Horse Care, Product Guides

Which Type of Noseband Should You Use? (Complete Guide)

Nosebands are an integral piece of any English bridle, regardless of discipline. But choosing the right noseband can be a challenge.

There are several different types of nosebands available, but not every noseband is acceptable for every discipline or appropriate for every horse. Here, we’ll demystify the five most common nosebands in English riding – the cavesson, crank, flash, figure eight, and drop noseband. We’ll look at what each one is, how it works, and how to fit it properly.

Why Do Bridles Have Nosebands?

Before we talk about nosebands, we should mention why exactly we use them in the first place. Many styles of riding don’t use nosebands at all, so why all the fuss about nosebands in English riding? 

Nosebands do a few things, but the main purpose is to encourage bit contact by keeping the horse’s mouth closed. This prevents him from putting a tongue over the bit, crossing his jaw, opening his mouth, or otherwise trying to evade the bit. A noseband can also act as an attachment point for standing martingales or tie-downs. 

Aesthetically, a noseband can help balance out the look of a horse’s face – a thin noseband can make a fancy horse look even classier, while a wide noseband can help balance out a thicker profile. 

Cavesson Noseband

What is It?

The cavesson noseband is the most common noseband in English riding, and you’ll probably hear it referred to as a “regular noseband” a lot. It consists of a single strip of leather around the horse’s nose that buckles under the chin. It is the simplest, most basic type of noseband and is common in just about every discipline. 

When to Use It

The main purpose of a noseband is to encourage the horse to keep his mouth closed and accept the bit. There is some difference of opinion over how much a regular cavesson noseband can actually keep the horse’s mouth closed (other options, like a drop or flash noseband are much more effective), so a regular cavesson works best for well-trained horses who accept the bit and don’t try ‘evasive maneuvers’ like head tossing or putting a tongue over the bit.

Cavesson nosebands come in a ton of different shapes and styles, depending on your taste and style of riding.

How to Fit It

A properly fitted cavesson noseband should rest about 2 fingers’ width below the cheekbone. It should be snug, but not so tight that it causes discomfort. The noseband must rest high up on the nasal bone that runs down the center of the horse’s face. If the noseband is too low, it can pinch the soft nasal cartilage and restrict his ability to breathe properly.

Crank Noseband

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

What is It?

Also called an adjustable noseband, a crank noseband is similar to a cavesson, except for a special adjustment mechanism that uses leverage – usually in the form of rings on either side of the buckle – to allow a rider to “crank” the noseband tighter.

Because of the force applied by the crank, these nosebands are thicker and may have more padding than a traditional cavesson. 

When to Use It

Crank nosebands are commonly seen in dressage, often used as part of a double bridle and in conjunction with a flash noseband. They’re also acceptable in hunter and equitation classes. Because of how firmly it is fastened, a crank noseband should not be used with a standing martingale or other noseband attachments. 

Image by Perlenmuschel from Pixabay

How to Fit it

A crank noseband should sit in the same position as a regular cavesson – about 2 fingers’ width below the bottom of the cheekbone. It’s important the cheekbone not be impeded by the noseband, as the pressure applied can make a small pinch or rub very painful. 

The crank noseband has been the subject of some controversy. Like any piece of equipment, if it is not applied or used properly, it can be uncomfortable. While a crank noseband does allow for a very snug fit, it’s important to remember that tighter isn’t necessarily better. The goal of the crank noseband is to allow for an exacting, snug fit – not to wrench a jaw closed.

Flash Noseband

What is It?

A flash is a thin strip of leather attached to the center of a regular noseband. The flash travels just below the bit rings and buckles at the back of the chin. A flash is attached to a noseband through a detachable attachment that either loops or buckles onto the noseband or through a leather loop sewn into the cavesson. 

When to Use It

A flash noseband is used to keep a horse’s mouth closed without the same pressure as a crank noseband. 

It’s useful for eliminating evasive behaviors like jaw crossing or putting a tongue over the bit. It can also be used with a standing martingale, making it a popular choice for jumpers. 

It’s also a cost-effective option for riders that are experimenting with different nosebands, as a flash attachment can turn your regular noseband into a flash noseband for a fraction of the cost of buying a new one.  

