Sunday, August 2, 2009

Flashes and Figure 8s

Greta needs a noseband!
When one thinks of a dressage bridle, usually they will think of a things like a french link snaffle and a flash noseband for the levels below Prix St. George and then a full bridle (two bits with two separate sets of reins, the most unattractive peice of tack I have ever seen) with usually a crank/Swedish cavesson (even though it is a German invention, and it is unnecessarily cruel, I think) or just a regular (French?) cavesson.

What about figure-8/crossed/Mexican/grackle nosebands, hmm?

"Only jumpers use them." True, but I would word it as mostly jumpers use them. Eventers use them too.

"They're not stylish in the dressage arena." Well, I think they look pretty snazzy myself, but that shouldn't be why you purchase a particular type of noseband.

"They're not legal for competition." Oh yes, they are! According to DR121 Sec. 2 of the USEF Dressage guidelines, and I quote:

For Training, First and Second Level tests and FEI Pony tests, a plain snaffle bridle is required with a regular cavesson, a dropped noseband, a flash noseband (a combination of a cavesson noseband and a dropped noseband attachment) or a crossed noseband.

And read this from DR121 Sec. 3:

For Federation Third and Fourth Level tests same as (2) above, or a simple double bridle bridoon [snaffle] and bit [curb] and curb chain, lip strap and rubber or leather cover for curb chain optional, cavesson noseband only).

Read it for yourself.

It is only once you get beyond the FEI Junior Preliminary tests that you must use a full bridle. I'm not going for Grand Prix. A regular snaffle will suffice for most of my riding days.

The Flash Noseband or Swedish Cavesson
Why do I bring up the Figure-8 noseband?

Because I have this little problem with flash nosebands. I do need something to keep the bit in place in Greta's mouth, and it must be legal for dressage. If I went with what everybody else got, I'd go out and get a flash noseband. But me, being Miss "It must be good for the horse too!" I did some research.

Flash nosebands are notorious for being tightened too much, inducing flaring nostrils and horses that are slick and shiny by the time they leave the show or even end a simple workout. A good rule to go by is that you should be able to put two fingers worth between the horse and the noseband. That's great if your fingers actually measure and inch in length. Mine are like sticks. Two fingers is maybe and inch-and-a-quarter. You'd be surprised how big a horse's nostrils can get to allow in air. Just look at a closeup of a horse doing four-star cross country and you'll see what I mean. They flare.

Some examples of improperly fitted flash nosebands. Notice how they some are so tight that the cavesson, which should be up just in front of the jawbone, is practically three-quarters down the bridge of the nose:

This one is not as bad it could be, but notice how the horse's nostrils seem to be squeezed a bit, and how the cavesson (this is a funky-looking cavesson though) is drawn downward. That is usually a sign that the flash noseband is too tight. But it is a very easy-to-make mistake, as what fits a horse when they are relaxed and being tacked up is very different then when they are working and their nostrils are expanding to allow in more air.

This is a much more extreme example. Ignore the fact that whoever tacked up this horse is doing overkill with a curb bit (if that's what this Spanish-Inquisition-era-looking bit is) and a flash noseband, but my God that noseband is too tight! See how wide the nostrils can expand? They might not be that wide if the horse didn't have to struggle for air, but still....

My favorite example from Sustainable Dressage. Do I need to say more?

I've heard mixed reviews on the mechanics of a flash noseband, some saying that they are not engineered correctly in the first place and others saying that they are good when adjusted and used right. And I do have to admit - and I feel the same with polo wraps or medicine boots or anything that goes around a horse's leg for that matter, afterall, no leg no horse - flash nosebands can serve their purpose of keeping the bit in place and/or the horse's mouth shut if they are used right. But you have to know how to use them right. They can do much more harm then good unless you know exactly what you are doing.

A much more properly fitted flash. See how much more clearance the horse's nostrils have? Now we just need to see how it looks when the horse is being worked.

Oh, what a sight for sore eyes. I was looking through Google Images after almost an hour of seeing improperly-fitted nosebands on horses doing extended trots and collected canters, nostrils flaring and eyes rolling back in pain. Not pretty. This horse looks like it's doing some sort of work, but nonetheless, the flash band fits!

The Figure-8, Mexican, Grackle, or Crossed Noseband
It's funny, because the flash noseband was invented for use in jumping and the crossed noseband was developed off of a noseband that the vaqueros and Spanish riders used in not only cattle working, but also in the strongly-dressage-influenced moves that one would see a horse perform during bull fighting (though I am not in any way a fan of bull fighting, it is amazing to see these horses so gracefully move out of the way with not even a flick of the hand and only a slight tense of the calf or shift of seat. Quite beautiful, despite the cruelty of the sport.)

Looks like they switched! Flash bands reassigned themselves to dressage, and crossed nosebands went to jumping. That's what happens when people experiment with what they think might be best for their horse (and discipline.)

Figure-8 nosebands are more commonly found in jumping and eventing because of their clearance of the nostrils. They allow the horse to breathe in a practically inhibited way but still keep the bit in place. And I think they look quite snazzy.

See how much more clearance of the airway this beautiful horse has? Now let's see some in action!

Those horses are obviously doing some jumping, which I admit, is a bit more aerobic than doing level 1 dressage! Especially that last cross country pic. But alas! Both horses seem to not be asphyxiated! Praise the Lord!

In Conclusion
Yes, flash nosebands are more commonly seen and accepted in dressage, but I am not a fan of the dangers of them not being fitted right. A figure-8 noseband allows more clearance of the airways and if it tightened too much you'll have some unsightly (and uncomfortable for the horse) rubbing, but that can be a lot easier to fix than a horse that suffocates. Hopefully I can recognize when a noseband is too tight!

And don't think you'll change my mind: Greta's new Kincade figure-8 noseband came in yesterday! All that needs doing now is some fitting with help from my instructor and to dye it black with the help of my leather-savvy grandfather and myself and some good quality leather dyes. I think we can suffice.

I'll put pictures up as soon as I get the noseband correctly on Greta!

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