The good noseband guide

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  • Like all pieces of tack, finding the right noseband to suit your horse can be the difference between a happy partnership and an unhappy horse and rider. With such a wide range of choices on the market, you should be able to find the perfect noseband for your needs.

    If you are currently having problems getting your horse to accept the contact or are lacking control, there are some important questions to ask yourself before trying an alternative noseband:

    • Is your horse uncomfortable because of dental problems?
    • Are resistances in his mouth a sign that he is uncomfortable somewhere else or finds the work too difficult for his stage of training?
    • Are your rein aids be too strong?

    Remember that a horse’s mouth and jaw need to be soft and relaxed for him to accept the bit. If you strap his mouth shut with a tight noseband, you could cause more problems.

    In theory, nosebands that fasten below the bit should only be used with a snaffle bit to avoid conflict between the bottom strap and a curb chain. In practise, many riders use flash or grakle nosebands with pelhams or kimblewicks, especially for show jumping and cross-country.

    Nosebands are usually sold in pony, cob and full sizes. As with all bridle parts, when buying a noseband take the dimensions of your horse’s head into account. For example, a thoroughbred with a narrow muzzle may need a cob size while a stocky mountain and moorland may take a cob or full size.

    If you compete in dressage or eventing, check your rule book, as not all types of noseband are permitted.

    The cavesson noseband

    The cavesson is the simplest noseband and gives a smart appearance. It can also be used for attaching a standing martingale to, if you need to use one.

    Action: The action of a cavesson noseband is very slight, unless it is used with a standing martingale. This, or the crank noseband, is the only sort which should be used with a double bridle.

    Fitting: To make sure the cavesson is fitted correctly, you should be able to place two fingers between the horse’s protruding cheek bone and the body of the noseband. You should be able to comfortably slide at least one finger between the noseband and your horse’s face all the way round.

    The flash noseband

    The flash was originally invented so that a standing martingale could be attached to the top (cavesson) part, while the bottom strap fastens below the bit to prevent the horse from opening its mouth wide to evade the bit.

    Action: Helps prevent a horse opening his mouth too wide, but is not as definite in its action as some designs. Some horses accept it better for this reason. It also helps keep a jointed loose ring snaffle central in the mouth. Beware flashes with narrow cavessons, as they tend to slide down the nose.

    Fitting: Adjust the top part so you can slide a finger all round and the bottom strap to fit two fingers between it and the horse’s nose.

    The crank noseband

    The crank noseband, which is also called a cinchback or doubleback, is designed to be fastened snugly around the horse’s nose, without a buckle to dig into the back of the horse’s jaw. This style of noseband can be used with any type of bit.

    Action: Helps prevent a horse from opening/crossing his jaw when you can’t use a noseband which fastens below the bit and is popular with dressage riders who use double bridles. Some people don’t like it because some riders over tighten it to prevent the horse from opening the mouth at all. Can cause calluses if it is repeatedly fastened too tight.

    Fitting:Similar to the cavesson, but fitted more snuggly. It shouldn’t touch the protruding cheek bones, nor should the skin be pinched when the contact on the bit is taken up by the rider.

    The drop noseband

    Traditionally these nosebands adjusted at the front and the back, but most now fasten only at the back.

    Action: Prevents a horse opening his mouth to resist the contact, but has a more definite action than the Flash. Some horses respond well but others resent it. The low pressure point in front and pressure in the curb groove at the back is said by some to encourage a horse to lower his head.

    Fitting: If fitted too low, it can interfere with a horse’s breathing so make sure it’s at least six centimetres above the nostrils on the solid part of the horse’s nose and you can slide a finger all the way round. Never fasten a standing martingale to a drop.

    The grakle noseband

    The grakle noseband is named after a hard-pulling Grand National winner and is particularly popular with event riders for the cross-country phase. It’s also called a figure of eight noseband because of its shape.

    Action: Designed to prevent a horse opening his mouth and crossing his jaw, the front crossover point of the Grakle is the main pressure point. The straps pass through a slotted leather circle, which usually has a sheepskin backing.

    Fitting: The leather circle should be on the centre front of the nose, with the top straps just below the facial bones to avoid rubbing. Allow at least a finger’s width between top and bottom straps and the horse’s jaw.

    A later version of this noseband, usually called the American, Mexican or high ring grakle, has a top strap which starts higher up the face. It has a ‘softer’ action and some horses prefer it.

    Other nosebands

    Sheepskin, Australian cheeker, Worcester, kineton and combination nosebands are designed to give extra control for particular problems.

    A sheepskin noseband is a simple sheepskin sleeve which fits over a cavesson or the cavesson part of a Flash and is said to persuade a horse who holds his head too high to carry it lower.

    The Australian cheeker is two rubber bit rings connected by a central rubber strap which fastens to the bridle headpiece. It’s said to persuade pullers to ‘back off’ from the sight of the central strap and to have a psychological rather than physical effect. It also helps to keep the bit high enough in the mouth to prevent the horse putting his tongue over it.

    The Kineton, or Puckle, noseband applies strong nose pressure via two U-shaped metal loops which pass behind the bit rings, so rein pressure is transferred to the nose.

    The Worcester noseband was originally designed to give extra control through nose pressure, but proved to have other uses. The top part looks like and is fitted in the same way as a cavesson, while two centre straps fasten to the snaffle rings. By keeping the bit high enough in the mouth, it discourages the horse from putting his tongue over. It also limits the backward movement of the bit when rein pressure is applied – so while it is said to give extra control over strong horses, this may be because it lessens the pulling contest.

    The combination or level noseband has a half-moon piece of metal that goes on each side of the horse’s face. A piece of leather attaches to the top end of the metal curve (near the horse’s cheek bone), which runs under the jaw and attaches to the other side of the face. In the middle of the metal curve, a piece of leather runs over the top of the nose, acting as the main noseband, but it sits slightly lower than a standard cavesson — somewhere between a cavesson and a drop noseband. A third piece of leather runs from the bottom of the metal curve under the chin groove of the horse. This noseband is similar in design to the grackle, and works by preventing the horse from crossing his jaw, which gives the rider more control.

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