Wardrobe with What Purpose?

Questioning the Drop Noseband.

Having studied horsemanship for a few (plus) years, it seems I’m perceived as having reached the age of “wisdom.”    Hmmmm…   I’m not sure about that, but maybe that’s wisdom, since I’ve made enough mistakes to know I don’t have all the answers.   In any case, people write to me and ask questions.   I’ll post the questions that come up regularly, or are simply interesting concepts to discuss.    Feel free to comment.   This is really intended to be a discussion page.

Q: Is the drop noseband a wardrobe issue?  Or, is there a purpose/function  that makes sense if you have the horse giving you a soft feel?

A. It depends on who you talk to.  Some English riders will say that a drop noseband helps keep the snaffle bit in place; that it steadies the bit and helps horses hold the bit in their mouth, keeping the tongue under the bit.   As a temporary explanation, to provide clarity to the horse, that’s decent logic.  It’s akin to temporarily tying the bit up on a green horse in a Western bridle (photo below).

A rudimentary example of tying the bit up in a Western bridle. This is a temporary fix. It's used when young horses are overly distracted by the bit, and to encourage them to keep the tongue under the bit.

The key difference between the Western and English application is the word, “temporary.”   A drop noseband usually isn’t temporary, because a drop noseband also keeps the horse’s mouth closed.   In many instances, horses wearing drop nosebands still have pursed lips, strain against the rider’s hands, and the horse’s mouth is open as far as they can get it.   The drop noseband adds leverage.   When you see a drop noseband, notice how tight the noseband is buckled.  Ultimately, if the horse understands what the bit means and knows how to give to the bit, there is no need to add a noseband.

To show in dressage (and prepare to show), my horses wear a caveson, because a caveson is required (a drop noseband is optional).  I also have a show bridle that came with a matching drop noseband (photo below).  I bought this bridle because I like the look of it for showing.  I buckle the caveson (or noseband) so that it does not flop around, but no tighter.  Cavesons and nosebands look nice, in a finished, military sort of way.  It is a tradition, and a style.
On a personal note: a few years back, a dressage instructor came up to me, put his fingers under my horse’s loosely buckled caveson, and tartly asked, “What’s this… decoration?”   I smiled and said, “Yes.”  This convivial fellow burst out laughing, “Well, your horses don’t need one!”   That was refreshing.   At least he asked and he didn’t presume to change my tack.  (I’ve also provoked the opposite response from dressage instructors.) 

Ruby in a drop noseband, 4 years old, 2006. Betty riding. Bonnie Cazier photo (cropped).

That tells me what most nosebands are about; it’s another means of bending the horse’s will to our will.   But, before I sound too critical, I will also state: my bit is made of steel and I don’t think riding in a halter is more humane.   The usefulness and tact of all equine head gear depends on the skill, the hands, and the heart of the rider.
It’s good that riders are interested in the reasons behind tack design and application.  Questioning the purpose is always beneficial.  I’m honored that this rider asked my opinion.  

Feel free to comment.  If you want to send me a question or comment (and wish to remain anonymous), you can also send e-mail through my website.   http://www.bettystaley.com

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