What is the Purpose of a Flash Noseband for Horses?

The most common type of noseband is a plain one, otherwise known as a cavesson.

However, you might have noticed horses wearing a variety of differently shaped and placed nosebands.

After a plain noseband, the most common type you will see is a flash. 

Don’t forget to also check our guide on the Best Bridle for Thoroughbred!

What Is A Flash Noseband?

white horse wearing a brown bridle and flash noseband

A flash noseband is a bridle part that attaches to a standard cavesson. Cavesson is another name for a standard noseband.

The flash is a thinner piece of leather that sits at an angle in front of the bit and wraps behind the mouth.

The bottom side sits just behind the chin. It is commonly used on eventing and showjumping horses but not allowed for American hunters.

Purpose Of A Flash Noseband

grey horse with black noseband

The purpose of a flash noseband is pretty uncomplicated.

Its use became prevalent sometime in the 1960s with showjumpers, but the exact time of its invention nor the inventor are not known.

During the 1960s, it was common to attach a standing martingale to the flash noseband.

This is no longer allowed, and a standing martingale can only attach to a standard noseband.

By the 1980s, the flash saw popularity with dressage riders.

1. Keeping The Mouth Closed

The main purpose of the flash noseband is to keep the horse’s mouth closed. A horse might open its mouth for a couple of reasons.

One is that the horse is trying to evade the bit. The flash also keeps the mouth closed so the horse can’t cross its jaw.

Some horses try to grab the bit, which makes them very strong and difficult to turn or stop. Closing the mouth helps avoid this.

Finally, a horse might open its mouth because it finds the bit uncomfortable. If that is the case, don’t use a flash to keep the mouth closed.

Instead, you need to reevaluate your horse’s bit. All horses have a preference for the type of bit they like.

Their personality sensitivities and mouth confirmation play a big role in what is best for each individual horse.

If you are unsure if the horse is opening its mouth as an evasion, or if it doesn’t like the bit, get the help of a professional. Preferably an expert in biting.

2. Keeping The Bit In Place

A flash noseband helps keep the bit steady in the horse’s mouth instead of moving around too much.

Some horses prefer this, helping to give them confidence and work better.

It also helps to keep the bit straight in the mouth. For more info, check our guide on how to get a horse on the bit.

Flash Noseband Attachment

A flash noseband attachment is a piece of leather that connects the flash to the standard noseband. There are two versions of this attachment.

One version is the type that is permanently attached to the standard noseband.

One these bridles, you will see a small loop at the top, center of the noseband.

The flash slides through the loop, and then you do up the buckle. The other version is a separate piece of leather.

This piece of leather wraps around the standard noseband, at the top, center. One side will have slots.

You feed the flash strap through these slots, which secures the attachment to the noseband.

Then you buckle the flash in the same way as the type using a permanent attachment.

A separate flash attachment is slightly longer than a permanent one. This can sometimes provide a better fit for the horse.

It is also good, if you school a horse, such as an American hunter in a flash, but need to remove it at shows, as it’s not allowed.

Removing a flash from a permanent attachment leaves the loop visible, which is frowned upon in the hunter ring.

It is easy to lose a separate attachment if you take the entire flash off the bridle. However, these pieces are not expensive. 

Related: Difference Between a Cob Bridle & a Full Size Bridle

What To Avoid When Fitting A Flash Noseband

It is extremely important to fit a flash noseband correctly. It is a common misuse of the flash to make it far too tight in an attempt to clamp the mouth shut.

This is completely wrong to do. The horse should still be able to chew on the bit. 

A flash that is too tight can not only cruelly prevent the horse from moving its mouth at all, it also affects the rest of the body.

The pressure from an overly tight flash can numb the mouth and take away any sensitivity. This makes it pretty hard to make subtle cues to your horse!

A tight flash is extremely uncomfortable for the horse. An uncomfortable horse will clench its jaw and never let it relax.

It also puts too much pressure on the poll. Instead of preventing a horse from getting too strong and having more control with an over-tight flash, you get a host of undesirable problems.

The horse’s mouth will get too dry, contact will harden, and you will lose elasticity in the body. You will not have a relaxed, supple horse.

A flash that is too tight can also cause damage to the horse’s sensitive facial nerves.

Finally, since it sits over the nostrils, it can also affect the horse’s breathing. If the horse’s breathing is affected performance, and willingness can suffer.

How To Fit A Flash Noseband

an equestrian fitting and showing the purpose of a flash noseband

It is common for people to fit a flash noseband incorrectly. It can be too tight or sit over the wrong part of the muzzle.

The flash strap needs to sit over the muzzle high enough so that the horse’s nostril-flaring isn’t affected. The strap needs to have the opening side on the left side of the mouth.

The loose part of the strap also needs to point down.

Once you have the flash strap through the flash attachment the correct way, you need to secure it with the buckle.

The strap should sit just behind the chin. When you do up the buckle, make sure that the buckle does not sit over the lips. This can cause sores or irritation.

