How tight should a noseband be, and what type should I use?
These are questions I hear a lot, and there is no straight answer. From a competitors point of view, the short answer is to put on any noseband you like, as long as it is loose and legal. There are individual guidelines on the correct fitting of nosebands, eg cavasan nose bands should be two fingers below the protruding cheek bone (measured the same for a flash noseband). You should be able to get one finger all the way round with any style of noseband.
Some nosebands are not allowed in all disciplines so make sure your tack is legal for the discipline you are competing in. It is the competitors responsibility to ensure he/she shows up in the correct equipment. At lower level competition you will find a more nurturing atmosphere. The officials will often remind you remove boots, drop whips and change out illegal equipment; however this doesn’t happen all the time and definitely not at higher profile shows, so don’t rely on it. I remember watching a professional rider complete a high scoring test, only to be eliminated because he forgot to put his gloves on. He explained to the judge that they were in his pocket, but it didn’t help. Glad I wasn’t his groom that day! So a friendly word of warning – read the rulebook and learn the rules on competing and acceptable/expected equipment!
Do I even need a noseband?
Well, the short answer is you don‘t, unless the rule book of your discipline says you require one. Since they are generally meant for additional control over the horse’s mouth, they can easily be misused as a band-aid to cover up certain behaviours, instead of getting to the root of the problem. Biomechanically, if the horse is already tense in their jaw, an ill-fitting noseband is destined to make things worse. If it is too tight, their tongue cannot move and relax as it needs to. The tension and stress is then put on the temporomandibular joint mechanism (that’s the fancy word for the joint in the jaw); this discomfort causes the horse to brace, which is then transferred throughout the rest of the horse, and in turn to the rider. If the horse cannot relax it is harder for the rider to relax, and if the rider is not relaxed it’s harder for the horse…and so the game of tug-o-war begins.
If you train with a noseband fitted too tight it can do more than cause pain and discomfort. Let’s pretend you go to a show, when you get there and your tack is checked it may be loosened, so now you might have a potential problem; this bracing horse has suddenly got freedom, wahoo! If the horse doesn’t know how to accept the bit properly since it has been relying on a tight noseband, and now has all this extra freedom, you could be in for an interesting class! In my experience if my horses and I don’t have the answers at home, they don’t magically appear at a competition.
Unfortunately, there is no magical online test to see which style of noseband, if any, is right for you and your horse. It is well worth a conversation with a coach or trainer to ensure all your tack is well suited to your activities and in the best interest of your horse. Make sure you practice and train at home in the equipment you would be competing in, that you have checked rulebooks, and that your noseband is loose and legal.
Personally, I tend to avoid any unnecessary equipment on my horses, it’s just more to clean!!!!