There have been many studies which show how a tight nose band can place a painful amount of pressure on the nerves and delicate bones in the horse’s head. However, despite this, some trainers and riders still believe that using the noseband to keep a horse’s mouth closed will make a horse ride better as it stops them fighting which means they then concentrate more on the riders aids.
Many people think that if a horses mouth is shut and quiet then the horse is riding well. But a quiet mouth should be the result of good training and keeping it artificially closed with a noseband shouldn’t be used as shortcut. The horses jaw and tongue should be as free and supple as the rest of the body and more importantly these structures tie into the efficient movement of the rest of the body. If you create tension here then you will only create tension somewhere else.
The Hyoid bone which links into the tongue, also links into muscles that are involved in the movement of the horse’s forelegs so by creating tension here you will restrict the range of movement in your horse’s forelimbs. An equine dissection also revealed that when pressure was applied to the jaw causing the hyoid bone at the base of the tongue to move up and/or back in the jaw, this left the hind legs and hips extremely restricted. As soon as pressure was released, the leg and hip was then freely moved again.
So when our horse opens his mouth, we need to ask what they are communicating to us, and work out how to release tension and improve their their balance and suppleness, not silence them with a flash or tighter noseband. Our horses voice can only be heard by those willing to listen.
I can't help but wonder if our horses even need to wear a noseband at all, particularly when training, apart from the fact that they look good on some horses. Has it just become the norm that a ridden horse has a noseband on at all times?
I'm interested to hear from anyone who rides either with a loose or tight noseband or without a noseband at all and the reasoning behind your choice.
For pole work clinics, ideas, information sharing and more, check out Sara's FB group Poll Position Equestrian Coaching
There's been a lot of discussion about tight nosebands but have you ever wondered if your horse's browband is too tight?
As an equine bodyworker I came across a lot of horse's with tension around their forehead, ears and poll and although there are many reasons why this can occur, I also found that a lot of people used bridles with browbands that were far too tight in this area and now it's something that I frequently notice when I am out and about at equestrian events. So often we get bridles in pony, cob, etc but it doesn't take into account that each horse's head shape is individual and a broad forehead is often something that gets overlooked.
This area is so important for your horse's wellbeing. A tight browband can create tension in the atlas joint, impinge on the many muscles and nerves in and around the horse's ears and adversely affect important cranial nerves too. All of these can have serious knock-on effects, including inhibiting the movement of the horse's forelegs and hind end!
So, if your horse displays any of the following symptoms:
• doesn't like being bridled
• shakes her head
• is tense around the eyes and looks like she has a headache
• pulls away when you touch her in this area
• is tense in the jaw and neck when ridden
• is choppy in front or has poor engagement
then you may find that it could be caused by something as simple as a browband that is too tight!
Firstly, ensure that you can slip a hand easily under the headpiece (by the way, extra padding won't improve a headpiece that's too tight!) and that the brow band isn't pulling the headpiece onto the back of the ears and impinging on the base of the ears at the sides or pressing onto the forehead at the front. You should comfortably be able to run a finger underneath all the way round.
To be honest, I'm not even sure why we need browbands on bridles anyway, apart from being a place to show off a bit of bling! Are they a hangover from when horses went into battle and had armour protecting their faces? Anyway, I'm not necessarily advocating that you do away with yours, although it can be an interesting experiment if you are having any problems, but that you just replace it with a larger one if it looks too snug.
As a result of research the Danish Riding Federation have set a limit for noseband tightness in competition which is a start but why is change taking so long and is it enough?
The study conducted in 2014/15 examined over three thousand Danish horses after they had performed in dressage, show jumping, eventing and endurance competition and found that almost one in ten of them had lesions or blood on their lips.
The incidence of these mouth lesions was proven to be linked to those horses wearing very tight nosebands with tighter cavesson nosebands increasing the risk of mouth lesions and other styles of nosebands increasing the risk of lesions even more when compared with the loosest cavesson noseband. These findings did not differ between bit types or bitless bridles but the incidents increased as the level of competition got higher.
As a result of these findings the new ruling stipulates that there must be a minimum space of 1.5cm between the noseband and the horse's nasal bones and officials have been given a wooden tapered gauge to make sure that competitors adhere to it.
