Closed-Mouth Bridles

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If you’ve tried to buy a black bridle recently, you may have noticed that it’s tough to find one with a plain caveson. That’s because some version of a drop noseband, which fastens below a plain snaffle bit, is customarily with dressage horses and jumpers.

A flash noseband, which has two straps that combine a regular cavesson with a drop, has become the most popular noseband for sport horses over the last few years.

Drop nosebands from the past may have been a simple drop (without a cavesson) that fastened below the bit or a figure-eight that crossed over the bridge of the nose. However, neither can be used with a standing martingale and both need to be quite tight. The ”flash” alternative can be used with a standing martingale or the drop can be removed without having to switch nosebands. It overall provides more versatility in adjustment.

A flash noseband is used only with a plain snaffle bit (no twists, wires or curbs!) and is used simply to keep the bit steady in the horse’s mouth, therefore allowing more subtle communication with the rider’s hand.

The bit doesn’t pull through the mouth as much if one rein is used and stays in constant contact with the bars, sort of a leather full-cheek effect. Because the horse’s mouth stays closed, it also prevents problems before they can develop and can be useful when starting a young horse or with a green rider whose hands are too active. However, a flash isn’t a solution to mouth problems once they’ve become established.

If a horse opens its mouth wide, or braces against the bit, or twists its nose, then the fit of the bit itself or dental issues should be addressed rather than resorting to a flash attachment, which otherwise would make matters worse.

After checking the bit and the horse’s teeth, then raising and tightening the cavesson itself (the higher strap) and considering any training solutions would start to address those issues better than a flash would.

Fit is important with any drop noseband. With a flash arrangement, always fasten the cavesson first. It should go around the nose directly below the prominent bone on the side of the face and should be tight enough so that the flash doesn’t pull it down at all.

When the flash is fastened, you should be able to fit four fingers between this diagonal lower strap and the nostril so that the horse’s airway isn’t restricted. The buckle on the flash should be high enough so that it doesn’t touch the bit but not so high that it rubs the top of the nose. The keeper should not contact the bit.

The drop should be tight enough so that you can get one finger under the strap behind the jaw — any looser and you’d be better off removing the flash strap completely so that it doesn’t flop or rub. Another guideline: If the horse can’t easily chew a lump of sugar, then the flash is too tight. The horse should be able to relax its jaw and softly chew the bit.