Q: I am new to riding dressage, but am wondering how to adjust the noseband. Should it be tight or loose?
In lower-level dressage, the horse must wear some type of smooth snaffle bit. If your horse is green and gapes his mouth or tries to get his tongue over the bit, a flash or figure-eight noseband will help discourage these types of evasive behaviors. If he doesn’t show this behavior, use a plain noseband.
As far as tightness goes, the official USDF rule states that it “may never be so tightly fixed that it causes severe irritation to the skin, and must be adjusted to allow at least two fingers under the noseband on the side of the face under the cheekbone.”
During bit check at a show, they may indeed check nosebands that look too tight to test the two-finger rule. Though this doesn’t apply to your flash strap, making it so tight that it digs in above your horse’s nostrils and restricts his breathing certainly doesn’t help his athletic performance. Also, a relaxed dressage horse should chew the bit softly, so strapping his mouth shut too tightly to allow for some chewing is counter-productive.
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!