This is one of my pet peeves and gets my skin crawling (I'm not ashamed to admit it!). I cannot stand the sight of a horse with her mouth shut closed by a tight noseband. Why is the noseband so tight? No, because the horse will not behave, objects to her work or will not keep her mouth closed. Does no one know what nosebands are supposed to be used for these days? Who came up with the idea that a tight noseband will solve any problem?
If a horse is schooled, and ridden correctly, she should not need the support of any noseband. Back in the old days horsemanship was an art. The idea was to be able to ride a horse in harmony which meant that the horse should be happy to comply to the rider's requests. No force. No pain. No gadgets. True harmony!
Sadly, in modern horsemanship today, riders have become lazy! Yes, I said it. RIDERS HAVE BECOME LAZY. The horse starts to object to his work (for what ever reason be it pain or harsh riding), tries to evade the bit and trots around with the mouth open. Instead of the rider trying to find the source of the problem and working to solve it, the rider slaps on a tight noseband and continues riding. Voila, the horse is not acting up anymore and the mouth is closed. (Oh, no wait, the horse just misbehaved some more. The cavesson cannot be tightened any more. The rider goes and buys a crank noseband). If only all problems were that easy to solve! Honestly, this form of horsemanship is a farce.
Now, there is a time and place for a noseband. With horse sports involving speed and/or jumping, such as racing, steeplechase and cross country, a noseband can prevent the horse from breaking her jaw. By keeping the mouth closed (not tight, but just enough) the jaw will not be able to dig into the ground in an event of a fall. Mind you, the lower jaw can dig into the dirt like a shovel. With it being very weak it is very easy to break if enough force is applied.
When schooling horses, especially the youngsters, the noseband can be used tactfully to encourage the horses to relax the poll and lower jaw. But this will only work if used correctly (not fitted tight) AND if the rider rides correctly (no constant pulling on the reins etc.). A very good trainer once told me that if a horse is misbehaving or not performing a movement correctly, the rider is to blame 99 percent of the time. How true!
The Cavesson Noseband
This is the simplest form of a noseband. It has its origins in the army when cavalry horses would wear a halter over their bridle so that they can be tied when not being ridden. When fitted correctly you should be able to put 2 fingers between the noseband and the horse's face. Yes, you heard me, 2 fingers! I wonder how many rider's fit their nosebands as loose as this? Very few, in my opinion, that is if you can find any at all. Yet, the 2-finger rule is found in all the Pony Club and BHS manuals. Interesting, no? So, what harm does a tight cavesson noseband actually do? Well, if fitted tight enough it can push the soft cheeks against the teeth causing them to rub against one another. This is a common cause of ulcers and lesions on the insides of the cheeks in horses (old and young!).
The Drop Noseband (Hanoverian Cavesson)
This noseband was designed by the Spanish Riding School and is still used by them today. It has been designed to fit lower down the horse's jaw and fits below the joint. This allows the noseband to restrict the opening of the jaw to a greater extent, compared to the cavesson. However, the drop noseband MUST NOT be fitted snugly. The horse must still be able to open its mouth to mouth the bit. If too tight, it will cause tension at the poll and jaw muscles which is detrimental to schooling the horse. It also has the ability to compact the nasal cartilage and nostrils if too tight. Thus, if the horse is working hard and breathing hard to get in more oxygen, the nostrils won't be able to widen enough. The horse's breathing must NEVER be hindered by a noseband. The 2-finger rule applies to this noseband too. If you feed your horse a treat and the horse is unable to chew it, the noseband is too tight!
The Flash Noseband (Aachen Noseband)
This noseband is supposed to give the rider the benefits of both the normal cavesson and drop noseband. The drop noseband serves to keep the mouth closed and the cavesson to provide attachment for the standing martingale. There are, however, some problems with this type of noseband. 1. The flash itself does not perform its job efficiently because it runs diagonaly across the face instead of straight. 2. If the flash is fitted too tight it can actually pull the cavesson down the nose (In this case you might as well just use a drop noseband).
The Crank Noseband (Swedish Cavesson)
Now, I agree with Elwyn Hartley Edwards when he stated, in his book The Complete Book of Bits & Bitting, that this noseband should have no place in educated riding. This noseband has only one function and that is to shut the horse's mouth closed as much as possible. I dare you to prove me wrong :)
It makes use of a pulley system and a turn back strap to crank the mouth shut. Believe it or not, this is the same pulley system used to secure cargo on wagons and trailers! Ironically, these nosebands come with a thick pad in attempt to prevent the noseband from cutting into the horse's jaw. Already fitted tight, this noseband will cause the cheeks to rub against the teeth (regardless of the beautiful, fluffy padding!), but when the horse fights this noseband she actually ends up tightening it further, thus, compressing the cheeks against the teeth even more. What a vicious circle!
The Grackle & Figure 8 Noseband
This noseband consists of straps that run across the face in a figure of 8. The point where these straps meet is padded and the straps are held together via a round leather patch. This noseband is used to prevent the horse from crossing her jaws, hanging on the bit and taking hold of the bit with the teeth. Some horses that finds the normal cavesson too restrictive might find the grackle more comfortable, because it is more flexible and giving. Thus, it gives the horse little or nothing to gape against. It also stays clear of the teeth, so there is less chance of the cheeks being rubbed against the teeth.
The Combination Lever Noseband
This noseband works in much the same way as the grackle, but does not give as much “give”. Because it stays clear of the bit, it does not do anything to stabilize it in any way (as a drop or flash does). It's metal bars may hinder the horse and cause it to cross the jaws.
The Kineton Noseband
This noseband originated from the race tracks for the use on pulling or hard- to- control-at- high-speeds horses. Because of this, this noseband has been thought to be “harsh”. The way this noseband works is it transfers the pressure (applied with the reins) from the bars of the mouth to the nose where it acts like a hackamore but without the leverage. This is very useful for horses that try to run away from the bit, because of how it scares and hurt them.
To use or not to use, that is the question...
Which noseband you decide to use and how you use it depends on the horse. The simplest of equipment in the wrong hands can be just as harmful to the horse as the more advanced equipment. Therefore, use the noseband as tactfully as you would any other gadget. There IS a time and a PLACE for a noseband as mentioned. It is up to you to make the right decision. You alone are responsible fore the welfare of your horse. After all, you are the one that puts all the tack on your horse in the first place!
Do avoid using a gadget (correctly or incorrectly) to mask a problem. You will have far more success if you deal with the problems at their sources. Yes, it will not be easy, but at the end of it all you will have a happier horse and you two will be one step closer to true harmony. And that is something to be proud of :)