The Noseband

Way, way back in the day, when I first started riding Poseidon, he had a very unsteady head. Everything about Poseidon was unsteady though, so I didn’t think much of it until one of my horsemanship trainers told me to remove the noseband. I instantly replied that my vet said the horse was a headshaker and that the noseband was very lose, so it wasn’t bothering him.


Yep, Poseidon was very quickly diagnosed as a headshaker. Back then, I had no online access, and no chance of researching what exactly headshaking was, and my vet seemed to think that it was just something we should live with, so I had not thought much of it.

I had no idea how vicious a disease it CAN be.

The noseband I used was always very lose, as a child, I was taught that it should be, from reading all my old teaching books, which I had found in an antique book shop close to home. I had been taught by the other kids that the noseband should be tight enough to make sure the horse would not open its mouth, but I had tried that on my first horse, Pikant, and I had quickly found that he would not allow me to become that kind of a rider. Thus, when I came to breaking in Poseidon, it was second nature to me, to wear the noseband lose. Very lose.

And then this horsemanship trainer told me to remove it entirely. I have to admit, I was a bit scared to do so. Despite my books, I had been taught by the other girls, just how dangerous it was to ride without a noseband. What if, the horse raised its head, opened its mouth, stuck out its tongue, ran off and killed you? It happens you know, if you don’t wear a tight noseband, and not wearing one at all? Impossible!

Still, I was desperate to figure out a way for Poseidon to become at ease with the world- long story, it’s in my book- and so I removed the noseband. The trainer told me that I could have a strap underneath the bit, like you can see here, if I was afraid.


That way, I wouldn’t be able to pull the bit through his mouth for instance.


It worked like a charm. For the fifteen years I owned Poseidon, this was his bit and bridle, and his headshaking stopped from one day to another.

Then we have Saleem and his violent headshaking. Much, much worse than Poseidon ever was. The truly violent parts of his headshaking, was always stress induced, if he became unsure of something, if he became excited, if he became impatient… any blip on his emotional specter would set him off, with or without a rider.


Which is where he differed a lot, from Poseidon. Poseidon never shook his head on the pasture. Back when he was in a stable at night, he did shake his head quite a lot, while being locked up, but never while playing and never as violently as Saleem.


I have been trying not to compare them all of the six years I have had Saleem, because it is always dangerous to start comparing one, old and beloved horse, with one young and troubled. What set off Poseidon might not be the same things that set off Saleem, and it has been very important to me, to figure out exactly what ticked off Saleem, rather than just trying to fix him in the same ways that worked for Poseidon.

Still, last year, I came to realize that the bit Poseidon used to wear, was the right kind of bit for Saleem as well. Nothing else gave him the same stability and ease at the mouth. We went from impossible to ride, to merely snorting a lot, and minor back and forth headshakes. It was a huge improvement, and with the right bit and my consequent, patient training, making sure never to stress him out, we reduced his headshaking a lot.

It had me thinking for a while, that with time, the last remnants of the headshaking would go away.

I should know better. No problem ever solves itself and when your horse continues to snort every time it canters, something is bothering him.

Then we did this show two weeks ago, and Saleem was rather bothered by his braids, and as such I got a lot of small, sideways movements. At the same time, I felt that something more was up. Sure, he was excited that day, which always cause headshaking, but this was too much.

I went home, and mulled things over. What was still bothering him so much, that it provoked such a response from him, while a little over excited? Where had I failed this horse, once again?

I decided to fix the braiding problem once and for all, and I cut off his mane. I know, horrible, something I thought I would never do, but it actually suits him perfectly. His mane is so rough, it can stand up like a Mohawk.


I actually love it. He looks fresh. And once we had done that, a lot of the sideways movements I had got, disappeared. Even when not braided, it turned out that his mane still affected him somewhat. Removing it has stabilized his head a lot, not only when ridden, but on the pasture as well.


Again, I wondered though, why he still felt like snorting all the time, while we cantered. I actually wondered if I should have the vet look him over again. Maybe he had some sort of narrow passageway in his nose, making it hard for him to breathe while he cantered?


And then, just the other day, I went to pick up my horse and put the bridle on him. I placed the reins around his neck, like I always do, handed him a treat along with the bit, like I always do, and as I pulled the bridle up to his ears, he suddenly spooked. He jumped backwards, I pulled on the reins that was hanging lose around his neck, as the bridle slipped off his face, he spooked over the reins on his neck, and off he went, bridle between his legs, hanging in the reins.

