Cranking up the lightness and grace in dressage

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Well darlings, it seems my last post on showjumping bridling struck a nerve with many people.  But I think there may be an even bigger controversy brewing among our dressage friends.

After much discussion both on my blog and here, and if my trusty readers can be relied upon, it seems Hickstead’s contraption is not as severe as it might look.

That’s good news. But it would appear that pretty much anything goes as far as bits, bridles and showjumpers are concerned. I know dressage has more bitting rules, but when it comes to a certain type of noseband, the interpretation is apparently more open. I am referring, of course, to the hideous crank noseband. Which, according to FEI rules, does not even exist.

As it so happens, one of my dearest pals and trusted sources is an extremely high ranking official in horse sport.

My friend told me that, while officiating at a super-high-level national event (I shan’t say where or when), she was asked by a dressage rider to do up her noseband just before she entered the arena.  “I used every ounce of strength I had and couldn’t for the life of me get that noseband done up to the desired hole. In fact I was two holes short!”, my source told me.

“God god, if your teeth are already clamped together, how much tighter can you get?”

That is a good question. But even more shocking is the fact that in Europe, some riders are using a ratchet type device to tighten their nosebands.  “Imagine your own jaw and teeth clamped together so hard that your whole head ached!”, my source declared.

Felicity agrees. Isn’t dressage supposed to be all about lightness and grace?

Sigh. In my day a cavesson noseband was a decoration, not a torture device.

I will hazard a guess and say the crank noseband (otherwise known as a Swedish noseband) was invented by some dressage genius (presumably Swedish?) who felt they needed a mouth-closing device when using a double bridle, and, not allowed under ‘the rules’  to use a flash or dropped noseband, came up with this wonderful new tool.

Depending on how you interpret “the rules”, the ‘crank’  is allowed, however: “A cavesson nose band may never be as tightly fixed so as to harm the horse.”

Definition of ‘harm’, anyone?

So given the amount of yap about horse welfare coming from the top of the sport perhaps it is time such things are studied a bit more closely.

This also leaves Felicity wondering, if the supposed higher level riders using double bridles need something to encourage their horses to grit their teeth and clamp their jaws shut, should they be at a higher level in the first place?

It seems a rather cruel and, frankly, crude device.

I await comment from my dear readers on this one.

Toodles!

Felicity Foxhunter

If you have something juicy or concerning to share, do drop me a line - felicity.foxhunter@gmail.com. Never fear, your secrets are safe with me.

17 thoughts on “Cranking up the lightness and grace in dressage

  • July 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm
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    How could any horse lover be so cruel? I would hazard a guess and say they must be just in it for the $ UNBELIEVABLE !!

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  • July 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm
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    It seems a cultural change is required, if people with no devices got better marks maybe the devices would fade away. The old masters i once read, could only train 2 1/2 dressage horses in a lifetime. May be we are all in too much of a hurry today.

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  • July 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm
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    Perhaps Felicity, entry into higher levels should be based on NO NOSEBAND AT ALL? Loooove to see that one get through, it never would.

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  • July 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm
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    I use a hano/crank (lower level) because the noseband is wider, but in fact have found better results from loosening it off from firm (have NEVER jammed tight, but instructor used to do it up firmly) to the same as a cavesson (a finger space). At least my horse can move his tongue inside his mouth, which is probably why I’m getting better results than before …. I feel the same, if you have to over gear and jam the horse up, you probably should go back to basics and start again – although some horses CAN be strong a difficult. In which case, no matter the talent of the horse, should it not be taken back to an easier step, the same as dog training – don’t advance until you get the simple things right rather than using gear to correct …. it is better to do something simple well, than something difficult badly.

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  • July 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm
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    I agree. What pleasure do the riders get knowing the horse is obliged to perform rather than willing to perform?

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  • July 28, 2010 at 2:42 pm
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    On the positive side – ex endurance horse and I have been having lessons with a really, really awesome ex UK dressage coach who is well known for promoting a “beautiful contact”.

    Whilst I was watching another lesson, he got said rider to loosen off the horses noseband big time and commented that the “big boys don’t do tight nosebands anymore”.

    There is hope – but how many people are listening is hard to know.

    Jenny

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  • August 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm
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    Whoa everyone – go back a step..nose band or not, tight or not, lets hope the horse has hdd his teeth cared for by a reputable and knowledgeable Equine dentist.

