The Noseband Controversy

So, aside from the bloody mouth saga that we’ve replayed like 6 or 7 times by now, another thing to come out of the LRK3DE this year was scrutiny over how tight some people’s nosebands are. In fact, a lot of people had more issue with that than they did with the blood, or think that one problem is directly related to the other. I’m inclined to agree with the latter part.

Image result for marilyn little noseband

But what has been interesting about that whole debacle are the conversations that have resulted in it’s wake. Looking through the photos, it was hard not to notice that some people (no, not just one) had some seriously tight flash nosebands. The current FEI rule for nosebands is as follows:

Horse Noseband check:
FEI Stewards of all disciplines to pay particular attention to ensure that nosebands are not overtightened. It must be possible to place at least one finger between the horse’s cheek and the noseband. Nosebands must never be used in such a way that they interfere with a horse’s breathing. This check can be carried out at any time the steward feels that a noseband appears to be too tight (preferably after the test); if the steward carrying out this check finds the nose band is too tight, the steward must ask the groom to loosen the noseband so that one finger can fit between the nose band and the cheek of the horse. If it happens again the rider should receive a yellow card for not following the instruction of the steward.

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One finger. Between the cheek and the noseband. Not two fingers. Not the chin, or the front of the nose. I’m pretty sure you could tighten that thing to the point where it’s bone-crushing and I could still get a finger in there on the horse’s fleshy cheek. So who gets to determine what meets the definition of “overtightened”?

There has also been a lot of talk lately about the noseband study (if you only read one thing today, read this) released last year, which showed that “A proportion of the horses were recorded having oral lesions, most of them in dressage. The tightness of the noseband showed a very clear correlation to the occurrence of oral lesions.”. So, yes, it’s been proven that overtightening a noseband can and does cause physical harm to a horse. I was particularly interested to note, while reading through the study, this part:

The median noseband tightness in all horses measured (n = 737) was found to be 0.5 fingers. Forty four per cent of nosebands were tightened to zero fingers tightness, 7% to 0.5 fingers, 23% to 1 finger, 19% to 1.5 fingers and 7% to 2 fingers tightness.

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Holy. Shite. Clearly that vague rule about fitting a finger between the cheek and the noseband is not working out in the horse’s favor.

As a result of this study, the Danish Equestrian Federation has brought forth new rules regarding noseband tightness – “The tightness of the nosebands will be measured as of 1 January 2018: There must be room for a certified measurement unit in between the nasal plate of the horse (bony surface) and the noseband equivalent to a diameter more than 1,5cm. The rule is applicable for all disciplines.”. So not only are they calling for a standard measurement (not a vague one or two fingers), they also have changed the location of where the measurement should be taken. Not the cheek, but rather the front of the horse’s face.

A taper gauge has also been created, an actual tool that standardizes just how much space there must be. Handily enough, it also measures curb length and bit thickness.

Image result for ises taper gauge

New Zealand is the latest country to jump on this bandwagon, discussing possible rule changes to introduce the use of the taper gauge at their shows.


I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I doubt the taper gauge would fit under even half of the horses’ nosebands at most shows in America, of pretty much any discipline. Overtightening of nosebands seems like, from my experience at least, something that happens across the board. I’ve done my fair share of it in the past too, having been raised thinking that the noseband should go as tight as you could get it. I definitely don’t do that anymore, and honestly probably err on the “may as well not have a noseband at all” end of the spectrum these days, but it seems to be a pretty common practice.

So the real question here is what FEI, and also USEF, might do about this. The fans aren’t the only ones noticing an issue with nosebands, some riders are speaking up about it too.


Jim Wofford wrote an article about it FIVE YEARS AGO, and if anything it’s only gotten worse since he made these observations. I’ll be honest, I’d be shocked to see any action toward standardization from USEF anytime in the near future, but maybe I’m just being pessimistic. This is nothing new – the study and the taper gauge have been subjects of discussion for years. It’s refreshing to see some upper level riders/coaches supporting changes, though.

What do you guys think? Do you see overtightened nosebands often? Do you think it’s an issue? What do you think of the changes that some countries are starting to make?

32 thoughts on “The Noseband Controversy

  1. I definitely fall into the camp of “probably too loose” on the noseband front. I have seen a lot of different versions of abuse with nosebands: Pebbles under the noseband with a standing martingale on a hunter that liked to throw its head, Dressage bridles with crank nosebands done up so tightly that the holes have stretched out, figure 8 nosebands that are a. fitted incorrectly and b. are so tight that the sheepskin padding has to be replaced a couple of times a year.

