A commonly used piece of equestrian equipment – the crank noseband – is raising serious concerns among animal welfare groups in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics.
An Australian study has measured the stress response of horses fitted with this gear, which clamps a horse's jaws shut and reduces yawning, licking, chewing and swallowing. The kit is widely used in dressage, as well as in show-jumping and eventing.
Now some 30 animal welfare groups from around the world, including the RSPCA in Australia, are calling on the international equestrian federation (the FEI) to control the use of crank nosebands, or even to ban them outright.
Kate Fenner is co-author of the study, led by Professor Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science.
"In light of the current results, horse sport administrators may need to decide which oral behaviours they can afford to see eliminated in the name of sport", said Professor McGreevy.
Meanwhile Equestrian Sports New Zealand's chief executive Vicki Glynn says New Zealand riders will be using nosebands and double bridles at the Rio games. Stewards and judges should inspect all gear used in competitions to ensure it is properly fitted and is not causing horses any distress.
"Our concern is always horse welfare and the education of riders via good stewarding," she said. "We constantly review new research and where necessary update our judges and stewards on current thinking. We align ourselves with, and take guidance from, the FEI who have a wealth of global expertise in both competition and veterinary matters."