We usually use nosebands to shut the over active mouth. But before we employ a flash, drop, grackle or other style of noseband, there are factors we must consider. This is because if the horse is uncomfortable then closing the mouth will further increase pressure, therefore the horse’s way of going will deteriorate.
Check your horse’s mouth out yourself and if you have been doing this regularly you will instantly recognise any signs of trauma such as bruises over the bars or rubs in the corner of the mouth. Has the dentist been recently? Is the bit the correct size, design and is the bit fitted properly and comfortably? There are many causes of mouth over activity; some may be influenced by past mismanagement and some current.
Past contributing factors may include using breaking bits and ‘Key Bits’ with players. This type of bit encourages the horse to play excessively, leading to mouth opening and tongue evasions. Also the idea that ‘Fat is kind and thin is severe’; there is a happy medium. The horse may not be able to close his mouth comfortably around a fat mouthpiece and it may also impair breathing and swallowing, especially if we clamp his mouth shut. Care must be taken as mouth confirmation varies between breeds. A 16mm diameter mouthpiece with an oval profile, rather than circular, generally give a comfortable weight bearing surface whilst not taking up too much room in the mouth. Designs such as the Verbindend are highly recommended and often eradicate many tongue evasions.
At Neue Schule we have an expert bitting advice line and accredited bit fitters. We discuss many issues, including nosebands, when advising on the most logical choice of bit. It is often the case with many riders when we ask about the reasoning for employing a flash noseband that the answer includes ‘the horse came with it’ or ‘it was on the bridle I bought’ or ‘as a four year old when teething he was ‘gobby’ – but by the way he is now eight!’
So, the message is give your horse a chance and in a safe environment loosen, or remove, the flash strap. You may need to repeat this a few times in order to evaluate change from a long term perspective. However, many riders are astounded by the improvement through the rein. There is absolutely no substitute for good basic training and if the rider cannot deliver the correct aids or the horse doesn’t understand them then we are almost certainly not going to achieve a harmonious partnership with any bitting improvement. However, the appropriate bit does on many occasions transform a horse’s way of going and it is as equally important as your saddle from a comfort perspective, the bit is also one of our most important tools for communication and control.
It may be that you only need your flash or grackle for faster work as some horses may have learnt to take advantage by opening the mouth or grabbing the bit. As we all know there are many other lines of communication open to us.