    The worst part of it is: I don’t think I have ever seen a horse go significantly BETTER with a super tight bridle/noseband/flash than with a properly fitted one. Maybe the mouth moves more, but tension tends to show up elsewhere because… you know… the horse is uncomfortable. In my opinion, it has become more habit than anything else at this point. Like, oh I might as well tighten this thing until my horse has no circulation because it might make some kind of difference… Truly a terrible trend.


  2. I’ve always done the two fingers underneath method which makes it pretty loose but even with my newbie riding skills I know that the noseband being tight isn’t going to save my ride any. I plain don’t understand purposefully creating pain in your horse. Take the damn time and train properly or if you can’t ride that horse nicely get a different mount that you can ride without needing pain as a way to get the horse to do the thing.

    While I’m ranting. What worries me the most with these harsh practices is that they occur during high profile events. If the rider is doing this when they know they will be in the spotlight, then what types of tortured are the doing at home behind closed doors? You know this isn’t the first time this horse has experienced this level of discomfort. If I cranked Gem’s noseband like that you’d find me in the next county picking my self out of the dirt.


  3. Do you have the ability to link an online petition to the USEF and USDF (and others you would tie in) through your blog? If not, a form letter your followers would send as individuals to USEF/USDF/FEI ? It could be shared with fellow horse owners and riders for them to share as well. Grass roots protest.
    I trust you to frame the issues -more letters and power in numbers?


  4. Since I grew up Western, I’ve always eschewed the tight noseband. Tight nosebands also make me feel physically uncomfortable because to me it is claustrophobic. I would completely freak out if I couldn’t open my mouth so I imagine my horse feels the same way. So many people do things just because it is “what people do”. Like standing martingales in the hunters (not that they are usually dangerous and damaging like tight nosebands). People ask me all the time where is my standing martingale?! *gasp* Well, my horse doesn’t need one so why on earth would I use one?! Much like he doesn’t interfere with his feet/legs so he doesn’t wear boots. I’m all about less is more. Train your horse. Let it do the job it wants to do. Use the right equipment to get the job done. No more, no less. No thank you on the “quick fix” stuff or gimicky equipment.


  5. The noseband tightness has angered me for years, and I had multiple trainers telling me to get it as tight as I can, which I never did (got yelled at, didn’t care). I also briefly rode with a trainer who did not insist on it, so it’s not everyone, at least, and it pretty obvious how not tight Eli’s noseband is now and nobody is telling me to tighten it.

    But now we have a growing body of research related to nosebands and their effect on horses …. and people still tighten the crap out of nosebands. I DO NOT understand why crank nosebands are legal in any discipline. They are categorically cruel.

    I know people will argue that a horse needs to keep his mouth closed so that he can’t avoid the bit …. maybe those who argue this should ask themselves why their horses are evading the bit in the first place. And maybe I can figure out a way to troll such people by mailing them taper gauges.

    Nosebands do serve some purpose — they add an element of stability and security in the bridle, but they don’t have to be so tight you can’t get a finger under them to provide that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dressage bridle has a crank noseband on it, which I actually quite like. The whole underside is nicely padded. But I don’t actually “crank” mine tight at all, it’s quite loose. I do prefer that style to a regular noseband though, just due to all the padding and how nicely it lays on the underside of the jaw. So I guess I’m a crank fan as long as you don’t actually… crank it? Lol. You sure can get those things super tight though, if you really want to.


      1. Fair enough! Perhaps I should say people who misuse cranks are the categorically cruel ones. I am still highly suspicious of them and some regular nosebands come with padding …. but you make a good point — it is really not the tack and equipment that’s the problem, it’s how certain people use it in injury-and stress-inducing ways.


      2. Same here. I like the crank style because of the padding but I never crank it. I ride with mine really loose, and the flash too, but I have had trainers I really respect come up to me before I get on at the beginning of a lesson and adjust my noseband tighter. It does seem to be a belief in dressage that nosebands need to be pretty darn tight, especially on young horses who are thought to benefit from having the bit sit very still and stable in their mouth. But I think that is achievable by trying different styles of bits and of course riding with steady hands. The noseband shouldn’t be a crutch for bad riding…


        1. My aversion to the crank is when someone is using it poorly/inhumanely. I do have deep-seated issues about why such a noseband would even exist–I think it is easier to adjust it too tightly than a plain noseband. But I do concede that my concern for any horse wearing one is overblown. People are the problem, not tack.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the idea of a standardized tool that is used to measure tightness of the noseband. I think there’s too much objectivity in using “1 finger” or “2 fingers,” and especially measuring at the cheek?! It’s sad to see so many animals competing at higher levels like this with so many gadgets and equipment used incorrectly. To me is shows how much pressure there is to get these horses to the highest levels as fast as possible, and if there is a gap in training, we’ll just put another piece of tack on them to fix it instead of taking a step back and addressing the root of the issue.


