How to Fit Your Horse’s Noseband
Clearly, the bit you choose has an influence on the quality of the contact that you have with your horse. But did you know that the style of noseband and how it’s fitted can impact on the contact too?
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the various forms of nosebands that are dressage-legal and discuss how they should be fitted.
But first of all, we must mention bitting.
The rider’s hands and their connection to the bit facilitate a “conversation” with the horse’s mouth. The correctness and clarity of that conversation will determine the quality of the contact and thus influence the horse’s overall way of going in a positive or negative way.
When the bit is correctly fitted and positioned, the horse will be comfortable and relaxed. If the bit is too severe or doesn’t fit properly, the horse will be confused, the conversation becomes garbled, and the performance suffers.
For more information on bitting check out the two links below. However, it suffices to say that the bit you choose should be the correct size and shape to comfortably fit your horse’s mouth.
- How to Choose and Correctly Fit a Bit for Dressage (Single Bit/Bridle)
- How to Introduce Your Horse to a Double Bridle
What is a noseband’s purpose?
The purpose of a noseband is quite simply to help hold the bridle in place and prevent it from coming off.
A noseband can also be aesthetically pleasing and help to balance the appearance of your horse’s head.
How NOT to fit a noseband
The noseband is not there to clamp the horse’s mouth shut! That is cruel to the horse and usually leads to resistance and tension.
A noseband that is too tight can make the horse’s mouth numb and insensitive, and it can also place undue pressure on the horse’s poll. The result of that is that the horse immediately defaults to self-preservation mode, grabs the bit and clenches his jaws. Consequently, the horse’s mouth is dry and immobile, and all hope of achieving a relaxed, elastic contact down the rein is lost.
Conversely, if the noseband is fitted too loose, it may irritate the horse and cause discomfort by rubbing the sensitive skin around his mouth and underneath his chin.
Nosebands in dressage – what’s the rule?
In all dressage competitions, a noseband of some sort is compulsory.
Also, the F.E.I. (the International Equestrian Federation) has ruled that there must be sufficient space to fit two fingers underneath the noseband. The intention here is to ensure that the horse has enough room to comfortably chew on the bit.
For that to happen, the horse must be able to move his tongue and lower jaw. That will allow a genuine connection through the horse’s body to the rider’s hands, allowing genuine half-halts to be effectively applied and a lightness in the contact to be achieved.
How to fit a cavesson noseband
A cavesson noseband should be fitted so that it sits about 2cm below the bony facial crest so that it doesn’t rub on the bone.
The noseband should be adjusted so that you can comfortably slide your thumb beneath it when the noseband is fastened.
Make sure that the head and cheek straps lay just in front of the bit cheeks so that the noseband doesn’t tip down at the front.
Tuck in any extra strap at the back of the noseband so that it doesn’t flap around and irritate the horse.
The cavesson noseband or the crank noseband (which we will talk about below) are the only styles of nosebands that should be used with a double bridle.
How to fit a flash noseband
A popular style of noseband that’s often seen in the dressage arena is the cavesson with a flash fitted.
The cavesson part of the noseband should be fitted as previously described, and the lip strap (flash) should be adjusted so that it is high enough to allow the horse to flare his nostrils if he needs to.
The flash part of the noseband should not be fitted so tightly that the horse cannot chew gently on the bit. If the upper part of the cavesson noseband is pulled down, then the flash is probably too tight.
The flash should be fitted so that the buckle is not too close to the bit or the horse’s mouth, and the point of the strap should be pointing downward not up.
Don’t tuck the loose end of the flash under the loop on the front of the cavesson, and never use a removable flash attachment. Recent research has shown that flash nosebands can inflict tremendous pressure on the horse’s nose, causing discomfort and pain.
How to fit a drop noseband
The drop noseband is a rather old-fashioned style of noseband that was reputedly first used by the Spanish Riding School.
The drop noseband is not as popular as it once was. However, when pressure tested, it is worth noting that this style of noseband (along with the grackle) fared better than other conventional styles of noseband. (Click here for pressure testing results carries out by Fairfax)
The drop noseband should sit slightly lower than a cavesson but not so that it impairs the horse’s airway. The noseband should rest on the horse’s facial bones. The chin strap should underneath the bit and rest in the chin groove. The buckle and rings of the chin strap must not interfere with the horse’s lips or the bit.
