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We Are Flying Solo

August 9, 2013

The Nose Knows

Happy face in the (s-word which I will not say aloud, ewww)
I am sure I have talked before about my propensity to school Solo without any type of cavesson on.  He wears just the headstall and bit, with his charming nose free to move as it pleases.  We didn't start that way, although I've certainly never been a noseband cranker.  I quickly decided though that if his mouth was gaping or evading or otherwise doing something, it meant he was uncomfortable or I was in his face or something else was Not Right.  Communication is important to me in all relationships, so I wanted to be able to hear what he had to say and the noseband went off to gather dust on the tack hook.

As you've observed, Encore's outfit is a little different.  You cannot remove the cavesson section from the Micklem bridle, but its design means that the horse still has nearly all of his jaw freedom and I always fasten both chin straps on the last hole.  The primary action of the chin groove strap is to stabilize the bit anyway, which he quite likes.  On the jumping bridle, it's so loose around his nose, I can almost stick a fist in there.

Both ends are the same:  zero (or as close as I can get) pressure on the myriad of sensitive tissues around the horses' muzzles.  They go on when required for shows, but remain loose and merely decorative.

I see a crease and the larger cavesson is pulled down.  No likey.
There are plenty of arguments thrown out there for tightening up a noseband so that I can see the crease in the skin around the leather (Yes, I am especially prejudiced towards the flash, which is almost always fit incorrectly.  Or hackamores sitting over nasal passages, aghh!).  He evades the bit.  He crosses his jaw.  He plays with his tongue.  He needs to learn.  Blah blah blah.

I don't buy any of them (there, I said it).  I have a hard time (outside of a few extreme situations) coming up with ANY reasonable explanation to tie a horse's mouth shut.  You certainly aren't solving a problem.  The tension, insecurity, or discomfort is still there and you may have just made it worse by taking away the horse's escape from pain.  Teaching a horse to accept contact involves using LEG to keep him  moving forward into it and ignoring his temper tantrums; this lesson in no way involves pulling against his face and jaw (of course, I am just as guilty as anyone of falling back to the stupid hand jive).  Not only is there an issue of pressure, but one of airflow:  any reduction of his ability to dilate his nostrils reduces his ability to cool himself and take in vital oxygen in work, whether it be dressage, trail riding, or jumping.

Observe:  an excellent news release from on a study exploring the pressure exerted by nosebands and exploring future avenues for research involving the repercussions thereof.  Not only are there some interesting findings regarding pressure, but they raise the important question that many have just assumed:  what do we REALLY know about how this pressure translates on the inside of the mouth and around the bit? 

At least fit the dang thing correctly.  Although I'd actually go a couple holes looser on the flash strap
This is not to say OMG, YOU USE A CAVESSON, YOU ARE A HORRIBLE HORSE ABUSER!!!  I have not seen legions of horses destroyed with rotting off noses.  There are few absolutes in horsemanship and we must decide on an individual basis, in the end, what is best for our partners.  But I think there needs to be some more thought and discussion about fairness, patience, and responsibility when it comes to this particular issue.  If there is a reasonable opportunity to make a horse more comfortable, shouldn't we?  Overall, horses are stoic creatures and will put up with quite a bit, but they shouldn't have to, if avoidable. 

I believe more riders should look askance as to whether they have truly and correctly approached their training and schooling with regards to contact, bitting, and oral care.  It boils down to another of my philosophies -- are you using tack that you actually NEED, because that is all that should be on the horse.  You know I am always in favour of an educated approach, which includes being open to new information and being willing to explore change.  Yes, the horror of horrors, CHANGE!   

Feel free to discuss at will, heh.


  1. Well written! I used a flash for awhile, but recently changed to a drop noseband. My thoroughbred does exclusively dressage.

    The drop is amazing. It sucks at "keeping his mouth shut," but it holds the bit in the mouth and helps him be more comfortable while I learn to hold proper contact and not have such noisy hands. He is much quieter in the mouth with it, not because he can't open his mouth, but because it's comfortable.

    I'll never go back!

  2. YES! I, too, use no noseband. When I read that a well-thought-of judge did not use one on his horses, the nosebands followed the flashes, which were already hanging from a hook in the tack room. I agree with you: Using a flash or a crank to wire a horse's mouth shut is only a Band-Aid. Find out why the horse is opening its mouth, and cure the real problem.

  3. Austen, I like a well-fitted and thoughtfully used drop. Like a flash, many people do not know how to fit them properly, so you don't see them often. They can be excellent for a stabilizer, like the Micklem chinstrap does.

  4. Love this post! Earlier this spring I started leaving Hampton's noseband really loose (it was just decoration). I put the flash portion mildly snug. He started going better than ever! Super soft in the jaw and poll. I have never been a noseband cranker, but I did put it snug for a while. Never again though! I think if we listen to our horses, they will tell us what works.

  5. PREACH! I just got a bridle that came with a flash and a crank noseband. I immediately took off the flash and continue to have the noseband as loose as it could go. My trainer went to adjust the noseband to make it tighter, and my horse evaded all my aids - clearly, not a fan. Loosened it, and she went back to her responsive self.

