For some reasons fashions come and go in tack, which makes little sense, really – horses are still horses, riding is still riding, the aims are still the same, but while venerable institutions such as the Spanish Riding School of Vienna stick to their ‘tried and tested over centuries’ combinations (a single-joint fulmer with drop noseband, for all the youngsters, before progressing to a double bridle, in case anyone wonders), many riders the world over follow fashion and swiftly emulate their heroes’ and heroines’ choice of tack. The number of show-jumpers in hackamores seemed to increase exponentially when a certain high-profile British rider had two top horses in succession in one, for example!
Unfortunately the fashion for tight flash and grackle nosebands doesn’t seem to be going away, perhaps because tight nosebands have been demonstrated to increase a horse’s sensitivity to the bit.
My previous article on Tight Nosebands is HERE if anyone wants a look. My sentiments haven’t changed since then, and I truly don’t care who the rider is, or what Championship they are riding at… if the only way they can get their horse to comply with their commands, and to soften at the jaw and poll, is to have the noseband tightened up like a vice, then either they aren’t asking correctly, or the horse can’t do what they want (for physical reasons) or it doesn’t understand what their aids mean. Judges and stewards should be enforcing the ‘not too tight’ rule, and using measuring tapers, but for true horsemen and women the rule shouldn’t need to exist in the first place!
The best dressage trainers I have ever known have invariably put a HUGE emphasis on horse comfort, firstly (and then on LIGHT aids, forward-thinking hands, giving or holding the rein, never pulling). I would have been dragged off my horse (and deservedly so) if I had presented myself on a horse with a noseband as tight as the one in the picture. There is no way that cannot cause pain, numbness, and bruising. How very fortunate for the rider, that horses’ skin does not show a bruise. 🙁 🙁 🙁
There is a vet study on “The effect of double bridles and jaw-clamping crank nosebands on temperature of eyes and facial skin of horses” HERE . It is an interesting read, and concludes:
“the tighter the noseband was fastened, the cooler the facial skin of the horse (and, presumably, the greater the impairment of vascular perfusion) when compared with baseline values (P = 0.016). This study suggests that horses wearing double bridles and tight nosebands undergo a physiological stress response and may have compromised vascular perfusion. Consequently, on welfare grounds, the use of nosebands that cause any constriction of jaw movement should be reviewed as soon as possible.” That was published in 2012.
Animal lovers worldwide lose their collective shit in a massive, baying-for-blood way when they see a photo of a dog with duct tape around its muzzle. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very bad thing to do, even if it was ‘only for a minute’ as this perpetrator claimed. Her FB post went viral, with hundreds of thousands of shares. The woman received multiple death threats and went into hiding, and was eventually charged with animal cruelty after police were inundated with literally thousands of calls from around the world. People were enraged enough to actually DO something about a dog with tape around its muzzle for 1 minute.
Yet all over the world, horses are worked daily with very tight nosebands, and we are apparently so inured to seeing them with their muzzles clamped shut (and one could argue that one can do up a strap a lot tighter than duct tape, although of course it’s not sticky so won’t hurt being removed, presumably) that nobody says a word. Because we’re used to seeing it, it elicits no reaction? That’s just ‘how it is’? Is it because horses just stoically endure, they never whimper in the way a dog in pain would? (Of course, the ones who can’t/don’t endure can end up chucked away, or in a dog food can. Sometimes they manage to hospitalise a person en route.)
What can be done? Why aren’t the riders who use tack judiciously, who do not overtighten flash straps, rewarded more, while those who have them far too tight should be educated, and perhaps made an example of? Of course, not everyone using a flash, grackle, or crank noseband has it overtightened; I am not trying to tar everyone with the same brush. But, WHY don’t stewards and judges stand up for the horses in these cases, as the horses are unable to speak up for themselves? Do trainers encourage this sort of thing?
Answers on a postcard, please. I am a long way from the ‘barefoot and bitless, no metal shall touch my pony’ brigade, but when I see good horses mostly trying hard to please but trussed up like an ovenready chicken, I could despair… and in the modern world we very much need to be seen to be doing the right thing by our equine partners. There’s a growing body of people who believe that eventing horses is cruel and dangerous. The best thing we can do is to show them a happy, comfortable athlete, just for starters!