Yesterday, I contrasted the “two-finger rule” established by the United States Dressage Federation with the “two-finger rule” proposed by the International Society for Equitation Science.

There are many points of divergence which I highlighted yesterday, among them being where those two famous fingers actually go.

To recap:  The USDF says “under the noseband on the side of the face under the cheekbone.”  The ISES says “between the noseband and the horse’s nasal midline.”

What difference does it make?

Well, let’s take a look at a horse’s skull:

Drawing by Pisanello, c. 1433-1438 @ The Louvre

Notice the slight hourglass shape from jowl to nostril?  While this is just one skull among many, and an old one at that, the basic shape of the horse’s skull and the musculature surrounding it do not vary all that much from horse to horse.

Let’s look at it all another way:

When you look at the anatomy of the horse’s head, do you see what a profound difference the location of those two fingers makes when assessing the comfort of the noseband for the horse?

Click on this link and scroll down to page 11 to see the USDF-approved fingers in action, in the guide for Technical Delegates.

If you’ve followed the link, this might be a good time to scroll up and take another look at those anatomy drawings you’ve already seen.  If you haven’t followed the link and you want to just keep reading, maybe you’d rather look at something from real life.  Fair enough.  Here’s a real-life skull:

And some real-life horses:

See the dip where the chain rests?

See the shadow in the dip beneath the halter noseband?

Imagine how tight a noseband would have to be to prevent two fingers from going where the USDF says they should go

Unfortunately, the USDF also neglects to indicate how snugly those two fingers should fit in this less-than-ideal place for measuring noseband comfort.  I have two friends who are TDs and I have no doubt that left to their own devices, they could be trusted to determine noseband comfort on any horse with any kind of bridle.  What concerns me is the fact that the USDF’s rule, as written, could prevent the very thing that it attempts to foster — which is welfare for the competition horse.

I heartily approve of governing bodies addressing the comfort and welfare of the competition horse. We’ve got a rule, and that’s good. It derives from old horsemen’s common sense guidelines.  That’s good, too.  Sadly, the interpretation of those common sense guidelines has gone askew.  It’s time to revisit it.

The USDF could do worse than look to the ISES for guidance.

Next week, I’ll delve further into these issues with a look at the FEI’s blood rule, as promised yesterday.