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  • August 5, 2010 at 2:17 pm
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    Yes it is a woven mat, not just one thing but many to consider and all with the prime reson in mind – respect for the horse – the one that is doing our bidding:).
    I know how I feel with my teeth clamped closed – boy I get tense and get a headache….
    I know what it is like if my teeth are not regularly cared for – Yes all part of the whole thing
    But dressage is ment to be “Training” and the training is ment to be in “Harmony” – how can there be harmony with gritted teeth? That’s like a false smile. Intent is what drives these things – look harder:)

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  • August 16, 2010 at 6:44 am
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    I was taught that the horse should be able to take a treat, ergo, the cavesson cannot be cranked down. I must be able to put one or two fingers between the cavesson and the bottom of my horse’s jaw.

    I used to show dressage, really wanted to be like the “big dogs”. Time and circumstance changed my goals, and I eventually started shooting dressage shows. I saw a lot of bad riding and unhappy, uncomfortable horses through the camera lens. One young horse had beautiful, expressive and exuberant gaits, a horse I would loved to have sat on. In one year his young rider managed to create a stiff, miserable, sour horse with ruined gaits. All this accompanied by too tight bridle, a whip AND spurs, hollowed back, bridle too tight, and a rider with no hands as in unfeeling and unsympathetic. This sort of thing is not the exception anymore, and judges are scoring bad riding and unsound training with respectable scores.

    I quit shooting shows – I got tired of seeing miserable horses and crappy riders who didn’t “get” what dressage should be. My horse is 21 now, and still working. I doubt these instant stars will last more than five. Judging from the expression in the horse’s eye above, he’s pretty miserable, not a pretty picture.

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  • August 18, 2010 at 7:59 am
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    Soooo many people don’t even understand that the word dressage means TRAINING and not FORCING! I am no dressage rider, except that I should do it every time I ride, I have watched the best in my lifetime and know this discipline is getting to be very cruel to our beloved equines. When will someone do something about it???

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  • August 19, 2010 at 5:17 am
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    I have been a ring steward a US regional championship for several years and the abuse of these devices is almost universal.

    The last time I stewarded the technical delegate asked me to make sure I could get two fingers under the nose-band and call her if anyone gave me trouble. Well, at best I could get one finger under a nose-band but most were so tight that the skin could not slide under the nose-band. Most riders complied with loosening them but I had one rider sniff “but I always ride with it this way”. My mental response was “but I always torture my horse”.

    Another young rider had her cavesson a bit low and so tight that the horse was had blood smeared all over one corner of its mouth from pinching skin between the bit and the band. I started by asking her if she knew her horse was bleeding and I explained that this was abusively tight. Fortunately she was young and she could see the result herself – she was sick over what she had done. She took off the cavesson and went back to her stall.

    This one I caught after he test which had gone very poorly (no wonder) some I would catch before they rode. I only gave her a warning because I believed she had learned a lesson and was practicing what she had been taught by people who should know better. I hope she is spreading the word against this abusive practice today.

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  • August 28, 2010 at 6:17 am
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    If you want to impress me take the entire bridle off! That is harmony. That would show self carriage. Why in the world do the upper levels NEED a double bridle? There is a place and time for tradition but there is also a place and time for implementing learned better practices.

    BTW-Take off those darn shoes too!

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    • January 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm
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      Hi Amber

      I congratulate you on posting this comment, I totally agree with you. Why are these horses who are supposedly trained to the highest level need a double bridel?

      As dressage is the French word for training, the training mustn’t be to flash if you have to clamp the jaw shut with a double bridel.

      I would like to see only snaffles used or like you said a bites bridel. Now that would be a display if true horsemanship

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  • September 14, 2010 at 2:24 am
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    Just cruel. Should be banned. A disgrace to the horse world.

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    • January 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm
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      Absolutely I for some time belonged to the Lockyer Equestrian Group and a number of big name riders there. honestly believe that this is an acceptable practice. however their are some like Wendy palmer from Black Swan friesians who lead by example and do classical dressage.

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  • June 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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    I was always taught the two fingers rule- so when I started riding a horse that was fairly light in the bridle I took his flash off and loosened his noseband to the 3 fingers and was having no issues getting him round when another rider (on the ground) commented on it and tightened it and told me I “will never get him round with it this loose” to which I responded that I had not had any issues thus far. She shrugged it off and left and I got off to loosen it. So strange that people actually believe you need something tight around the horses mouth to get them “round” what has happened to relaxation and fluidity???

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