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Know your nosebands

A guideline to finding the best fit

Text: Charlotte Bastiaanse

Photography: Tack ‘n Togs, Kreuz Galopp

The noseband is a conventional piece of tack that we as riders often overlook. As with all tack pieces, the noseband you decide to use on your horse should be carefully chosen based on a sound understanding of what actions the different nosebands exert on your horse’s face. When we think of the bridle, we often worry most about the fit of the bit. When we face schooling challenges, we change the bit or we question the fit of the saddle. Sometimes the key to overcoming these problems can be a simple change of noseband.

Why do bridles have nosebands?

  • To keep the horse’s mouth softly closed and quiet.
  • To encourage contact with the bit.
  • To reduce any evasion of the bit, such as jaw-crossing.
  • To help hold the bridle in place on the horse’s face.

Rule out pain

Before you can decide on a noseband, make sure that your horse is physically healthy and that you are aware of any anatomical problems. Ensure that your horse’s dentistry is up to date and that he doesn’t have any past injuries that might interfere with the fit of the noseband, such as a previously fractured jaw.

Cavesson noseband

Cavesson noseband

Also known as a traditional noseband, this is the most popular choice of noseband. The cavesson noseband is a simple noseband, fitted approximately two fingers below the cheekbones. This noseband should not be fastened too tightly or it will obstruct the horse’s airways or damage the teeth. You should be able to fit at least two fingers in between the noseband and the horse’s face all the way around. Although this is the most commonly used noseband, many horses do not work well with it. Look out for signs of head shaking or throwing, trying to open the mouth or hanging the tongue out of the mouth, as indicators that this noseband is not correct for your horse.

Suited to: Horses who accept the bit without a fuss, horses who do not evade the contact, and horses who wear double bridles.

Flash noseband

Flash noseband

The flash noseband assists with preventing a horse from opening his mouth too wide and encourages acceptance of the bit. There are several debates regarding the redundancy of the flash noseband. Experts recommend that riders do not add the flash noseband unnecessarily. The flash must also not be done up too tightly, allowing one finger space between the noseband and the horse’s face.

Suited to: Horses who evade the contact or open the mouth excessively.

Crank noseband

A crank noseband

Also referred to as a cinchback or doubleback, this noseband is designed with comfort in mind as it does not allow the buckle to dig into the back of the horse’s jaw. The crank noseband also prevents a horse from opening or crossing his jaw when you can’t use a noseband that fastens below the bit. The crank is commonly used by dressage riders who use double bridles. This noseband is fitted slightly more snuggly than the cavesson, but riders should still take care not to fit the noseband too tightly as this can cause pain and ultimately calluses.

Suited to: Horses who wear double bridles, and horses who open or cross the jaw.

Grackle noseband

Also known as the figure-of-eight noseband, this noseband is a popular choice among showjumpers and eventers. The grackle is designed with a main pressure point at the crossover point on the top of the horse’s nose. The straps pass through a slotted leather circle, which often has a sheepshin backing to prevent discomfort or rubbing. The grackle is also effective with horses who open their mouths or cross their jaws excessively, and helps to quieten horses with fussy mouths. The grackle is thought to be the least air-obstructing of all the nosebands and therefore is a popular choice for faster-paced disciplines such as showjumping and eventing. Another version of the noseband has also been developed, called the American or Mexican noseband. The variation features a top strap that sits higher up on the face; it is also thought to have a softer action.

Suited to: Horses who cross their jaws or open their mouths excessively, horses who are fussy in the mouth, and showjumpers and eventers.

Drop noseband

Fitted in front of the bit, this noseband was designed to prevent a horse from opening his mouth and resisting the contact. It is more effective and definite than a flash noseband. The drop noseband is a low-fitting noseband that creates a low pressure point in the front and another pressure point in the curb groove at the back. This noseband is thought to encourage a horse to drop his head. If fitted too low, this noseband can interfere with a horse’s breathing, so it is important to fit the noseband approximately 6cm above the nostrils. You should also be able to fit one finger in between the noseband and the horse’s face all the way around.

Suited to: Horses who evade the contact, and horses who struggle to drop their heads.

Double noseband

A double noseband

The double noseband typically combines actions from a cavesson and drop noseband. A lateral strap on either side of the face attaches from the cavesson piece to the drop piece. The combination of both nosebands controls and limits the opening of the mouth and crossing of the jaw. The arrangement also prevents pinching the corners of the mouth, which the flash can often do if badly fitted.

Suited to: Stronger horses, and horses who open the mouth excessively.

Micklem bridle

The Micklem bridle features the design of a unique noseband piece. Offered as a bridle and not a noseband, the Micklem bridle is designed with the horse’s comfort in mind. A diagonal strap runs from the cheek piece to the drop noseband piece, avoiding the sensitive sides of the horse’s head. The unique design relieves concentrated pressure points.

Suited to: Horses who are sensitive to pressure, and horses who are fussy in the mouth.

No noseband?

Despite your efforts, your horse might not like any sort of noseband. Some horses are more comfortable and work better without the restrictions of a noseband. Certain disciplines allow no nosebands but other disciplines, such as dressage, require the horse to wear one.