Thursday, February 16, 2012


There has been some heated discussion regarding nosebands recently. Eurodressage in partiuclar has published some very good articles:

ISES Suggest to Empower FEI Stewards to Control Tightness of Noseband

Part 1: The History of the Noseband

From the article:
"One of Germany’s most popular riding manuals, Wilhelm Müseler’s “Reitlehre”, first published in the 1930s and still in print, explains that nosebands are there to hold the bit straight and quiet and to prevent that the horse opens its mouth and thereby avoids the impact of the reins."

This still holds true for the use of the noseband nowadays, for the most part. Certain nosebands can aid in giving stability to the bit (ie, flash or drop) but the noseband is most often used to prevent a horse from opening its mouth to evade the bit, to the extreme of strapping a horse's mouth shut completely. Can that stability of the bit not be achieved by other means? For example, using a bit that is naturally more stable by virtue of its design (ie, eggbutt, full-cheek, Baucher), and by allowing the horse the opportunity to pick up the bit of its own accord? Is it really necessary to restrict the horse's ability to evade the bit? Can this instead be approached by other means?

Part 2: The Purpose of the Noseband

From the article:
"A correctly fitted noseband not only helps to show the youngster the right acceptance of the bit, but also prevents that it establishes unpleasant reactions like gaping, crossing the jaws or even putting the tongue over the bit which can happen no matter how good the rider’s hands are."

So what about the youngster started in western disciplines, where a noseband is not used? When these youngsters are started correctly they also show the right acceptance of the bit and do not exhibit unpleasant reactions - despite the absence of a noseband. Personally I start all youngsters (regardless of discipline) in a plain rope hackamore:

In such a manner the horse understands expectations and to release to pressure to the rider's hands and the reins before the bit is ever in his mouth. Introduction to the bit later is usually uneventful and in fact the youngster usually even stops chomping at the bit and accepts the bit quietly within the first ride. On the other hand, I cannot argue with the benefits of setting the young horse up for introduction to the bit successfully by establishing boundaries (ie, limiting the horse's ability to evade the bit) as proposed in the article. Makes sense - assuming the noseband is used in moderation, to establish limitations without actually strapping the mouth shut. Still, is this really necessary?

From the article:
"There are FEI disciplines such as reining and endurance in which we mostly see horses without nosebands, but then these are riding styles which do not need a constant bit contact and are mainly ridden with loose reins not effecting the jaw. Dressage is about having a constant, though light contact with the horse’s mouth and for this we have to impact it. Does this automatically mean a choice between gaping or a firmly closed noseband?"

I think this proposes a valid point, but only to an extent. The validity in the argument is that it is true a reining horse is not in contact with the rider's hands in the same way a dressage horse is. However the 'to an extent' part comes into play because even a reining horse or a good bridle horse is on the bit in the same way a dressage horse is. The dressage horse should be just as light as the bridle horse or reining horse and the horse initiates this contact, not the rider. As such, I believe the answer to the question posed is: no.

"Amongst dressage riders outside the competition ring we can see youngsters and advanced horses alike ridden up to high level without a noseband, for example through the followers of the French Philippe Karl, a fairly controversial figure in dressage."

I found Karl's student Corinne Daepp's statements in the article very intriguing. I am not sure whether or not I agree on her premise however the results speak for themselves regardless, in that she and many other proficient and professional riders are able to develop horses in a manner where a noseband is not necessary. I find this interesting and can agree with it based on my own experiences:

"Badly trained horses with tongue problems or which are heavy in the hand improve if I take the noseband off their bridle. Some horses do open their mouths if I remove it, but it stops as soon as they become light on the bit."

From the article:
"Ruth Klimke...: “Uta Gräf and her stallion show that a highly trained horse does not need a noseband or a bit. My daughter Ingrid rides Abraxxas (her Olympic champion in three-day-eventing) over small jumps and in tempi changes only with a neck ring.”
German Martin Plewa, an international eventing rider in the 1970s, the German national eventing coach for many years and today the chief of the German Riding and Driving School in Münster, also expressed in a seminar some years ago that a highly trained horse should be able to do without any noseband. Former chief rider of the Cadre Noir and FEI judge Colonel Christian Carde, like the Henriquets a representative of the French approach, is in unison with Klimke and Plewa’s and told Eurodressage: “If a rider has good hands there will be no gaping of a well trained horse, so a noseband is dispensable.”"

"In principle it should be. However not all horses reach this level of lightness, not even the most highly trained one. Furthermore not all riders, not even at Olympic level, have that ideal contact with the bit, nor have those soft and feeling hands which are required to get such a contact."
(bolded done by me)

In my opinion, then these riders should not be winning at the Olympic and Grand Prix level. Allowing these riders to force their horses' mouths shut in lieu of correct classical training and correct riding is NOT acceptable, in my opinion. If these riders at the Olympic and Grand Prix levels do not have this ideal contact with the bit (whereby contact is an essential step of the training scale as a result of the overall process of training) and do not have the soft and feeling hands required for such contact, how are they winning? Incorrect contact whereby tension is present does reflect in the horse's movements:

"When the chewing musculature is braced for whatever reason the neck and the back of the horse become fixed and automatically the hind legs are affected as well."

So how is a horse being ridden at the uppermost levels with his jaw cranked shut still winning if his movements are incorrect, if his neck and back are fixed and his hind legs are thusly affected??

Continue to follow Eurodressage for more articles concerning the use of nosebands. Part 3 of their series concerning nosebands is to concern top riders and trainers and their choice in nosebands.

Next time you adjust your noseband on your horse consider why and how you use it and ensure you are using it for the right reasons and that your noseband is not potentially actually inhibiting your ability to train your horse.

Happy riding!
(and to be clear, no, I am not anti-noseband... just anti-incorrect-use-of-the-noseband-or-any-other-equipment-for-that-matter)

PS. Twice-weekly posts are scheduled to be published over the next few weeks :-D


OldMorgans said...

When did it become the thing in dressage to use the tight nosebands? I do not remember this from my younger days. The noseband was a cavesson, fitted higher on the horse's face and one could get 2 fingers into it under the jaw.

Equus said...

That is what I recall being taught, too, both in private lessons and in Pony Club way back when. Nosebands were not used 15 years ago the same way they are currently, in my experiences. Today, they are used to cover up training flaws or on a horse not yet fully relaxed and submissive in its training (which should = more training, not simply strapping the mouth shut).