It worth noting that the researchers were not allowed to look inside the horse's mouths however as equestrian federation rules do not permit a full intra-oral examination at competitions. If they had it would have probably uncovered more damning evidence of the effect of tight nosebands. It's a shame they couldn't also measure the hidden bruising caused by tight nosebands around the nasal bone and lips. Others have already done research into the 'distress' caused by overly tight nosebands but obviously only physical signs have an impact on those who make the rules. Although they seem to have been ignoring their own eyes for far too long!
Unfortunately, we've still got a long way to go to change attitudes to training horses. There are still those who want fast results and to subdue horses and mask the lack of correct training with gadgets and tight nosebands. Shutting a horse's mouth with a tight noseband is simply a way to 'shut it up!' At least competition horses in Denmark now have at least 1.5cm worth of room to show how well they have been trained! But why aren't all countries doing the same?
More information HERE
I feel really heartened by how many of my clients want to embrace a way of training that is based on equine biomechanics but saddened when I hear that someone has opted for the quick fix and lunged their horse in side reins. Side-reins are single straps which attach from bit to girth (or surcingle) and, so their fans claim, will help the horse to flex and achieve a proper outline, encourage straightness and softness and engage the hindquarters to promote balanced, forward movement during training. Right? Wrong!
Just because you pin your horse's head into a vertical position does not mean your horse is flexing throughout his whole body or in a 'correct outline' but unfortunately when i ask many of my new clients what the perfect outline should be, they firstly (and usually only) say 'the head will be on the vertical.' The use of side-reins highlights this popular misconception and the way many people train horses; focusing purely on the front end. I'm sure if you flick through your social media right now, you will see many horses whose heads are beautifully set on the vertical, but if you take a closer look, you'll also see that they have very small hind ends with very little muscle.
The head flexing at the poll toward a more vertical position with an arched neck should occur as a bi-product of the horse shifting his weight onto the hind end. He needs to longitudinally rotate his pelvis whilst at same time flexing his back legs so they step underneath his body which allows the wither to lift, lightening the front end. So, in order to get a biomechanically correct outline, we need to ask the horse to take more weight on the hindquarters to improve the front end, not go straight to the front of the horse and work backwards. And for a horse to learn how to balance himself and use his muscles correctly TAKES TIME!
Even though this is a fit and good looking horse there is still evidence of the negative consequences of using side reins. Note how the horse is leaning on the side reins and hollowing the back causing the saddle to lift up. The muscles on the underside of the neck are overused and tense. A flash noseband is needed to stop the horse opening his mouth and fighting the restraint of the side reins and revealing lack of true balance.
The horse's head and neck are very heavy and therefore the positioning of this part of the body is integral to the overall balance of the whole horse and as a horse works and develops he needs to be able to adjust his neck position. If instead, you use side reins that pin the horse's head and neck in a rigid fixed position, (and elastic inserts aren't any better!) his body which isn't developed enough to carry his head and neck like this naturally will find a way to evade them in ways that many people won't even notice when lunging. For example he may twist his neck and back, drop the base of his neck and back and do no end of distortions to protect his weaker muscles. The one definite outcome of side-reins is that they will force the majority of the horse's weight to be carried on the forelegs, creating the opposite of what most riders are after, a horse that is on it's forehand. Most horses will also become even heavier in the riders hands if they have leant to evade their weaker muscles by leaning on the bit or they will have opted to curl behind the bit so that you can't get a true contact at all. This latter problem is one that is very hard to correct.
Not only will a horse that is pushed onto his forehand this way be more difficult to ride, with a short, choppy stride and likely to trip, he is destined for front end lameness as well. Also, because the horse is often really driven forward so that to the untrained eye the back legs look like they are engaged (see photo above), because the pelvis isn't rotating properly, the back will protect itself by becoming stiff, which means you won't be able to achieve true collection or a good bascule over fences. But, far worse, if the hind legs aren't swinging under coupled with rotation of the pelvis, you could be sending your horse down the slippery slope towards kissing spine, SI injury and stifle problems.
So, whichever end you look at it, side-reins aren't good for your horse!
Side reins don't allow for any stretch, block suppleness and definitely don't encourage a horse to move biomechanically correctly. They also give no relief or release to the horse who is simply trying to work out what is being asked of him. This quick fix outcome will only be an unhappy horse and ultimately an unhappy owner.
