Principle 4. Nosebands, if not removed altogether, are never tight

Recently, having saved up my pennies, I decided to buy my horse a nice new bridle. I knew what I wanted and phoned the supplier. I said I would like one without a noseband, which they did not offer – they all came with nosebands. She went on to explain (with some considerable force) that a noseband was a necessity and that horses benefit from the support they provide. In the spirit of being a good learner I tried to listen with an open mind. I then looked at their website and saw a photo that looked very much like the first in the series of photos shown here, and wondered what level of support the horse was getting? What it ‘looks’ like is a jaw forcibly closed shut, the pliable nasal bones being squeezed hard and the highly sensitive cranial nerves crushed with much intensity. I decided to take my business elsewhere.

The history of the noseband is an interesting one. It appears that before humans developed bits, they used nosebands to control and subdue horses. The use of the Serrata in some countries is still testament to the ability of harsh nosebands on sensitive noses to dominate stallions, for instance. However, over time the noseband developed into a flat piece of leather which can be seen in the plates illustrating classical texts. According to a series of useful articles in “Eurodressage, ‘The noseband which soon after its invention began to dominate until the 1970s was the dropped noseband or how the Germans call it, the “Hanoverian noseband’. The dropped noseband can still be seen in use in the Spanish Riding School and some other grand European classical schools. In the 1970’s, primarily in response to jump riders using them, flash and grackle nosebands became increasingly popular. I have heard some jump riders say that a noseband serves to protect a horse’s lower jaw if he falls over a jump. Some people say that a flash stabilises the bit in the horses mouth. I know of other riders who use nosebands to stop horses crossing their jaws, getting their tongue over the bit, grinding their teeth. Or simply to increase the control the rider has with their hands. It’s seen as a fault in the horse that the noseband will correct.

In the Ecole de Legerete we don’t ‘use’ nosebands for the precisely the opposite reason. We want to know what our horse thinks about the hands of the rider. Because that’s all he’s doing when he’s grinding his teeth or getting his tongue over the bit – telling you the truth about how the hands of riders have felt to him. If you can listen to his side of the story, you can present him an alternative that feels better to him; rather than trying to cover it up with a tight noseband. We also commit to using our hands only acting upwards on the corner of the horse’s lips. This means that the backwards pressure on tongue, bars and lower jaw that horses find so aversive is not an issue. Very often, this simple change in the way we present our hands removes the need for nosebands to cover up the horse’s displeasure. He is no longer unhappy, as we are no longer the source of discomfort or even pain. In fact, we could be the source of comfort…Because, in this way of training we actively prioritise the mobilisation of the horse’s jaw. We want our horse to ‘talk to us’ down the reins by softly releasing his tongue up and down. The impact of this release is on the whole horse – with a tongue that is not held down by a bit or a jaw clamped shut with a noseband, the horse is able to keep his tongue, jaw, TMJ and associated apparatus in release, and this has a global effect.

As a body worker, I look for licking and chewing as a sign that the horse is letting go of tension in his body. By using the bit to promote this response we can create relaxation as the first response to our hands. This has a ripple effect on the entire body of the horse. We don’t want to use tight nosebands as we want the sensitivity of our hands to converse with the sensitivity of the horse’s mouth. If your lovely new bridle has a noseband on it, don’t worry, just have it loose – although you will need to ditch the flash. I have found that old flashes are useful for fixing many things around a farm, or can be a small dogs collar if you have any small dogs.

Written by Kate Sandel