Make sure that the cheek straps are not fitted too close to the horse’s eyes.
The nosepiece on the drop noseband should not be too long or it will press on the ends of the bit, interfering with the bit’s action and irritating the horse. The drop portion of the noseband should be fitted high enough to allow the horse’s nostrils to flare.
When fitted correctly, the drop noseband allows the horse to chew the bit and does not restrict the movement of his lower jaw.
How to fit a crank noseband
The crank noseband is fitted as you would fit a cavesson.
It can be very easy to inadvertently over-tighten a crank noseband due to the ‘crank’ design of the fastening. So, make sure to remember to leave enough space to fit two fingers underneath.
The crank noseband has the advantage that it has a separate strap at the chin that’s fitted into squares or rings, allowing some movement when the horse moves.
However, you must ensure that the padded part of the chin strap is fitted centrally. As with any form of noseband that fits around the horse’s jaw, you must be sure that he can move his lower jaw, swallow easily, and gently chew on the bit.
How to fit a grackle noseband
The grackle noseband is now legal for pure dressage, as well as event dressage, and comes in two forms.
Standard figure-eight grackle
The standard figure-eight grackle noseband consists of a head strap and two separate, thinner straps that fit around the horse’s nose. These two straps should fit below the horse’s cheekbones and underneath the chin.
Figure-eight grackles can be problematic to fit, as the top strap often sits too close to the cheekbones, and the two straps can easily be overtightened, placing undue pressure on the horse’s nose.
Mexican (high-ring) grackle
The Mexican or high-ring grackle noseband is a better option than the figure eight version.
The Mexican grackle has rings that provide a degree of articulation, enabling the horse to move his jaw and tongue. However, the noseband must be fitted carefully so that the rings sit on the top of the cheekbones and not underneath them.
The cheek buckles of the noseband should not be fitted too high, and the chin and jaw straps must fit so that the straps and buckles don’t interfere with the horse’s mouth or the bit.
Noseband fit and self-carriage
An incorrectly fitted noseband of any style has an effect on much more than the horse’s mouth. It can interfere with the horse’s ability to carry himself.
In ideal circumstances, the rider’s aids channel the energy generated by the horse’s hind legs through his back and neck toward the rider’s hands and the bit. A good rider then uses well-timed half-halts to create engagement, impulsion, and collection. When this process is working correctly, the horse develops self-carriage and becomes lighter in his forehand.
However, a tight noseband can cause the horse to clench his jaws and grab the bit, making him heavy in the rider’s hands, and encouraging the horse to lean on his shoulders and take more weight onto his forehand.
In that scenario, it is possible for a strong rider to forcibly lift the horse’s head and neck. However, that simply forces the horse into a false self-carriage (“absolute elevation”) that only gives the impression of being uphill, rather than genuine self-carriage (“relative elevation”).
A noseband that’s too loose can interfere with a horse’s ability to work in self-carriage as much as one that’s too tight. If the noseband is too loose, the rider will have problems creating and maintaining a consistent connection. That can cause the horse’s neck to wobble both longitudinally and laterally.
The horse will avoid the rider’s half-halts by stiffening and lifting his head and becoming hollow behind his withers. An on-off connection usually causes tension in the horse, making it impossible for throughness to develop.
Many riders become too busy or strong with their hands in an attempt to obtain submission from the horse, and a vicious circle is born.
The noseband is there to help hold the bridle in place.
A correctly adjusted and properly fitted noseband should not be so tight that the horse cannot breathe freely, move his lower jaw, and chew gently on the bit.
A noseband should never be used to force the horse to keep his mouth shut. If your horse habitually attempts to evade the bit, you should have his teeth and back checked in case there is a physical reason for the evasion or tension.
What kind of noseband do you use with your dressage horse? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.
- How to Choose and Correctly Fit a Bit for Dressage (Single Bit/Bridle)
- How to Fit a Dressage Saddle to Both Horse & Rider
- How Much Contact Should You Have?
- How to Ride Your Horse on the Bit