It happened so fast, and it is so like Saleem. I have no idea what spooked him at first, my best guess would have been that there might have been a fly in his ear that got squished and bit him when I tried placing the bride. But I do know, that he ran off because I pulled on the rein. My bad, he had not seen it coming, and in a stress situation, which it was because something startled him, I made it worse by surprising him. Saleem is hyper sensitive, I must be more careful.

Anyway, long story short, Saleem survived, the bridle survived, except the reins. I picked him up and we got the bridle on him without any problems.

Still, the reins were broken. This is my dark blue bridle, and I do have another blue bridle, but the reins do not match so I couldn’t just move the reins from one bridle to another. No, we had to change bridles. The reason why I am not using the light blue bridle with the pink flowers, is because the noseband has drawback. I despise that. I only bought it because… it had pink flowers!

So I figured, what the hell. Saleem and I are set do to a horsemanship event next weekend, where we are not allowed to wear a noseband anyway. Let’s get rid of the darn thing then.

The effect was astounding. I have been kicking myself for a week now. Fifteen years with Poseidon and the one and most important rule of riding him was always, no noseband, no matter how lose.

A tight noseband is a problem, because it stops the horse from flexing its mandible. Amongst other things. A lose noseband, creates friction, because when it is lose, it will move. To a sensitive horse like Poseidon, that was unbearable. To a sensible horse…

Like Saleem.

I am the world’s worst idiot. I KNEW this. I did. For three years, I have been trying to figure out what was up with Saleem. I had the answer all along. Poseidon spoon fed it to me when I was just a teenager.

So first of all, thank you Poseidon. I should remember every lesson you taught me more often. Now I wonder what else you taught me, that I am not remembering. So, from now on, I am going to treat my horses as if they had been you, at least for a while, simply because I knew exactly what worked for you, even if I don’t always remember, my heart knows.

I cannot believe I have been telling myself that the lose noseband was not a bother to the horse, when I knew it was. I cannot believe that my bridle had to break for me to actually take that step, and remove it.

I am such and idiot, idiot, idiot…

Anyway, here we are, Saleem, not wearing a noseband for the third time. Feel free to compare him with the video from the last show.

A completely steady head, no snorting, no headshaking, no irritable chewing on the bit… he is just quiet, and working with his entire top line, with no tension at all, nowhere. This is the horse I knew he could be. I just had to figure out how to get him there. And here we are. Remove the noseband. No amount of patient training could make up for removing the noseband.

Thank you Poseidon. I love you more now, I think than I ever did before. If I had not owned you, I might have thought it was just a coincidence with Saleem. I might have never tried it. I might have just put on his show bridle, of leather and kept on riding, like an ignorant fool.


Hats off to you, my two special boys. Mummy will do better, I promise.

I started with removing the nosebands from Tardis, Apocalipse and Marble’s bridles instantly. Tardis and Marble do not appear to be bothered by wearing it, but Apocalipse hates it with a vengeance. He is Saleem’s son… and even if the girls do not complain, who is to say if they would be happier without it? I am not training another horse for the next three years, only to find out later, that the noseband caused some sort of trouble, yet again. Never again. I am done.

I realize of course that this puts an end to my days in competition, since the noseband is mandatory in dressage. I realize too, that I am not going to trade Saleems comfort with the chance of winning a ribbon. I will still be going to shows. And I will ride, I will show off my horse, I will have a good time with him, and hopefully we will keep his excited headshaking to a minimum, we will get our critique and we will be disqualified for not wearing a noseband.

I am okay with that. After fifteen years with Poseidon and six years with Saleem, it was always me, if someone should make a stand about the noseband. It’s gone now, never again.

I can do better. And even if I haven’t in the past, I will prove it by never wearing it again, on any horse.


The noseband is, by the way, why I never jumped on the bitless wagon. None of those bridles are designed to not apply pressure across the trigeminal nerve, which is a no go with sensitive horses or headshakers. Or any horse, in my book, so that was never an option for me. A cordeo might be… I’ll have to look into that… But I am not going bitless. It is not by chance that I ended up with the exact same bridle on Saleem as I had for Poseidon. This is the gentles way I know how, to ride your horse. Even the so called horsemanship halters, the rope halters, are rather viciously designed with elaborate pressure points around the trigeminal nerve. I won’t be caught dead, wearing one of those on my horse. But yes, the noseband runs across the nerve as well. And even if it is lose, it is a bother.

I get it. I do. I really do.

And look at my horse. Look at how fantastic he is. I think I have watched the video ten times since yesterday. Two weeks in between the event video and the one we shot yesterday. That is not training. That is a mane and a noseband less, and here we are.


