The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) released a position statement a few days ago relating to nosebands.  Yippee!  Every little bit helps (actually, often a smaller bit does help, but we’re talking about nosebands now…more about bits later).

The ISES states that the “two finger rule” should be applied to nosebands in competition.  Just like the USDF.  Where they vary is where the two fingers should go, and in their general attitude towards the welfare of the horse.

According to the ISES, the two fingers should go (actually, they recommend they should “fit easily”) between the noseband and the horse’s nasal midline.  To avoid any gray area, the ISES further recommends that the noseband tightness should be officially measured during competitions, with a taper gauge.  The statement reads, “The gauge should be placed without force and be clearly marked to show the desired stop which, in alignment with established industry guidance, should be the dimensions of two average adult fingers.  Riders should be advised and encouraged to use the same gauge in practice.”

Pretty taper gauge commonly used for body piercing

Don’t you think that taper gauges similar to the one I’ve pictured at right could catch on?  They’re so pretty.

Much prettier than the USDF rule regarding nosebands.  Here it is, rule DR121.6, established in January of 2010 (the italics and boldface are my own):

“6.  Only those bits listed with Figure 1 are allowed.  At any level of competition, a cavesson noseband may never be so tightly fixed that it causes severe irritation to the skin, and must be adjusted to allow at least two fingers under the noseband on the side of the face under the cheekbone.  Cavesson nosebands may be used with a chin pad.  At any level of competition, a browband may be multicolored and may be decorated with metal, beads, gemstones and crystals.”

Interesting that there are nearly as many words devoted to the decoration of browbands as there are to the fitting of the noseband.  In the real world (all right, I know it’s a stretch to call the horse world “the real world”) it seems there is more attention paid to browbands these days than to the fitting of the bridle, so why should I be surprised?

I should be surprised, though, and I am, about the USDF’s chosen interpretation of the two finger rule and its concerns about a noseband causing severe irritation to the skin.  You did catch that, right?  The only concern is severe irritation.  Moderate or minor irritation to the skin caused by a noseband is evidently of no concern whatsoever.  Can I be frank here?  This is shameful in its abdication of responsibility to the welfare of the horse.  

I understand that there’s a reluctance to penalize competitors unfairly, but when you decide to give a free pass to all but the severe infractions, you implicitly condone all more minor infractions and treat the horse unfairly. Perhaps it is better to have no rule at all than one that gives its blessing to all but the severe signs of physical discomfort and harm.

This part of the rule does get you thinking though.  Have you ever seen any kind of irritation to the skin caused by the noseband of a bridle?  Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.  I’ve seen severe irritation on horses turned out in ill-fitting halters in backyard barns, but I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Admittedly, I stay away from barns where anything goes in the name of year-end points.

It does make me wonder, though — how would one know, looking at severe irritation under the noseband in competition, whether the severe irritation was actually caused by the noseband of a bridle or the noseband of a halter? Could competition riders use that as a defense?  “No, that severe irritation wasn’t caused by the noseband of my bridle, it was caused by my halter!”

Would that make it okay?  What are the standards for severe irritation anyway?  Does the hair have to be rubbed off?  How much?  If it’s scaly and red is that okay?  Does the skin have to bleed?  When we’re forced to define what is severe in order to ban it — and even worse, when we refuse to define what is severe, we’ve entered into dangerous territory, to my way of thinking.

Which is exactly where we went with the most recent proposal from the FEI regarding the appearance of blood on the horse during competition.  More on all of this tomorrow because I’m not done yet.  Right now, I’ve got to go to the barn and kiss some horses’ noses.