I will start off this post by saying this: while I love horses and care extensively about their welfare, I do understand that every horse cannot go in a double-jointed snaffle and simple hunter noseband bridle. I am not one of those people who think bits and bridles are bad. In fact, I generally believe that the bit and bridle are only as severe as the hands holding the reins.
However, after watching the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this year, I was left with sadness in my heart and a feeling of anger and disappointment centered at the organizations that serve as the foundation of our sport. The center of it: Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous.
Pictured below is an image of ML from the dressage phase of the Land Rover Three-Day Event and a closer look at the same picture.
When I saw how tight that flash noseband was, I was appalled. A noseband as tight as this one has every possibility of restricting air flow and causing injury to the lips and tongue. Not to mention, the tightness could very well cause damage to cartilage that makes up the horse’s nasal passage.
My first thought was: how could this have passed the tack inspection?
After all, according to the eventing division of the USEF rulebook, “a steward should be appointed to check the saddlery of each horse before it enters the arena or starts a Test“, and that “the checking of the bridle must be done with the greatest caution“. And while I see that there is no direct reference to the tightness of flash nosebands in the USEF rulebook concerning the evening division, I did see a rule that states that “a cavesson noseband may never be so tightly fastened as to harm the horse”. Does this not apply to flash nosebands as well? What happened to the two-finger rule?
A noseband as tight as this one should have never been allowed to enter the ring.
To make things worse, not only was Marilyn’s flash noseband obscenely tight in the dressage phase but RF Scandalous was found to have blood in her mouth before, during, and after the cross-country phase. This is not the first time this has happened with Marilyn Little. In fact, there are at least two other documented cases of the presence of blood in RF Scandalous’s mouth – once at Boekelo and once at Fair Hill beside this instance. This doesn’t include the multiple other offenses with other horses that Marilyn has racked up. You would think after the third documented instance with the same horse that something would be done as this is obviously no longer a coincidence. After seeing her groom rush over to the pair with a RED towel after cross-country, I definitely think not.
It can be seen in The Chronicle of the Horse’s article concerning the blood found in the mouth of RF Scandalous that the official vet ruled the blood was due to the horse biting her bottom lip. After seeing the photo of how tight Marilyn’s noseband was the day before, I would be hardpressed to believe that the horse biting its lip is an unrelated incident – especially since this is only one of the multiple incidences involving ML. Think about this: how many times have you heard of a horse biting its lip resulting in blood beside the cases related to Marilyn? The blood could very well be the result of a too-tight noseband. That would be my first guess after seeing how tight her flash was in dressage.
As a rider and a member of the equestrian community, it saddens me to see such blatant abuse of equipment by a professional that is supposed to serve as a role model to the younger generation of riders. It saddens me even more that the organizations that are entrusted with regulating our competitions and the welfare of the horses competing allow this to happen without enforcing any kind of punishment. This is a welfare issue that needs to be addressed.
While this post is undoubtedly centered around Marilyn Hill, she is not the only person at fault in this industry. Our organizations need to hold people accountable for their actions instead of making excuses for them. The FEI/USEA/USEF need to examine their rules and standardize a rule across all disciplines and actually enforce them. Blood is not acceptable in any circumstance – especially not the amount of blood that was coming from RF Scandalous’s mouth. Step up to the plate, FEI/USEA/USEF, something needs to be done now.