  7. I’ve had many trainers ask me to tighten my noseband. Since I often have it so loose it flops around, I’ll take their advice to a point. (A floppy noseband is really fucking uncomfortable, my horse tells me.) That said, I hate obstructing a horse’s breathing and don’t think a noseband should be tightened so that it does so. Honestly, if you are able to keep your horse from opening it’s mouth with a tight noseband, we need talk about your horse’s jaw health anyway. I’ve never seen a horse unable to gape it’s mouth with a noseband cranked as tight as it would go. It’s a useless crutch. I think they’re great reminders, though. I do use one. I also think the tightness of the noseband depends on the type. A flash should be looser, as they can obstruct breathing. A drop should be very snug where it pulls UP against the bit, but loose enough over the nose that the horse can BREATHE. (This is the one I see fucked up the most! STAHP.) A regular caveson should be snug enough to not flop but loose enough that the horse can chew the bit. That means against the skin, but not with pressure.

    I don’t understand why it’s so hard, but I’ve also never had a trainer insist I tighten my noseband beyond my initial refusal. If they continued to insist, the lesson would be over. If my trainer can’t train me without uselessly trying to crank my horse’s mouth closed, then I don’t need their instruction.

    I love the standardization tool! As a steward with tiny hands, I’ve always though the “finger rule” was very inaccurate.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Even western people use them I’ve noticed, so you’re right it’s across all disciplines. So many trainers would grab plain nylon rope cavesons and put them on the horses to train. It always baffled me because they can’t use a noseband in their reining or WP show classes, so why train in one? I remember being horrified when I saw a replacement noseband piece with a chain on it that went over the nose bone. Just WHY. I agree with Emily – learn how to ride/train better. I’m glad some countries are taking the steps to ensure the horse’s welfare.


  9. I will never forget being told, “WOW your noseband is soooooo loose!” by a young bit checker (college age kid) at a rated dressage show at University of New Hampshire a few years back. It was a loose 1+ fingers and I just sorta looked at her and fake smiled. I always tend to go looser because really I could ride my horses without the entire noseband and be fine. I don’t use anything but a plain caveson. This is for no other reason than they don’t NEED anything more than that and I rather train my horse properly to accept the bit than crank a mouth shut. This overtightening we see time and again will never stop unless show officials actually put a stop to it.


  10. About half my dressage bridles have crank nosebands, but I leave them loose enough that my horses can be unbridled without undoing the noseband buckles. Same with my flash — because it’s damn near impossible to find a dressage bridle without one or the other, but it’s easy to just buckle them loosely.

    I really like the idea of the gauge, because that removes the subjectivity. Either the gauge fits and you’re good to go, or loosen the damn noseband/flash.

    Great post, especially sharing the link to the study!


  11. Any equipment that is ill-fitting isn’t right. That is a broad statement, I know. But honestly, some horses need things really really loose and some need to feel things. Ones that are definitely straining against the horses’ nose (like the picture you had above) are just cruel. We don’t need cruelty in this sport.


  12. I like the gauge, and agree that the measurement should be taken on the bony part of the face, not the fleshy part where you could probably squeeze a finger in if you tried really hard. It would totally eliminate any discrepancies that might happen between a steward with smaller fingers and one with larger fingers.


  13. LOVE the noseband gauge. I truly wish USEF would implement one of those, how wonderful that would be for the horse!!!

    I admit, my horse has a busy mouth. I’ve been tempted to try to crank it closed- but I know better. That DOESN’T help. A cranked close mouth is a bracing mouth. The horse cannot relax their job and accept the contact. I know I am preaching to the choir, but I also feel very strongly that a noseband/flash shouldn’t be cranked tight, it should only be there for support of the lower jaw.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m actually not sure how I feel about this… which i kinda wanna punch myself for saying.

    but i’ve definitely tightened the noseband pretty damn tight when jumping when there was a high probability of the horse just gaping and running off.

    BUT i guess i never did that at shows, and never for flat rides. it was only when we were still ironing out the kinks at home over fences or xc schooling that i had to go for that extra emergency hole. probably doesn’t excuse it, but at least i’m not prancing down center line with it tightened to atomic levels.


