Nosebands: We Should Listen to Our Horses

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I just read the October issue of Horse Journal, and John Strassburger's article on bit choices. Although I wholeheartedly agree with his statement about a bit not being a substitute for training, I had to cringe when the same was not said about nosebands.

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It appeared to be a comment made by one of the experts, Gina Miles, but the gist of it was to try a new noseband before, or with, a new bit. Then a few sentences followed, where crank nosebands were indicated as solutions for a horse who "braces their jaw against the bit." Flashes are used "to keep their mouths shut," and figure-eights "hold their entire jaw closed." I was appalled by those sentiments following a caution about a bit not being "meant to solve training problems."

If a horse opens her mouth, or braces, the last thing you should do is use a noseband to hide the problem. There's a reason why she is gaping her mouth, or bracing, and all a severe noseband does is cover up the symptoms.

A good horseman determines why the horse is gaping her mouth and solves the actual problem. Just like very few horses actually need a harsh bit, very few horses actually need anything but a plain cavesson. Miles says that "some like a plain cavesson,? but never says that some like a crank or a flash. She says "needs," but doesn't say likes. The horses are telling us what they think about cranks and flashes and figure-eights, and we should listen to them.

Since virtually all dressage bridles are sold with a flash or a crank, many riders think those are necessary pieces of standard equipment. That is not true. None of my three mares needs or has a flash or crank, and for that matter, they don't even have nosebands on their bridles. The plain cavessons I have only come out at show time, when they are required.

Indicating that cranks, flashes, and figure-eights serve a training purpose is tantamount to saying the same about a stronger bit. I do not believe that two so opposing statements belong in the same article. I'm quite surprised that John included the paragraph about nosebands, unless he also subscribes to the same ideology as Miles. If he does, I'd call him on that, too.

Megan Rust, via e-mail