The flash strap should be snug, but not tight! Once secure, you should still be able to fit at least one finger between the strap and chin.

Difference Between A Flash and Other Types Of Nosebands

In addition to a flash noseband bridle, you will see some different types that look similar but serve slightly different purposes. Let’s take a look at them below.

Figure 8 Noseband

A figure 8 noseband looks like its name. This noseband crosses over the horse’s nose.

In the center, it will have a disk that is usually lined with fleece. When you use a figure 8, you do not use a standard noseband.

A figure 8 noseband has two attachments. The back strap buckles just in front of the upper jaw, in front of the cheeks.

The front strap goes in front of the bit, like a flash, and wraps around the mouth in the same way.

Another name for a figure 8 is a grackle or Mexican. A Mexican will have a ring on each side that sits just below the cheekbones.

However, some grackles do not have these rings, so it is not correct to call this style a Mexican.

It is important to place the rings in the right position, as the cheekbones have no muscle to protect them, and it can cause the horse pain.

A grackle is stronger than a regular flash noseband. Its central disk provides the main area of pressure, and it is an option often seen on very hard pulling horses.

The versions with rings have a slightly less strong action than the non-ring version.

Drop Noseband

The drop noseband came before that flash. It is just one piece that sits lower on the horse’s face than a plain noseband.

The straps go in front of the bit and buckle just behind the chin, like a flash noseband. It has a stronger action than a flash.

Some horses don’t like this noseband, as they find it too restrictive. It has also lost popularity because it is not as flattering to the horse’s head as other types of nosebands.

This noseband applies pressure low on the muzzle and in the chin grove. 

You must take care when fitting a drop noseband due to how low it sits on the horse’s face.

If it is not fitted correctly, it can restrict the horse’s breathing. It should sit no lower than 2 ½ inches above the nostril, and you should be able to fit a finger underneath it. 

A plain noseband is not used with a drop. Don’t attach a standing martingale to a drop noseband at any time.

Crank Noseband

A crank noseband sits on the same area of the horse’s face as a standard one. However, it buckles differently.

With a crank, the strap loops through a ring. Another name for this type of noseband is cinchback or double back.

Under the main strap is a padded piece of leather. The purpose of this type of closure is to prevent the buckle from pressing into the horse’s face.

The crank fits more snuggly than a standard noseband, but you should still be able to fit a finger under it.

It helps to keep the horse’s mouth closed and prevent jaw crossing.

The crank noseband is popular with dressage riders who use a double bridle or those that can’t use something, like a flash, that goes in front of the bit.

It is easy to over-tighten a crank noseband, and unfortunately, some people use its fastening type to purposely make this noseband extremely tight.

When it is too tight, a horse cannot open its jaw at all, and it causes tension in the mouth.

It can also cause pain, when too tight as it presses the cheeks into the teeth.

What Problems Can A Noseband Cause

If a noseband is fitted incorrectly or too tight, it can cause several issues. The horse can overly tense its jaw and get too heaving in the rider’s hands.

Poor fit also can reduce the horse’s ability for self-carriage.

If the noseband is too loose, it can also reduce the horse’s ability for self-carriage.

It will also interfere with the rider’s ability to create a stable connection with the horse.

Short History Of The Noseband

Bridles during certain periods in history did not always contain a noseband. If you look at paintings from many years ago containing horses, you will notice the bridle has no noseband.

However, some type of noseband has been in use for centuries, not always with the horse’s comfort in mind.

Prior to the use of bits, types of nosebands were used to control the horse. Around a thousand years ago, evidence of bit use emerges.

However, bits were basic, and historians think that the nosebands at this time included barbs to control the horse; pretty horrific!

During the 16th century, reins were attached to the noseband, which tightened it when the rider used rein pressure.

Over the following years, the noseband developed into a much kinder piece of tack, made from a simple, flat piece of leather.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are several types of nosebands. The main purpose of a plain cavesson is to help keep the bridle in place.

A flash gives the rider more control without too much severity. Some horses like how the flash keeps the bit more stable in their mouth.

Always get advice if you are not sure what noseband is best for your horse. And if in doubt, stay simple by using just a plain noseband on a snaffle bridle.

References:

  • admin. n.d. “Nosebands – Types & Use.” TDS Saddlers. Accessed June 16, 2021. https://www.tds-saddlers.com/information/nosebands-types-use/.
  • Horse & Hound. 2003. “The Good Noseband Guide.” Horse & Hound. January 14, 2003. https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/products/the-good-noseband-guide-34808.
  • “How to Fit Your Horse’s Noseband ⋆ How to Dressage.” 2019. How to Dressage. October 5, 2019. https://howtodressage.com/horse-care/how-to-fit-your-horses-noseband/.
  • “Know Your Nosebands for Horses – Types & Uses.” 2017. ArdMoor. June 22, 2017. https://www.ardmoor.co.uk/blog/know-your-nosebands.
close-up shot of a horse wearing a flash noseband

Do you have other ideas on the purpose of a flash noseband? Share with us!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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