I’ve been looking at a lot of bit/noseband combinations lately, trying to find the right one for my OTTB. Out in the hunt field, I wanted to make sure that he couldn’t evade the bit by opening his mouth. Looking at tack store catalogs, photos from shows and horses of friends, I realized how much fashion influences the choice of noseband (look at the prevalence of flashes), people fit their cavessons differently today than they did 10 years ago, and that many people don’t have a clue how to adjust one.
Truth be told, much of the time, I ride my horse without a cavesson. Partially this is sheer laziness (one less thing to clean), partially it is a feeling that you shouldn’t need to ride in a cavesson, that true submission should be achieved through training, rather than by cranking your horse’s jaw shut.
I wasn’t always such a noseband snob. At various times, I’ve used flash nosebands, dropped nosebands, crank nosebands, figure-8 nosebands, lever or crescent nosebands, and just plain old regular nosebands. I often ride my horse in a side-pull bitless bridle which is all about control using a noseband.
So, what is the purpose of the noseband? On the Website Sustainable Dressage the writer puts forth the theory that nosebands were added to the bridle as a safety mechanism to prevent a horse from injuring itself it fell with its mouth open.
Other theories place the noseband earlier in riding history than the bit. In Wikipedia it is proposed that the noseband was one of the earliest tools used to domesticate the horse and that it evolved in its use first into the hakma, in Persia, and then into the hackamore bridles that are used today like the bosal.
Today the noseband has several functions:
- Stabilizes the horse’s jaw.
- Prevent the horse from opening its mouth to avoid the bit.
- Prevents the horse from crossing its jaw.
- Stabilizes the bit in the horse’s mouth.
- Help control a horse that pulls without resorting to a stronger bit.
- Serves as a way to attach a standing martingale.
- Visually sets off the horse’s head.
So what are your choices?
Standard cavesson: This is the simplest design that has a limited physical effect on the horse. It can help stabilize the jaw high up on the horse’s head but you should always be able to fit one to two fingers inside the noseband, so it’s not meant to be adjusted very tightly. I often see these adjusted so loosely that they only serve to enhance the horse’s head or as an attachment for a standing martingale. Interestingly, when I was taught to fit a bridle, I was told the cavesson should lie two fingers below the horse’s cheek bones, like the image on the right. From what I can gather, that’s still how they are adjusted in England, while in the U.S. it’s now standard to have them lie right underneath the cheek bones.
Flash noseband: The flash has become so ubiquitous that sometime I think it’s difficult to find a bridle without one! The flash was designed to help keep a horse’s mouth closed, but is not as effective in this regard as other designs. It should be fitted so that you can slide your finger around the noseband and fit two fingers between the flash and the horse’s nose. I often see flashes adjusted so that they have slid down the horse’s nose as it can restrict the horse’s breathing. Flash nosebands are made to be used with snaffle bits as the flash would interfere with a curb chain.
Crank noseband: This style noseband is similar to the traditional cavesson but is made so that it can be fastened tighter. It is padded in the back so that it is more comfortable for the horse. The design helps prevent a horse from crossing its jaw designed to be fastened slightly tighter than a cavesson, without a buckle to dig into the back of the horse’s jaw. This style of noseband can be used with any type of bit. It is most popular in dressage as it can be used with a double bridle. Just because it is adjusted more tightly than a standard noseband doesn’t mean that it should be “cranked” to the maximum effect! People sometimes get carried away.
Figure 8 noseband: This noseband is popular with jumpers and eventers. The criss-cross design has a similar effect to a flash in that it stabilizes the jaw and prevents the horse from opening its mouth. The mane pressure point is at the central cross-over. Traditionally, this noseband was fitted so that the top straps are below the cheek bones, however I have also seen them adjusted higher on the horse’s head.
Crescent (Lever) noseband: This noseband is very effective at stabilizing the horse’s jaw. It adjusts both above and below the bit so it can be fitted well to an individual horse. Its a noseband that I like to use because I feel that it offers very consistent pressure on the horse’s head and does not slip out of place. The lever noseband fits around the bit.
Kineton noseband: This noseband is used on horses that pull. It is the only noseband that works in conjunction with the bit. As you can see, there is no strap under the horse’s chin; the noseband attaches to the bit instead. It can sometimes enable more control without using a harsher bit. The Kineton noseband is used primarily for eventing (cross country) and hunting.
After several trial runs, I ended up using the Crescent noseband and a loose ring snaffle with my horse. He seemed to resist the flash more, but was accepting of the Crescent.