By Karen Nelson
There are many misconceptions about nose bands, why they are used, and what they do. Understanding the
differences between the different types of nose bands and how they should be used, allows riders to select the best
nose band for their horse, and to adjust it properly. This article will cover the more common English nose bands:
Cavesson, Crank, Rope, Flash, Dropped, and Figure-8 nose bands.
The Cavesson type nose band is the most common english bridle nose band, and is what
normally comes with a general purpose english bridle. To be adjusted correctly, it should sit
about two finger widths below the cheek bone of the horse, and the nose bands itself should
be done up snuggly, although you should be able to comfortably slide two fingers between the
nose band and the horse.
If you look at the skull diagram, you will see that the cavesson nose band does up over the
horse's molars. If done up too tightly, the horse's cheeks will be pulled uncomfortably into its
teeth, and may cause discomfort, and result in resistance.
The purpose of the cavesson is more than just cosmetic! This nose band offers some support
of the lower jaw. As english riders typically ride with a steady contact, it would be tiring for the
horse to hold its jaw consistently closed against this contact. The use of the cavesson nose
band allows the horse to relax its jaw, with the comfort of the nose band to offer some support
against the downward pressure on the jaw from the action of the bit. The cavesson nose band
is NOT designed to hold the horse's mouth completely closed; if the nose band is done up too
tightly the horse may stiffen its jaw or lock its jaw in response to the pressure of the nose band.
A cavesson nose band also allows for the use of a standing martingale.
The Flash Nose Band: The flash can either be purchased as an attachment to a regular
cavesson, or as a nose band with the flash nose band attached. Most dressage snaffle bridles
include a flash noseband. The part that is similar looking to the cavesson should be done up the
same as a regular cavesson, but then there is a second, usually thinner, strap that runs through
a loop at the top/front of the cavesson. This Flash strap is done up in front of the bit, and under
the lower jaw of the horse. It is VERY important that the flash attachement is done up high
enough so that it doesn't interfere with the horse's breathing.
The flash should be done up snuggly, but you should be able to fit two fingers between the flash
and the horses jaw. If the flash is pulling the cavesson down onto the horse's nose, then the
flash may be too tight or the cavesson too low/loose.
The flash provides additional support to the horse's jaw, in particular to its lower jaw. This is
particularly useful for a horse that needs to be encouraged to take contact, such as a young
dressage horse in training. The flash can also be useful for a horse that has already learned to
gape its mouth to avoid contact, however it should NOT be used to hold the horse's mouth shut.
A horse should be allowed some movement in its jaw to allow the horse to be soft in the mouth,
and to have a relaxed and therefor responsive jaw.
A flash nose band should only be used with a snaffle bit. It is not suited for use with a leverage
bit as the action of a leverage bit could do considerable damage to a horse's lower jaw and
palate if the horse is unable to find some relief through opening of its mouth.
Flash nose bands are not legal for hunter competition, but are legal in lower level dressage and
in jumpers. A flash nose band can be used with a standing martingale done up to the cavesson
portion of the nose band.
Dropped nose bands are rarely seen nowadays, as they are considered less aesthetically
pleasing than a flash nose band. The dropped nose band sits low on the horse's nose, with the
chin strap doing up in front of the bit, and then below the chin. The nose band provides support
of the horse's lower jaw, much like the Flash, however it has the advantage of not sitting along
and not pulling the cheeks into the horse's molars as would a cavesson.
The Dropped nose band also holds the bit up in the horse's mouth. Although this may be seen
as some as a disadvantage, some horses like the constant hold that this gives, and prefer how
quiet the dropped nose band keeps the bit in their mouth. A horse with a busy or nervous mouth
may enjoy the steadiness of the dropped nose band. A properly adjusted dropped nose band
should not pull the bit up into the teeth, or down onto the bars.
Finding a well fitting dropped nose band is tricky. The strap that runs across the top of the
horse's nose should sit just above the mouth piece of the bit, with the lower strap coming forward
around the bit, and then under the jaw. It is important that the top nose piece is the correct
length so as to make this possible. The dropped nose band should be adjusted so it is snug
under the horse's jaw, but you should be able to fit two fingers under the top part of the nose
The dropped nose band should only be used with snaffle bits, and cannot be used in conjunction
with a standing martingale. They are show legal for dressage and jumper competition, but are
not allowed in the hunter ring.
The Figure 8 nose band has straps that run under the horse's upper jaw, cross over the nose,
and then under the lower jaw. The point where the nose band crosses over the nose is often
padded with sheepskin, but it may also just be padded with a leather disk.
The upper strap is positioned much higher on the horse's head than a cavesson is. The strap
should pass over the horse's cheek bones, and then just in front of the horse's cheeks. Although
this strap still passes over the horse's rear most molars, the cheek bone tends to lift the strap
enough away from this part of the horse's head that the cheeks are not pulled into the teeth.
The lower strap passes in front of the bit and under the jaw. The cross over point should be
positioned high on the horse's face so as to not interfere with the nostrils/breathing.
The figure-8 should be done up to allow two fingers to fit under either of the straps.
When the horse tries to gape open its mouth, this nose band will tighten around both the upper
and lower jaw, and across the bridge of the nose. As the nose band does up around the horse's
cheek bone, it will also increase pressure on these straps if the horse tries to cross its jaw.
The figure-8 noseband is also good for horses that are sensitive about their cheeks being pulled
into their molars.
The figure-8 is legal for dressage and jumper competition, although you will rarely see it at a
dressage show. You cannot use a standing martingale with a figure-8 nose band.
The Crank nose band has become very common with dressage bridles, and often comes with a
flash attachment as pictured. The Crank is different than the regular cavesson in a couple ways;
one it is usually heavily padded both across the nose, and under the jaw, and secondly it is done
up differently with the strap that runs under the chin being run through two rings on either side,
and then buckled in the middle. In theory this allows it to be done up much tighter than a regular
cavesson without worry of pinching.
Although the padding does seem beneficial at first, some of them are so heavily padded that
they push the horse's cheeks even more so into their molars than a regular cavesson would. As
well, having an overly tight nose band will cause discomfort and therefore resistance in the horse
no matter how padded it is. Riders should not use a nose band to try to hide resistance in their
horse by forcing the horse to hold its mouth shut with an overly tight nose band.
The one added benefit I have found when using a crank nose band, is that the rings on either
side can be used to attach a lunge line, making it beneficial when schooling. Remember, just
because it CAN be done up tightly, does not mean it NEEDS to be!
The Rope nose band simply replaces the top of the regular cavesson with a thin rope, which
can either be stiff or soft. This increases the discomfort felt by the horse if it tries to open its
mouth, or if it tries to lean on a standing martingale/tie down.
This will negate the nose bands beneficial use of supporting the jaw, and encourage the horse
to clamp its jaw shut to avoid putting pressure on the rope.
It MAY be beneficial on a horse that has learned to lean on a standing martingale, but as
standing martingales should not be used tightly enough for this to be an issue, this would again
simply be using the infliction of discomfort to "correct" poor training and the misuse of available