Webinar: Tongue Ties and Tight Nosebands

Noseband tightness in competition is a hot topic that is high on Equestrian Canada‘s agenda. In the process of revising the rules, this equestrian federation invited Professor Paul McGreevy to explain the science.

Scroll down to watch the webinar…

A riding instructor, veterinarian and ethologist, Paul McGreevy is Professor of Animal Welfare and Behaviour at the University of Sydney.

His informative talk highlights the concerns of using tongue ties and restrictive nosebands in the context of the horse’s welfare and maintaining horse sports’ social licence to operate – a term that refers to the public’s trust that we are treating sport horses in an ethical manner.

Combining tongue ties and nosebands in this webinar might seem surprising, since tongue ties are only used in horse racing and already banned in all the sports overseen by the Canadian equestrian federation. Nevertheless, as the presentation progresses and Prof. McGreevy reviews the most relevant scientific findings, the analogies between the practices become clearer. They both must be questioned on ethical grounds because they restrict normal function and behaviour, and deny the horse a voice.

Progress is being made, but are we acting fast enough to protect the reputation of our sports?

Some horse racing jurisdictions are reviewing tongue tie rules or have already banned them, while a few forward thinking equestrian federations have introduced rules that require a minimum spacing is achieved under the noseband strap. However, Prof. McGreevy says the general trend within the sector is to demand evidence that the horse pays a cost for wearing such restrictive equipment, rather than act proactively on ethical issues observers may have with denying horses the opportunity to yawn, lick, chew and swallow.

“It saddens me that demanding these pieces of evidence fundamentally erodes our social licence to operate and even questions our having a voice in how we treat our horses because we’re so conflicted by our own interests” said Prof. McGreevy in answer to a question by the Health and Welfare committee member.

“The evidence of damage done [by these practices] will emerge, but as our own worst enemies, horses will always habituate to aversive practices and make abuse appear okay. Just because you can do something to a horse does not make it okay.”

Enjoy this visual and informative 45 min presentation – don’t let the poor sound quality of the introduction put you off. The webinar starts 2.5 mins in and is highly recommended.


  1. While I agree it is important for everyone to be aware of animal welfare issues and that a social licence for the continuation of equestrian sports is paramount, as an equine vet and a competitive rider/ equine biomechanics clinician I have some observations I would like to share.

    Firstly, regarding horse racing- from my experience riding trackwork over 15 years and my many years experience working with racehorses as a vet, tongue ties are not used as a rule, only when a horse is reported to have a respiratory noise. I also think the easiest way to diagnose DDSP is to hear the characteristic gurgling noise while the horse is working, normally when put under pressure at the end of a gallop/ hard workout. I have diagnosed myself by riding a horse I had previously scoped at rest to be normal as I suspected this to be the issue. Perhaps it would be an idea for Trackwork riders to carry a recording device to record the sound the horse is making so this can be diagnosed without the stress and hassle of using an dynamic endoscope.

    As far as nosebands go, of course too tight nosebands are detrimental and unethical, but nosebands in general serve an important purpose. Correctly fitted, they prevent the horse from opening his mouth widely and crossing his jaw to escape a connection and thorough working of his hindquarters (which involves considerable muscular effort).

    The saliva mentioned in the video (which should not however be excessive) is an important part of horses working correctly as a consequence and symptom of correct working over the back.

  2. Thanks Angela for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your experience and hope you don’t mind me attempting a rebuttal since the research puts many of your observations into question. I would be happy to provide a list of references if you want to email editor@horsesandpeople.com.au. Nosebands and tongue ties are a particular area of interest of mine.

    Tongue ties are indeed common and the evidence of their influence on improving or stabilising the airway and correcting DDSP is unproven. It is more likely they are used to prevent the tongue from moving over the bit – which will stabilise the horse’s head and neck posture and ease the effort on breathing, but at what cost to the horse?

    For example, in a 2016 survey of harness racehorse trainers, Findley et al. reported that 85% use tongue ties,

    Three separate studies show that in most cases, tongue ties do nothing to prevent the soft palate from displacing over the larynx (Franklin et al, 2002, Allen et al. 2012, and Allen et al. 2013).

    Published studies suggest that tongue ties are mostly used to prevent the tongue moving over the bit – i.e. for control, and while rider safety is paramount, it should be balanced against the horse’s experience of the equipment. After all, many horses are safely under control without the use of tongue ties. Germany for example is the only racing jurisdiction where tongue ties are completely banned – and racing continues unaffected.

    The major problem is the risk of complications which increases with time the tie is left on (also reported in the literature). Tongues are incredibly sensitive and irrigated – and tongue ties, like tourniquets, constrict blood flow. There’s plenty of research into tourniquet use in human medicine and very strict monitoring of tightness and duration due to the sometimes irreversible damage they can cause. There is no reason to suspect a tie would not have similar effects on a horse’s tongue, and indeed, reports of behavioural and physical damage are relatively common – from cuts and swelling to difficulty eating and irreversible nerve damage to severed tongues.

    Currently, racing does not monitor how tight the ties are applied or for how long – Racing Australia has a recommendation they are not left on for longer than 30 minutes but at the same time, there are no routine and compulsory post-race veterinary exams to check for damage and tightness is very difficult to measure.

    As far as nosebands are concerned, the available research shows that nosebands are routinely over-tightened (Doherty et al.) and that tight nosebands are associated with mouth lesions (Udahl et al.). Despite this, only 4 National equestrian federations are mandating a minimum spacing is achieved under the strap at the nasal bones.

    In regards to nosebands preventing the horse from ‘escaping’, many horse training approaches and certainly the classical dressage Masters perceived mouth opening as a sign the horse is not trained and/or physically developed enough to respond correctly to the rider’s request. They meant that mouth opening disappears when the horse is physically able to maintain collection in self-carriage. In fact, artificially closing the mouth with equipment in a competition like dressage where judges are assessing the quality of the training could be considered cheating. Doherty et al. showed that pony dressage, young horse classes and eventing were the types of competition where over-tight nosebands were most common.

    And, finally, I have not found evidence that saliva is a consequence or symptom of a horse that is correctly working over the back. To make such an assertion, we should first establish what might be normal and what considered ‘excessive’. I am not aware of any anatomical or physiological reasons why horses would not swallow their saliva if they are able to do so comfortably. But I am always open to new knowledge if you can point me in the direction.

    I hope you take this as a constructive rebuttal and I welcome further discussions.

    You may like to read this article – https://horsesandpeople.com.au/clearing-the-air-on-the-bit-free-debate/

    Also – https://horsesandpeople.com.au/tongue-ties-trying-to-see-the-whole-picture/

    There are several noseband related articles on this website if you search the term.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent Posts