What are your thoughts on tight nosebands? Do you do one up loosely, or snugly, to prevent the horse from gaping its mouth open or trying to cross its jaw, or much tighter, as seen in the photo on the right?
Veterinary studies have suggested that a tight noseband may make the mouth more sensitive, and the horse therefore more likely to be submissive. Of course if the molars are remotely sharp it will increase discomfort, making the horse far less likely to be submissive.
Stewards are able to use a ‘taper gauge’ to measure how tight a (cavesson) noseband is, rather than leaving it to individual interpretation of ‘two finger widths’. There is a Facebook page for one type of measuring device.
Here is the science behind the necessity for such a device, and a direct quote from the page. This is fascinating stuff, proper research, not just guesswork and anecdote:
“Extreme tightening of the noseband may force the mucous membranes lining the cheek against the molar teeth and is thought to increase the bitted horse’s compliance and responsiveness to rein pressure, perhaps by sensitising its mouth (Randle & McGreevy, 2011). This may advantage the rider since the horse appears to achieve a lighter rein contact, colloquially referred to as becoming more ‘submissive’. However, tightening the noseband is likely to mask the horse’s natural comfort-seeking responses by restricting jaw and tongue movements that disclose resistance and behavioural conflict.
Recent evidence suggests that horses wearing tight nosebands undergo a physiological stress response, are sensitised to bit pressure and may have reduced blood flow (McGreevy et al., 2012). Consequently, on welfare grounds, the use of nosebands that constrict with potential to cause injuries should not be permitted in training or competition.
Tight nosebands can mask unwanted behaviour in horses, which might be indicative of either pain or deficiencies in training, or, indeed, both. Consequently, the loosening of nosebands might reveal undesirable responses that could be dangerous to riders and other horse-rider combinations. Riders should therefore rule out any pain-related issues in their horses and ensure that their horses are trained according to principles of learning theory to meet the demands of competition.”
Personally, I want my horses to be really comfortable, and not to resist the aids at all, if possible… I want the horse to yield willingly at jaw and poll, however long that might take to establish, so I tend to have the nosebands loose or, at the most, slightly snug.
But I realise that a lot of riders, some of them at top level, favour tight nosebands, and they must have their own good reasons. I trained for a while with a BHSI who told me that she could not get her top horse ‘on the bit’ unless his noseband was tightened as much as possible. I’m not sure I believe that it is necessary (or fair) to have a noseband that tight to get the horse to give at the jaw and poll, however! The above photo to the right shows a very tight flash strap – the horse’s jaw is closed (incisors touching) and yet the strap is still tightened deep into the flesh. Surely this tight it must be bruising the tissues?
Both of these illustrative pictures were taken in the Dressage phase of the Eventing at WEG. Please don’t play ‘guess the horse and rider’ – that isn’t the point of the photos. It’s just to show that top riders (or their grooms) fit the same bit of tack very very differently. Although, one of these horses was near the top after their test, and the other was near the bottom. It probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which was which… although the noseband is of course far from being the only variable!
I’d be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on how and why they fit their nosebands, particularly for flatwork.