My advice to any client thinking of using side reins is very clear 'PLEASE DON'T!' The key to good training is to focus firstly on the hind end and when you have the hind end working correctly, the front end will naturally fall into place. I'm a big fan of pole work as a very effective, non invasive schooling technique suitable for all ages and abilities that gets you and your horse to engage in both body and mind. It can be fun too!
Unfortunately, like most things in life, there are no quick fixes. Time, patience and a happy horse is by far the most successful route.
As equestrians, we must occassionally ask ourselves difficult questions, even if it means question methods of horse care and training used by top riders.
The bridle, first used over 600 years ago is still the predominant tool we use to direct and control our horses. So is it about time that we questioned this outdated and rather primitive method of control which applies pressure on the most sensitive parts of the horses’ head, lips, tongue, chin and poll? The Crank noseband in particular came under fire last year at the 2016 Olympics, as the horses competing in Dressage seemed severely constrained by the crushing tension of the bridle and there was a startling lack of the well regarded two finger gap beneath the noseband. Competitors in Olympic Dressage are penalised for any mouth-opening, and the extremely tight fit of the noseband prevents this. Essentially, equine discomfort at this level can be put down to a need for aesthetic perfection. And so high level Dressage becomes all about forced submission rather than a demonstration of harmony.
The Federation of Equestre internationale (FEI) asserts that “Any practices which could cause physical or mental suffering, in or out of competition, will not be tolerated”, but despite this sympathetic code of conduct, sadly, many competitors seem devoid of this consideration. It's all about looks rather than feel. An international study on the use of nosebands in equestrian sport was published in January this year, suggesting there is evidence that over half of the equine participants in the study were strapped into bridles with a 0% gap between the noseband and chin, and only 7% were given the desired two finger gap.
In Eventing, some might argue that when it comes to the most risky element, the cross country phase, that riders need to have the optimum level of control. It has been discovered that increased noseband tightness is directly related to an increase in bit pressure, so the tighter the noseband, the more likely it is that your horse will effectively respond to your hands. Because the horse is enduring so much pressure they have no choice but to submit to the riders will, and for some this is thought to be the safest option all round.
Yes, when the horse opens his mouth, gets his tongue over the bit and shifts the bit around his mouth it can reduce the rider’s level of control. By closing the mouth, you're shutting off his means of communication. What these so called 'evasions' are telling you is that the horse isn't balanced or the your hands and other aids aren't good enough.
It seems that riders are looking past issues of equine comfort and the need for better training. Instead horses are being forced into a choice-less submission because no-one can be bothered to put more years into training a horse well. When nosebands are used correctly, and the two finger rule is implemented, I don't personally think there is anything cruel in this equipment- although some people would argue for no nosebands at all. The limiting effects of the excessively tight noseband are only to the advantage of the lazy rider. There is little or no proof about whether or not there is any lasting physical or emotional damage caused by this apathy, but it is still unnecessary in my book. To all the high level competition riders out there that decide to cut corners with blatant disregard for their horse’s well-being, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
I would love to know what you guys think of this topic, it’s a sensitive one and I welcome some debate!
I’m so happy that I can finally share my latest brand crush with you all. Ladies and gentlemen I introduce you to Catago Equestrian.
Those items featured below are part of Catago’s Urban range. I’m slightly obsessed with this range (anything black and gold has my vote), it also looks great on different coloured horses if you are lucky enough to have more than one.
So, without further ado, here’s a sneak peak at some of the collection.
Snip’s wearing the rug and head collar, both part of the Urban Collection.
I’m wearing the black breeches with silicone knee grip. What I really like about these breeches is their understated coolness. They are not OTT. They feel light and comfy to wear and also give you a nice amount of grip in the saddle. If like me you have a young horse you certainly need as much sticking power as you can get!
Zara is wearing the saddle pad which again is part of the Urban Collection. The material is soft and breathable and sits comfortably on the horses back.
The shirt is also part of the Urban range. It’s a lovely light breathable material with cute detailing making it classy but not over the top. An ideal summer competition shirt.
Shop the outfit
You can shop the full Catago Equestrian range here.
* Just a note on sizing for the breeches, as they are a lower waist than most breeches, I’d advise that you go for a size up.
Love Abi x
Photo Credit: Lizzie Churchill
‹ Back to Home page