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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10 Responses to The Noseband

  1. kelly says:

    Not sure if you have seen these, but I had a horse exactly the same as yours. Crazy head flick especially in canter, also tended to suck back and not come up to the bit. After trying various things removing the noseband was the only thing that worked. Then I found this bridle which is designed to remove pressure from the nerve and is dressage legal 🙂

    • Starstone says:

      Hmm, I can’t get the link to work… But it’s okay, I think I know what kind of a bridle it is 😉
      And I am not going back, in any way. I won’t just find another noseband, even one designed to not pressure on the nerve. I don’t think that is really Saleem’s problem. Saleem is hypersensetive in all of his skin, all over his body. The less equipment I can wear on him, the better. I’ll be disqualified, and I’ll show people that you can ride without a nose band… I should have always done that.

  2. Bee says:

    You’re right, I also don’t find the bitless bridles that I’ve seen very soft, not to mention the horsemanship halters. I don’t see the difference of pulling on a noseband or pulling on a bit. Both is really uncomfortable for the horse. My horse totally hates a tight noseband, and is very uncooperative in a knot halter. Right now I use a semi-cavesson instead of the regular noseband, in combination with a curb bit. This way my horses doesn’t have two bits in the mouth. He’s very comfortable with this combination. But I also ride him quite often with a regular snaffle and no noseband, or only in his halter with reigns on the sides, a great way to check if my training is going well. Wow, I’m so glad my horse is not a headshaker, that must be difficult, to find out all about what causes it etc. Great post!

    • Starstone says:

      Thanks 🙂 Saleem have not been easy, but then again, the reward with a horse like that, once you do figure him out, is so much more fulfilling… I have never felt happier about any video of me and my horses, than I do about the one we just shot of Saleem. And sure, its not dressage perfect, but it is everything I have fought for in the six years I have owned him. It is Saleem, finally making sense to me, and it is me, finally making sense to him. That is just… an amazing feeling 🙂

  3. saraannon says:

    Here in New Mexico, there were many variations on what are now being sold as bitless bridles that were called ‘war bridles’ and used to subdue unruly horses because they caused such severe and inescapable nerve pain. Floppy ears and lips were common as a result of permanent nerve damage.
    The nose band, like the throat-latch is a military invention. The throat-latch helps keep the bridle from slipping over the horses ears when tired men are leading reluctant horses with the reins. The solution to horses breaking their lower jaws by landing with their mouths open when their rider hung on the reins during a fall at speed was a nose band to counteract the pull of the reins and keep the horse’s mouth shut. All three came about when war became mechanized, men and horses became expendable, and the cavalry was no longer a lifetime aristocratic alchemical pursuit.
    A cordeo or neck rope works pretty much on the same principles as a choke chain collar on dogs: pressure on the esophagus, windpipe, but add in the omni-hyoid muscles in the neck that run from the hyoid bone to the inside of the shoulder blade and are vital to a horse’s proprioreception.
    With a plain snaffle, a horse can moderate our mistakes with their tongue and lips as long as we remember that we are supposed to listen to the information the horse is giving us through our hands.

    • Starstone says:

      hehe so what you are saying is, a plain snaffle is better than a cordeo? 🙂 Because that was my first instinct, but I haven’t really looked into how a cordeo works…

      • saraannon says:

        Pretty much. As far as I can see all the bitless gear is based on the aversion principle of training… “do what I want or I’ll hurt you” … how much the horse hurts depends on the person and the type of rope/strapping used.
        I don’t know of anything besides a snaffle that allows the horse to pick up contact with the rider’s hands and be an equal partner in the conversation.
        Riding with following/fixed hands (instead of pulling punitive ones) that allow the horse to pick up contact is definitely a lost art in a foreign language for most of the equestrian world. although I recently saw a quote from a Charles de Kunffy clinic that said ‘the riders arms from the elbows forward belong to the horse.” He was bemoaning the state of riding in the dressage world though and I don”t know whether or not anybody had a clue what he meant…

      • Starstone says:

        It’s a good qoute… I heard a trainer the other day say, how should the horse know to bend its neck, if you don’t pull on the reins?
        I don’t even know how to answer that, except for with a baseball bat 😛 So sad, really.

      • saraannon says:

        Clearly they have never seen a horse moving freely and joyfully… here is a link to a blog documenting a herd of wild horses a here in the American southwest… there are some lovely photos of arched necked horses spontaneously dancing about…
        Then the dressage goal ‘of the horse moving under saddle as freely and joyfully he does on his own has a visual foundation.
        Sharing these photos is probably better for you than picking up the baseball bat, although I certainly understand the temptation!

      • Starstone says:

        hehe yeah, violence never gets you anywhere… sometimes its just so… frustrating 😉

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