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  • August 25, 2022 5 min read

    It is well understood that a tight noseband can cause severe discomfort to a horse. In May 2016,  Plos One report looked at noseband tightness and the physiological stress response of the horse. The study focused on 12 horses wearing double bridles and crank nosebands. Each horse was randomly chosen to either wear; an unfastened noseband, a noseband fitted with two finger spacing, or a noseband fitted with one finger spacing and a noseband with no spacing.

    The study found that when the nosebands were tightened, significant increases in the horse’s heart rate and eye temperature were recorded, suggesting that the horse was experiencing pain and discomfort. Even other behaviours, such as chewing and licking, also decreased in frequency as the noseband got tighter. Once the double bridle and noseband where taken off, the horse’s chewing, licking and swallowing behaviours increased above the recorded baseline.

    So, do we need nosebands?

    Nosebands have been designed to limit the horse from opening its mouth and to encourage the horse to seek contact with the bit. Nosebands are also used to help keep the bridle in place (although not always necessary), attach a standing martingale and to discourage contact evasions, such as getting the tongue over the bit or crossing its jaw.

    When nosebands are fitted correctly, they can be a valuable tool, as it may assist the rider in achieving more sensitive control with the bit. It is important that you take into consideration all factors, such as the bit, your own riding and dental problems, before placing a noseband or tightening it on your horse. As with everything, equipment that is used on a horse and is abused by the rider will cause pain and discomfort to the horse. A noseband is no exception. 

    What noseband should I choose?

    If you decide to use a noseband on your horse, you will need to decide the type that you want to use. Each type of noseband offers a different function. So, when choosing a noseband, you will need to keep this in mind. Ultimately though, you will need to ensure that your horse is comfortable in the noseband that you choose, because if he is not, this may lead to further problems and evasions in the future.

    Cavesson Nosebands

    These nosebands consist of one band that is fitted about two fingers width below the cheekbones of the horse. These nosebands are commonly used in hunter and hack classes. The cavesson noseband will limit the horse from opening its mouth to a degree, but it is more suited to a horse that does not have any issues with the contact and does not evade the bit.

    Crank Noseband

    The crank noseband is the most commonly used noseband in the dressage ring. The design of this noseband is supposed to distribute pressure evenly over the noseband and provide a better fit for the horse. However, be careful when using this noseband, as it is very easy to tighten the noseband more than it is required or even pinch the horse's cheeks. That can lead to physiological stress placed on the horse. Crank nosebands should be fitted at least 1.5cm between the noseband and bridge of the horse’s nose. 

    Flash Noseband

    A flash noseband attaches to the centre of a cavesson or a crank noseband, then drops at an angle to sit in front of the bit, whilst fastening under the chin. It has been designed to keep the horse’s mouth closed and for horses that evade the bit, such as placing their tongue over the bit, crossing the jaw or sticking the tongue out. Flash nosebands can cause the cavesson or crank noseband to drop lower onto the horse’s nose, which may put pressure on a sensitive part of the horse’s face. It is very important to check the fit and ensure that it isn’t too big or too small. You should be able to fit two fingers between the horse’s nose and the flash noseband. 

    Gackle or Figure Eight Noseband

    With the figure eight noseband, the upper straps sit under the horse’s jaw above the cheekbones, with the lower strap securing around the mouth, in front of the bit. Where the straps meet in the middle, there is a disk which is lined with fleece and padding. This type of noseband sits higher on the horse’s nose than a flash noseband, so it may be desirable for those horse’s that are sensitive. It doesn’t tend to interfere with the horse’s breathing. Also, it will prevent the cheeks being pushed into the teeth which can cause oral lesions. At least one finger’s width should be between the top and bottom straps and the horse’s jaw.

    Drop Noseband

    The drop noseband is a singular band that sits low on the horse’s nose and secures in front of the bit, similar to a flash. It will help prevent a horse from opening its mouth and will not cause the cheeks to the pushed into the teeth. The noseband will also help keep the bit steady in the horse’s mouth. It should be fitted to sit in front of the bit and not be done up too tight. It needs to sit above the horse’s nostrils (on the solid part) so that it doesn’t interfere with the horse’s breathing. It is important to note that the flash, figure eight and drop nosebands should only be used with a snaffle bridle.


    Nosebands have their place within the equestrian sport. However, when choosing a noseband for your horse, you need to ask yourselfwhy you need a noseband, as this will ultimately assist you in choosing one.

    If your horse takes the contact and doesn’t have any mouth issues, such as putting the tongue over the bit, then I would recommend going without a noseband or a cavesson. If however, your horse has some mouth issues, then you may want to consider using a flash or crank noseband. For horses that are sensitive in the mouth, but still require assistance with limiting mouth movement, a tackle or drop noseband may be better suited.

    One thing I would like to stress though, is that using nosebands too tightly to stop your horse from opening its mouth may lead to issues such as oral lesions and ulcers, pain, discomfort, bleeding and in some horse’s resistance. That could prove dangerous for you and your horse. My advice would be before you go to tighten that noseband up a notch, seek other options such as sharp teeth, using a different bit or even looking at your own riding!

    I know that we all want our horses to be submissive, but to what extent? Tightening a noseband to the point that they cannot breathe or show their discomfort and pain to a judge, in my opinion, is not horsemanship and should never be used to obtain the competitive advantage.

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