Scientific Aspect of Animal Welfare. Nosebands and rein tension – Do they have an effect on equine performance and welfare?


The fitting of a noseband is currently subject to much discussion and it is evident that the fundamental issues lie in the fact there are no guidelines or legislation to govern the application of the noseband as a piece of tack. Excessive noseband pressure in horses has been raised as an issue potentially affecting welfare, performance, and injury (McGreevy et al.,2012; Casey et al., 2013; Internal Society of Equine Science, 2016).  This is likely to have an impact on the welfare of the horse, but this impact has not yet been quantified (Murrey et al., 2015). Contemporary rein tension research currently indicates that more tightly fitted nosebands may apply unacceptable pressure to the horse’s skin, face head and oral cavity, and impede the desired effect of the bit, (Manfredi et al., 2010; Casey et al., 2013; Fenner et al., 2016). It also may mask undesirable behaviours that should not be exhibited by accepting, willing and well trained horses, (McGreevy and McLean, 2010; Randle and McGreevy, 2011). Noseband and rein tension are measured using ReinCheckTM tension metre and pressure mats.

When looking at learning theory in equines before a horse learns to accept they will often try to avoid the pressure, it is only once the horse accepts it is futile then they will submit (Warren et al., 2007). If this can be applied to a noseband, then when the fitting is loose there is no need to fight, when it is increased but not tightly the horse can feel the pressure but also can feel the opportunity to fight it – hence the increase in rein tension as the horse pulls and objects (Randle and McGreevy, 2011; Doherty et al., 2016). However, once the fitting moves to tight, the horse accepts, gives in, submits to the pressure, drops the contact and becomes submissive (Murray et al., 2015). Duke (2016), suggests that, for the day to day hacking rider this submission is acceptable as the horse becomes subdued and quieter and reduces the desire to ‘go forward’ or accept the contact. However, for a race horse, eventer or dressage horse is this what riders are looking for? Do we not want horses who have the desire to want to ‘go forward’ and not a subdued character?

If the horse cannot escape the pressure there are two options, one the horse displays acceptance and submissiveness or the horse fights further (Randle and McGreevy, 2011; Murray et al., 2015). If the horse fights further the rein tension would continue to increase and the horse would then display conflict behaviours in an extreme attempt to remove the pressure (Randle et al., 2011). Alternatively the horse accepts the pressure and becomes ‘quiet’, as has been seen to be the case in other species (Cronin et al. 2003; Doherty, et al. 2013).

There are no governing legislations in this country or any other that gives the tension required for the nose band. The British Horse Society (BHS) rule book suggests that you should be able to fit two adult fingers in the noseband. With the current research that has been undertaken on noseband pressure and its effect on behaviour and health implications then the Animal Welfare Act 2006 can be linked to noseband and rein tension, with the horse having the need to express normal behaviour and the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease (FAWC 2009; Fenner et al., 2016).

When fitting a bridle there are a lack of guidelines and explanations of the implications of poorly fitted or incorrect fitting bridles (Duke, 2016). For the inexperienced owner guidelines relating to welfare, safety and control need to be created so an informed decision can be made about their choice of tack and its application. For the more experienced riders and competitors the guidelines need to become rules. Internal Society of Equine Science (2016), suggest that for fairness and objectivity, stewards within equestrian events should check the noseband tightness with a taper gauge inserted under the noseband at the nasal midline and that riders should be encouraged to do the same. The governing bodies of the equine industry need to allow and accept the equitation scientists’ findings and integrate the restrictions on aggressive forms of control and restraint on horses both for welfare and the safety of the rider (Doherty, et al. 2016; Fenner et al., 2016) and potentially performance will increase as a consequence of these actions.

Reference List

British Horse Society (BHS) Rule Book: [Online]. Available at:

Casey, V. McGreevy, P.D., O’Muiris, E.,Doherty, O. (2013) Journal of Veterinary Behaviour Clinical Applications and Research. A preliminary report on estimating the pressures exerted by a crank noseband in the horse Vol 8, Issue 6, p 479–484

Cronin,G.M., Hemsworth,P.H., Barnett,J.L., Jongman,E.C., Newman,E.A., McCauley,I. (2003) An anti-barking muzzle for dogs and its short term effects on behaviour and saliva cortisol concentrations. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol:83, Issue:3,p.215-226.

Doherty O, Casey V, McGreevy P, Conway R, O’Muiris E, (2013) Two methods of measuring in- vivo pressures applied by a cavesson noseband. In: ISES Proceedings 9th International Equitation Science Confrence.

Doherty, O., Casey, V., McGreevy, P., Arkins, S. (2016) An investigation into noseband tightness levels on competition horses. ISES Proceedings 12th International Equitation Science Conference (2016)

Duke, D. (2016) The effects of a variation in nose band tightness on the rein tension of the ridden horse. In press.

Farm Animal Welfare Council, (FAWC) (2009)  Animal Welfare Act.

Fenner, K., Yoon, S.,  White, P., Starling, M., and McGreevy,  P. (2016) The Effect of Noseband Tightening on Horses’ Behaviour, Eye Temperature, and Cardiac Responses. PLoS One. 2016; Vol 11(5)

International Society for Equitation Science, (ISES) Newsletter – POSITION STATEMENT ON RESTRICTIVE NOSEBANDS. (27 June 2016)

Manfredi. J., Rosenstein, D., Lanovaz, J.L., Clayton, H. (2009) Fluoroscopic study of oral behaviours in response to the presence of a bit and the effects of rein tension. Comparative Exercise Physiology. Vol:6(04):p.143 – 148

McGreevy, P. and Mclean, A. (2010) Equitation Science. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxfordshire, UK

McGreevy, P., Warren-Smith, A. and Guisard, Y. (2012) The effect of double bridles and jaw clamping crank nosebands on temperature of eyes and facial skin of horses. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research.

Murray, R., Guire, R., Fisher, M., Fairfax, V. (2015) A Bridle Designed to Avoid Peak Pressure Locations Under the Headpiece and Noseband Is Associated With More Uniform Pressure and Increased Carpal and Tarsal Flexion, Compared With the Horse’s Usual Bridle. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. Vol: 35 p.947-955

Randle,H., Abbey, A. and Button,L. (2011) The effect of different rein types on the rein tension applied when taking up a ‘medium contact’. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research. Vol:6, Issue:5, September –October. p.295

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.

Warren-Smith,A.K. and McGreevy, P.D. (2007) Use of blended positive and negative reinforcement in shaping the halt response of horses (Equus caballus). Animal Welfare. Vol:16, Issue:4, November. p.481-488


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