Industry tongue-tied over ethical horse treatment
Equine experts have called for further investigation into tongue-ties and whether they help or harm racing horses.
“Given that other equestrian sports are conducted without tongue-ties, many would argue that racing should be as well.”
A tongue-tie is a strap that immobilises a horse’s tongue. Supporters of this practice say that it prevents breathing issues during races which increases performance and improves the rider’s control of the horse. Tongue-ties are banned in most non-racing equestrian sports in Australia.
A/Prof Franklin said there is limited data to show that tongue-ties actually improve breathing or racing performance. There’s also mounting evidence that they can cause stress and injury.
“Some horses subject to tongue-ties incur injuries such as lacerations, bruising and swelling of the tongue, difficulty swallowing, as well as behavioural signs of anxiety” she said.
“Furthermore, a recent study performed by our group also revealed that application of a tongue-tie for 20 minutes resulted in behaviours indicative of stress and an increase in salivary cortisol levels.”
A/Prof Franklin said that the industry needed to address two separate issues.
“Firstly, if tongue-ties are being used to address upper airway obstruction then a veterinary diagnosis should be required. There are many causes of abnormal breathing noise that would not be helped by a tongue-tie.”
“Secondly, there is the issue of control. If one argues that tongue-ties are needed for safety because they stop the tongue travelling over the bit, then theoretically one is obliged to use them for all horses – since all horses have the capacity to adopt this evasion.”
A/Prof Franklin, an equine veterinarian, is renowned internationally for her research into equine dynamic upper airway obstructions.