How to Fit It

When fitting a flash noseband, the cavesson should still  fit snugly, about 2 fingers below the bottom of the horse’s cheekbone. The flash should attach in the center of the cavesson and fasten in the groove under the horse’s chin. 

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

The flash should fit snugly, but not so tightly that it pinches or pulls the bridle down. It’s important that both the cavesson and the flash attachment are evenly snug, as a too-tight flash can restrict breathing, and a too-loose noseband can cause the flash to pull the noseband down and out of position.

Figure Eight Noseband

What is It?

Also called a Grackle, a figure eight  noseband is immediately identifiable thanks to the two thin strips of leather that cross in the middle of the horse’s face, with a leather or sheepskin disk to prevent pinching and rubbing the horse’s face. Like a flash, a figure eight has two buckles – the upper one fastens near the horse’s cheekbone and the second one under the chin.

It sits higher up on the face than a regular noseband and has the advantage of staying well clear of the horse’s nostrils, while still allowing a normal range of vision. Because it sits farthest away from the soft nasal tissue of the face, the figure eight is considered to be a fairly comfortable option that also helps keep a horse’s mouth closed. 

When to Use It 

The figure eight noseband is a popular choice for horses doing heavy work who need to be able to breathe deeply, such as jumpers, eventers, and racehorses. 

How to Fit It

Fitting a figure eight is a little different than other nosebands, but still pretty straightforward. To start, find the metal rings on the side of the noseband – they should fit behind the cheekpieces of the bridle, to prevent the metal from rubbing on the horse’s face. The metal rings must be slightly above the bottom of the cheekbone. The disk should sit in the center of the horse’s face, and the second strap fastens just below the bit.

Drop Noseband

What is It?

The drop noseband, as the name implies, is worn lower on the horse’s face than any other type of noseband. It sits below the bit, and fastens under the horse’s chin. Despite its dropped positioning, the noseband should still rest on the nasal bone. 

The drop noseband keeps the horse’s mouth closed, similar to a flash, but without a second piece of leather. 

When to Use It

Drop nosebands are declining in popularity, with more North American riders opting for a flash or other noseband that doesn’t sit so close to the nostrils. While probably not suitable for a horse doing a lot of athletic work, they can be useful for young horses who are still learning to accept the bit. 

How to Fit It

Fitting a drop noseband should be done carefully, with care taken to ensure it isn’t so low that it pinches the horse’s nostrils or slips below the nasal bone. It should be firm, but not tight, and sit just below the bit.

When is it Time to Try a New Noseband?

There are many reasons riders may choose to experiment with different nosebands, often due to issues like head shaking, mouth opening, or other evasive maneuvers like putting a tongue over the bit or crossing his jaws. 

While it’s important to recognize the role that tack plays in your horse’s comfort, many “bad” behaviors are caused by rider error or physical discomfort. If you pull and tug on the reins, use the reins to support an unbalanced seat, or if the horse has a tooth abscess or tongue lesion, he has little other option than to exhibit this “bad behavior” to try and alleviate the pain. 

Image by Rebecca Schönbrodt-Rühl from Pixabay

A too-severe bit, especially in the hands of a new or unbalanced rider, can also be painful for a horse and result in unwanted behavior. So be sure to consult your vet or equine dentist and seek the advice of an experienced trainer before experimenting with different nosebands, especially ones that use pressure to keep the horse’s mouth closed. 

There is also evidence to suggest that tight nosebands can cause increased stress levels in horses, so a tighter noseband is not necessarily the answer to a “difficult” horse.

You may also want to consider trying a bitless bridle, which eliminates the issue of bit/noseband interaction altogether.

Conclusion: Choosing a Noseband

There is no “best” noseband design. Like most other aspects of horsemanship, the right answer depends on the horse, the rider, and the situation. 

The “best” noseband is really whatever the horse will go most comfortably in. But in determining this, we should start with the simplest and most basic noseband and move from there where necessary, once rider error or physical pain have been ruled out. 

The nose knows! Head over to our Facebook page and post a pic of your favorite noseband.

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