The latest British Dressage magazine carries a three page article about bridle fitting with the rather misleading title of ‘No pressure’.
Their trials revealed that a flash is the worst choice of noseband and creates extreme pressure on the nasal bone and jawbones. So hopefully this most popular choice will now go out of fashion.
The rather obvious news is that when a cavesson is fastened AT THE SAME TIGHTNESS as a crank, it is the highly padded crank, designed so that it can be tightened without the buckle sticking into the jaw bone, that exerts less pressure. This is apparently an unexpected and controversial finding. But the argument against the crank has always been that it’s been designed to be cranked tight around the nose of the horse, although its supporters like to call it ‘snugly’.
The article failed to mention that horses are anisognathic, that means that the upper and lower jaws are different widths. So no amount of padding will lessen the pressure or pain of the upper molars sticking into the cheeks. This area was not even highlighted as a pressure zone. Of course a drop noseband doesn’t have this problem, however it can restrict the movement of the jaw and breathing, but that wasn’t mentioned either.
To get the scientific findings the author used pressure mats to take readings… pressure mats. This research wasn’t about eliminating pressure, because obviously the best way to eliminate pressure would be to remove the noseband altogether or have a loose noseband. No, it was looking at the best way to apply pressure. But surely it is obvious that any pressure around the face is going to be painful.
However researchers also found that a noseband is essential as with gait analysis horses without nosebands demonstrate a loss and stride control and the rider’s ability to control the horse in turns is reduced. They don’t say how much pressure is exerted on the horse’s face in this study.
Let’s turn their research on its head.
Why do we put nosebands on horses? To stop them from opening their mouths.
Why do they open their mouths? Because they are trying to avoid the bit.
Why are they trying to avoid the bit? Because it’s uncomfortable or it actually hurts.
Why is it uncomfortable? Because the rider has too strong a contact. Because the rider has non-empathetic, insensitive hands. Because the bit doesn’t fit the conformation of the mouth. (actually no bit is going to fit the conformation of a horse’s mouth, horses, just like every other creature on earth weren’t designed to have a piece of metal in their mouth, but some fit better than others).
Therefore if the horse has free rein to open his mouth when the rider pulls on the reins or sits on the back of the saddle it will affect his stride, and the rider’s control.
So what’s the answer? To learn to ride empathetically? Or to stop the horse from opening its mouth?
The FEI code of conduct in the BD handbook states that ‘Tack must be designed and fitted to avoid the risk of pain or injury.’ However BD does not have a rule on how much pressure should be exerted on the face of a horse in order to avoid pain. But then they don’t have a definitive measurement of what correct pressure is. So what happened to the two fingers rule? What happened to the rule that the noseband should never be used to keep a horse’s mouth shut? But most importantly, I ask you, how can the constant pressure of a noseband on the delicate bones, nerves and blood vessels of any creatures face be correct at all? Surely the only way to avoid pain is to enforce a rule of no noseband or a loose noseband but then that would show quite clearly who the really talented riders are.