    All these contraptions and artificial aids (I'm a purist, no gadgets unless absolutely needed) just mask the problem, they are not the cure. The cure is good communication with the horse.

  6. I always cut off those flash loops, too. Great point to bring up, Karen -- I never understood how folks expect a horse to be soft, relaxed and connected in his jaw if they had the dang thing tied together.

  7. Hey, did you get my email? :)

  8. I don't like the flash at all! However I alternate between using a regular noseband, a figure 8, and nothing at all depending on what i'm doing on a given day. But here lately I haven't touched the figure 8.

  9. Kate, I did, I am just a slow responder and it's been a ridiculous week!

  10. My teacher likes to hold the noseband rather than the bit for body work. For this reason, I keep one on my bridle, but it is loose and the flash only comes out to complete the bridle for the ocassional show. I hate cranks and tight nosebands, but miss a noseband when I want to pull a horse away from the odd feed bucket (or trash can if that suits them) without hurting his mouth or trust in the bit.

  11. I never gave nosebands the slightest thought until just a couple years ago. I ride H/J and they've always been just part of the tack, that I was careful to adjust as I'd been taught with two fingers worth of clearance.

    Then I kept reading in catalogs about "crank noseband" on dressage bridles and thinking, "WTF does that mean? Doesn't sound good." Well, of course I've learned I was right to be concerned, and now it makes my skin crawl when I see some poor beast piaffing or cantering along with the circulation cut off to his muzzle, and flesh welling up on either side of his WELL-cranked noseband and/or flash. GRRRRRR... It's NOT just the dressage crowd who goes in for this, either - I have seen plenty of way-too-tight and poorly-adjusted cavessons and flashes on H/J horses, too.

    You opened up a can of worms with this one, though - I don't know if you were reading the Fugly Blog when Mugwump dared to bring up the topic. She was not as diplomatic as you in her article; she basically condemned the use of nosebands in ALL circumstances. All h*ll broke loose in the comments, as you can imagine!

  12. Hahhaha, no, I quit reading Fugly when that one took over. I enjoyed her personal blog, but it didn't quite mesh with the Fugly blog.

    I don't mind discussion at all though! But I'm also not one for making ultimatum-style statements. In horse things, there is very rarely ONE answer (maybe, they need to drink water?).

    This is why I encourage people to ask WHY they are using something. If your answer is "to keep his mouth shut" then maybe you need to examine WHY his mouth is open. It's probably not because he needs a strap around it, LOL.

    It's also hardly abusive to put a correctly fit, loosely adjusted cavesson on. I only get irked when I see skin and hair coming up on either side and nostrils indented due to pressure below the end of the skull.

  13. Good post! :) Tack in any hands who don't know how to use it right is bad :)

  14. *Sheepishly raises hand, uses flash because it's pretty*

    Obviously I'm not an advocate for cranking a mouth shut, and I don't, but I sometimes do find certain nosebands to be helpful for certain things. Training a blank slate young horse or schooling a properly trained horse? Definitely shouldn't need a noseband. Retraining a hothead horse like mine who has been yanked in the teeth until she figured how to completely ignore her rider's half-halts (or any signals at all), gape her mouth, and run off as fast as she can? Having a noseband has been very helpful while she learns that being a mouth-gaping bulldozing Formula One racecar isn't really her calling in life. Tack fits, teeth are done, horse is perfectly sound... bad training takes the longest of all of those things to fix.

  15. LOL at Andrea's hand. I am sure you are not alone! I agree that retraining baggage horses can require some tool creativity though. I am sure the DQ's would have wet their panties when I put Solo in draw reins for a couple of rides to show him what his body could do. But he honestly didn't know. He got it, I took them off, no more need for them.

    The difference is thought in the application, type of application (i.e. fit properly and not tight). They can be a reminder to guide a horse in the right direction and then go away once the horse comprehends the message.

  16. I'm of the same school of having the noseband on, but keeping it loose enough to fit two fingers parallel to the ground in it, or more. I don't think I've ever been in the position with a horse that needed or warranted the use of a flash or crank cavesson. Everywhere you turn you see bridles with a flash unless you're in the hunter world. It's interesting to see all these different styles of cavessons segregated to the different disciplines.

  17. Definitely, NSR. It's also nearly impossible to even BUY a dressage bridle without a flash on it. Solo's was given to me and I cut the little tab off to convert it to a regular cavesson.

  18. I use a cavasson as a halter replacement when I am trail riding and have to pee. I have detachable rope reins that I clip to the cavasson and tie my horse to the tree (safely, before anyone asks). I do believe that was the original military purpose (read somewhere, maybe the old Fugly blog or Mugwump Chronicles). And I keep mine loose, too.

  19. HAT -- that makes sense to me. I trail ride in a halter bridle, so when we tie up for a snack or something, I can drop the bit and clip the reins onto the halter loop too!

  20. I fall in the same camp as Andrea- being a DQ for several years made me love the look of a flash noseband, however, mine is so loose as to be purely decorative. I've had a couple people comment that "my flash isn't doing anything" in mock horror and my reply is "exactly!". I want him to be quiet and happy without gimmicks!

    Great post by the way. Jimmy Wofford would approve.

  21. Hahahha, I am sure Jimmy reads daily and shakes his head. ROFL!