Researchers Evaluate Head Control Equipment Use in Horses

Such equipment appeared most prevalent in sales advertisements for more expensive, higher-level horses, scientists said.
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It’s not unusual to see riders of all disciplines outfit their horses in equipment that helps them better control head position and curb undesirable behaviors. Martingales or tiedowns, for instance, can prevent horses from flinging their heads up too high. Draw reins encourage a horse to carry his head down and/or inward.

Because the use of such equipment can potentially compromise equine welfare if used inappropriately (i.e., to mask training deficits), researchers from Canada and Australia recently evaluated head control equipment prevalence in a population of Australian horses. Katrina Merkies, PhD, associate professor and equine program coordinator at the University of Guelph in Ontario, presented their findings at the 11th International Society of Equitation Science Conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For the study, Merkies randomly selected one issue of an Australian horse sales magazine from each of three years—2005, 2010, and 2012—and evaluated a total of 1,666 advertisement photos. She noted head control equipment’s use in relation to horse breed, riding discipline, riding level, type of noseband, whip and spur use, horse value, and rider age. Merkies observed that:

  • Head control equipment presence increased with horse sale price;
  • Pleasure horses of all levels and types were least likely to wear head control equipment;
  • Intermediate and advanced-level horses were most likely to wear it;
  • Head control equipment was associated with riders wearing spurs but not carrying whips; and
  • Head control equipment was also associated with dropped, Kineton (which has stainless steel loops that fit under the bit and an adjustable nosepiece), or figure-eight nosebands, which all provide more control that traditional nosebands.

So, in summary, “Such equipment appears more prevalent in sales advertisements for more expensive, higher-level horses, such as Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, and occurs in conjunction with the use of spurs and more restrictive nosebands,” said Merkies. “These horses are presumably ridden by more experienced riders

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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