noseband width ranged from 10 to 50 mm.
  • Noseband position varied widely with the distance between the facial crest and upper noseband margin ranging from 0 to 70 mm.

The high proportion of very tight nosebands found in this study raises concerns regarding the short and long term behavioural and physiological consequences of such tight nosebands are for the horse. Although these data are currently lacking, the findings are of concern.

[1]  Doherty O, Casey V, McGreevy P, Arkins S (2017) Noseband Use in Equestrian Sports – An International Study. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169060. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169060.