Flash nosebands are a dressage-legal piece of tack. They’re popular with many riders and, these days, most bridles come with a flash attachment. However, recently, social media has seen quite a lot of complaints about the use, or misuse, of the flash noseband.
In this article, we take a look at flash nosebands to find out why the flash has such a bad reputation and how this commonly seen item of bridlework should be fitted and used correctly.
What is a flash?
A flash is a thin strap that attaches to the cavesson noseband in the center of the horse’s nose. It goes around the horse’s mouth, resting in the horse’s chin groove, and sits below the horse’s bit.
Many cavesson nosebands now come with a flash attachment already sewn in, or you can purchase removal attachments separately.
How should a flash noseband be fitted?
The cavesson part of the noseband should sit just below the horse’s cheekbones (about 2-fingers below depending on your horse’s head conformation) so that it doesn’t rub them.
The noseband should not be so tight that it prevents the horse from moving its jaw, nor should it be so loose that it bobs around or that it is pulled down the horse’s nose when the flash is fastened.
The flash strap should be fitted so that it sits above the horse’s nostrils and lays in front of the bit in the chin groove. The buckle should be fastened where it won’t rub, pinch, or put extra pressure on the horse’s nose, usually on the side of the horse’s muzzle, and the strap should be tucked into a keeper to prevent it from flapping around.
You should be able to slide two fingers underneath the top cavesson strap, and you must be able to fit two fingers stacked between the flash strap and the horse’s nose.
An important indication of a correctly fitted flash noseband is that the horse is able to relax its jaw and softly chew on the bit without being restricted in any way.
What is the purpose of a flash noseband?
It’s thought that the flash noseband was originally invented to facilitate attaching a standing martingale to a regular cavesson noseband. However, in dressage, a standing martingale is not permitted. So, why are flashes so popular in dressage, and what’s their purpose?
Despite what you might see out on the competition circuit, a flash noseband is not there to forcibly crank the horse’s mouth closed!
The purpose of a flash for dressage horses is simply to keep a loose ring bit still and central in the horse’s mouth.
So, what’s the problem with flash nosebands?
Sadly, many riders use the flash noseband to fasten their horse’s mouth shut which leads to some horrendous sights.
The more you try to force the horse’s mouth closed, the more you reduce the chances of creating a correct, soft, and accepting elastic contact.
In an attempt to protest against a tight flash, some horses try to cross their jaws, some shake their heads, and others tilt at the poll. There are even some cases where the horse’s tongue has turned blue because it has become trapped between the horse’s teeth and clamped there by the flash!
If a flash noseband is fitted incorrectly, for example too low and too tight, the pressure it exerts over the horse’s nostrils and sinus area can cause breathing difficulties, pressure points, and even nerve damage.
A flash noseband is not designed to be used with a double bridle. However, some riders use a flash to force the horse to keep his mouth closed and “accept” the double bits. That’s never going to work and will probably cause more problems.
If a horse opens his mouth during a dressage test, the rider will lose marks as it indicates a problem with the contact.
A shortcut that many riders take to “fix” this issue (and to sometimes instantly increase their dressage scores) is to strap their horse’s mouth closed using a flash noseband.
This is akin to putting a bandage over a large wound; even though you can’t see the problem, it’s still there.
When it comes to training your horse for dressage, in the long run, shortcuts don’t work. An overtightened flash noseband does not “train” the horse to keep his mouth closed or to accept the contact. As soon as the flash is removed or loosened, the problem will still persist.
Simply forcing your horse’s mouth closed won’t achieve a soft, elastic, consistent contact. A good dressage judge will mark you down if your horse is clearly unhappy in his mouth. In fact, you might even be eliminated on welfare grounds if the flash is adjusted such that your horse appears distressed or is unable to breathe properly.
Reasons why horses may open their mouth
If your horse has contact issues and is constantly opening his mouth and/or coming against the bit, you need to work out why.
Here are a few possible reasons for you to consider.
- Dental problems
- A poorly fitting bit
- The rider’s unsteady or backward hands
- A tight back and/or incorrectly fitted saddle
- Loss of balance
- A combination of the above
On rare occasions, some horses do open their mouth, cross their jaw, put their tongue over the bit, etc, in an attempt to evade the contact. However, more often than not, this is a result of poor training and/or because the horse has previously had a contact forced upon him.
A correct contact sees the horse stretching forward to the bit to create a connection. If instead, the rider has tried to hold the horse’s head with the reins or rides too much from the hand, then the horse will try to get away from the uncomfortable pressure being placed on the bit, hence, he will learn to evade by opening his mouth.
Balance is also another big factor. A horse that loses his balance and falls onto his forehand can end up coming against the contact and opening his mouth. This shouldn’t be mistaken for the horse evading the contact, instead, the horse is trying to use his head and the reins to rebalance himself.
The point is that an open mouth is generally a symptom of an underlying problem or problems. A tight flash noseband may mask the issue, but it doesn’t solve it.
A flash noseband can be helpful for keeping a loose ring bit still and central in your horse’s mouth, and when fitted correctly, it is not a “bad” piece of equipment.
However, a flash noseband is not designed to force the horse’s mouth closed and often creates more problems than it solves when used in that way.
Remember that when using a flash, the horse should still be able to relax its jaw and softly chew on the bit without being restricted in any way.