The noseband, a common feature of contemporary bridle designs used on performance horses, is nowadays designed to be acutely tightened to restrict virtually all normal jaw and tongue movements. This is a fairly recent innovation in noseband design. Forty years ago, nosebands were largely aesthetic rather than functional. The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) states that the practice of over tightening nosebands to avoid penalties in competition is covering up poor training at the expense of horse welfare.
Recent research suggests that horses wearing tight nosebands undergo a physiological stress response, are sensitized to bit pressure and may have reduced blood flow with potential to cause injuries and tissue damage including nasal bone deformities, even when padding accompanies the noseband such as in the case of so-called crank nosebands.
ISES notes that, in the last few decades, there has been a steady increase in the design of nosebands that effectively mask evidence of a horse’s discomfort. The incentives for athletes to over-tighten nosebands arise from the rules of dressage that penalize displays of discomfort such as open mouths and lolling tongues. These rules were written by the sport’s governing bodies to promote excellent training and the demonstration of qualities such as freedom, harmony, lightness and acceptance of the bit without tension. Restrictive tight nosebands can prevent the horse from displaying unwanted behaviours such as opening, gaping or crossing the jaw, and are enabling competitors to mask signs of tension which judges should penalise as evidence of inferior training. Thus nosebands may hinder effective judging.