  15. I guess when it cones to crank nosebands we are currently at “this is why we can’t have nice things”. Meaning: since they are misused half the time, they need to be restricted, controlled, maybe outright forbidden. It’s sad that a discipline that penalizes open mouths doesn’t have a stricter control on how exactly those mouths are kept closed. That is cheating, imo. Besides being animal cruelt y.
    A overly tight crank noseband prohibits a horse from relaxing it’s jaw musles. How good can a horse really go with that hindering every movement?
    There are studies that show that horses’ heart rates sped up when the nosebands were tightened. So there is a psychological aspect/trauma added to the physical pain.
    I find the results of this study disgusting, yet not surprising.
    I learned the two finger rule for nosebands, but the fingers were placed next to each other with the palm turned to the floor. So that makes 1.5, maybe 2 inches?
    I love the gauge and I am glad that the rules are currently revised. W hile they’re at upit-they should also look into which pieces of equipment are allowed to be used together, bit-hackamore combos, twisted mouth pieces, double bridles in show jumping, overly long shanked bits in the english disciplines, keverage bits with martingales, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Here’s what got me about the super tight flash- the horse for the most part was very quiet and put in a nice test. Which obviously says that the horse is used to being ridden with the flash that tight. My own horse would’ve tossed me within 5 strides. Just sad.


  17. my own Eponia bridle (yes your fault STILL but lovely STILL) has the padded crank style noseband and yes it is comfy let loose, but does the job. I often fail to get the flash tight enough for Remus but there are still numerous holes so i know it will never be too tight. And he is a legitimate set his jaw and pull type of guy (downward not forward) but i still dont have it tight.

    I hope they do something about it just not right if the horse noseband is so tight it is grimacing. UGH


  18. I used to fall in the camp too of tighten pretty tight as well, and lately found myself reading up on theory and keeping my nosebands and flashes much looser.


  19. I was always taught the one finger rule growing up, but I’ve been told to tighten my noseband ‘as tight as it can go’ at the barn where I am now. They can yell at me all they want; I think it’s uncomfortable so I won’t do it.


  20. This is one of the most depressing topics IMO. The fact that horse’s skin can bulge around the leather without even opening their mouths is sickening. How is this not seen like the abuse it is with dogs? I don’t love the idea of flashes period, but if you’re going to use one at least use it correctly. I would love to see serious changes made, but because of the popularity of over-tightening, I feel like that is a tough one.


  21. I tend to lean towards a loose noseband(2 fingers underside), especially after receiving a horse who gapes his mouth. His bridle showed stretched leather from the noseband and flash being too tight. He has a low palette and a fat bit was torture for him. I like a flash to be just tight enough a horse cannot get a tongue over the bit. We give sugar and my horses have to be able take a piece while bridled.


  22. Just a thought, maybe someone already mentioned it too, but if a noseband is so tight as to be checked, and one crams a digit in there to check, and it band passes… Doesn’t that make it more likely that there will be a bitten lip or cheek from the tension of the noseband and shoving soft tissue around in a tightly confined space?


  23. I’ve ridden dressage (poorly) for a long time, and typically have trainers trying to tighten everything (flash, crank, even the straps that hold the bit), but I’ve never experienced anything like the picture you posted above – I’ve never seen it at a show or in training.
    I am absolutely on board with using the standardized method the Dutch are implementing.


  24. Over the years, clinicians want those nosebands tighter and tighter. To the point where the horse is expressing obvious discomfort. Something that clinicians have snottily not cared about at all.

    Western riders on educated horses use leverage bits with slack reins and no noseband at all.

    Next clinic, think I’ll show up with a simple french-link snaffle and no noseband at all. I’ll just take the cavesson off the bridle altogether. If I refuse to use a noseband, I wonder if I’ll be kicked out? Or ignored? Probably.

    Once upon a time it was very normal for some English bridles to not have a cavesson. As a kid, I was taught that the English bridle noseband did nothing and was mostly for looks. The only purpose was in case someone wanted to attach a standing martingale. The noseband was never tight, because then the horse could not move their jaw as we want them to so they could get to know the bit and communicate with the rider.


  25. Frankie’s constant “smiling” in every picture tells me he definitely has space to move his mouth as much as he wants. And our hack-around-chill bridle straight up has no noseband (took it off and was too lazy to put it back on). He can get a little busy in the mouth and we’ve talked about different ways to work on that, but at no point did that include a discussion of the noseband. The answer was usually just “more leg.” Very glad to give my money to people with strong ethics around horsemanship.


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