Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Are we too attached to the flash attachment?

Picture from SustainableDressage.comI'm sure we've all seen horses in competition with a flash cranked tight like the one to the left (photo, sustainabledressage.com). Harvey has never worn a flash attachment, for several reasons. He's quiet in the bridle, for one thing. But more importantly, he already has a tendency to go in a "fake frame," yielding at the poll while carrying tension in his back and neck. A flash wouldn't add anything, and it could quite possibly make things worse.

What about the young'un?
But what about Riley? His behavior under saddle is a question mark. He's a huge pain when standing around in tack (mouthy-mouthy, yaw-yaw), but when he's focused and moving forward he's very quiet in the mouth. Does he need a flash? I can see two opposing arguments.

  1. It's a standard piece of equipment that a) prevents a horse from crossing his jaw; b) holds the bit in place; and c) helps to prevent the horse from getting his tongue over the bit. Besides, it's hard to find a dressage bridle without one -- get him used to it sooner rather than later.
  2. Flashes can discourage/hinder relaxation of the jaw, and they are used in competition to mask training issues (tying the mouth shut).

Some history
Jessica Jahiel writes that flashes are a relatively new invention -- an attempt to offer show jumping riders the advantages of a dropped noseband while still permitting the use of the standing martingale on the regular noseband that comes with it. She takes a dim view of flashes, and I have to agree with her that I've seen flashes and nosebands used to "manage" rather than address problems of resistance. She makes a distinction between using a flash for training and using it for competition. Read her short article for more info (link is below).

My thoughts
If there is a problem with a horse's way of going -- let's call it "bad energy" -- plugging one hole is going to cause the energy to leak out somewhere else. You may succeed in getting the mouth closed with a flash, but I betcha they'll find other ways to tell you there's a problem, whether it's tail-swishing, head-shaking, whatever.

I guess in the end the important thing is not whether it's worn or not worn, but how it's worn. And how it's used. You can see the effect of the equipment. If the horse has a soft eye, and a relaxed jaw, there isn't much to complain about is there?


Jessica Jahiel on Flash attachments

Flash noseband: The Aachen cavesson
from Sustainabledressage.com

Flash noseband question from Ireland's Equstrian Magazine

Flash noseband discussion
on Equisearch forum

Flash on young horse discussion on COTH forums

Properly fitting a flash noseband on COTH forums

Flash nosebands from Stabletalk forum (UK)

Flash nosebands causing rein-lameness from interdressage.com


  1. I am always surprised when people complain that their young horses are "mouthy" with the bit or "play with the bit". I thought we wanted a horse who was relaxed in the mouth in dressage?
    So therefore, unless I have a horse that seriously puts his tongue over the bit, jaw-crosses or sticks his tongue out all the time, I won't be using a flash anytime soon....

  2. Good grief! How old is Riley now? I swear he was just born, yikes!

  3. Good lord, how could you have missed the endless videos ??? :-)

    He's three -- yes, three! It went by too quickly, and I'd do it all again.

  4. I just take the flash strap off my dressage bridles. Years ago, when I evented, I used a flash type noseband on the cross country to give me a little more control.

    Nowadays? I think I've lost all my flash straps.

  5. I've never liked flashes, but I'm a huge fan of drop nosebands for any horses that need mouth.jaw stabilization. They're hard to find in the US, but worth it.

  6. I have yet to train anything with a flash. I feel that it defeats the purpose when we are trying for relaxed ponies comfortable in tack. Perhaps later on in thier finishing it might come into play, but not starting.

  7. I always thought that you could use a really loose flash if your baby was chomp chomping enough to make you nervous about, you know, losing the bit or something. So if he really gapes his mouth, the flash asks him to close it a little. I always used a flash but I could fit a loose 3 fingers in.... (Not a baby though)

  8. New reader-Love your blog. I have a Haflinger that just turned 4 and so I have been enjoying reading about Riley especially. I use a flash on my youngster only at my trainers recommendation. Early on as Bodhi was learning to yield to pressure he began "giving" at the jaw by opening his mouth. It did not seem resistive in nature and he had a soft eye while doing it but I could see the tension in his jaw. The only thing my trainer could think to do was close his mouth for him and try again. He has been doing much better and we hope to take it off soon. I am not saying that this is not a training error :) and I agree with you that the flash is a training devise not an everyday use piece of equipment. Just thought Bodhi and My use of the flash was an interesting one. He is so inventive.

  9. I always tried to do anything I could to teach (and listen to) my horses so that they didn't need anything extra. I had pretty good horses (not international standard mind you) and they did well. I didn't like adding anything extra into the mix unless I was sure they needed it.
    Go with your gut. If he needs it, you'll know. Until then, listen and teach and he'll be fine :)

  10. So all are against flashes? My horse opens his mouth as wide as he can when I ride him, he's an ex-race horse. No amount of proper training can reverse the damage done at the track. Having a flash on allows me work him properly without having to battle a horse running away with the bit with his mouth wide open. After just a few months he already has stopped with his mouthy track habits while he is standing under saddle. Eventually, with continued training we should be able to remove it. In the meantime though it is a great tool and I disagree with those who say they take one problem and place it somewhere else.

  11. Sadly, it is not easy to find dressage-style bridles without a flash attachment. Dover only carries two, Stateline two, and (surprisingly) Dressage Extensions has none (surprised the clerk on the phone who was sure they had some).

  12. I have never felt that a flash was necessary for any horse I've ridden, even my 5 year old greenie. I'm sure there's a time and a place for it when used correctly, but that first photo looks horrible. Suffocation is never the way to manage or address a problem horse.

    The second one looks much better. The flash isn't cranked so tight that it's cutting off circulation and the horse looks comfortable.

  13. When I'm working with my horses, I never want to force them to accept contact. Also, I don't understand why someone wouldn't want their horse to do one of the undesirable things a flash is supposed to prevent - if the horse does one of those things the horse is telling me something - that there's a hole in my training, or that there's a problem - dental, bit fit or type, how I'm using my hands, chiropractic, lack of fitness, etc. Once a horse learns, through careful and patient training, how to accept contact and do so softly, and there are no physical issues, voila - those behaviors don't need to be there anymore because the horse doesn't need to tell me something with them.

    Same thing with forcing a horse into a frame using gadgets - drawreins, etc. - anything that's achieved through this is artificial - the horse isn't soft or willing and the feel can't come through from the hind end.

    Maybe flashes and gadgets are why there are so many unhappy horses - stiff, braced and doing things like tail-wringing instead? These issues are certainly not limited to the dressage world but occur in all disciplines.

  14. Years ago I competed in a training level test, and the judge told me the noseband was too loose to be effective -- told me to tighten it. It was certainly not flapping or distracting. I had purchased the noseband specifically for showing -- since he'd had sinus surgery I'd fallen in the habit of riding him without one, and I'm all for simplicity.

    I can't tell you how it annoyed me that a judge had told me to tighten it. In the years of showing that I did, this was the one judge that I thought did a poor job. The noseband, and other comments that contradicted advice I was hearing elsewhere, convinced me she was wrong about all of it. To be fair, she was an "L" -- still learning.

  15. I have a great Royal Oak with no flash on my 6 year old mare purchased from Dressage Extentions a few years ago. But I have to admit, after she had a lump removed from her chin and I was forced to go 'nosebandless' for a month I realized she went much better with a noseband it in dressage! I dont think that's legal in eventing though to ride without a noseband in dressage, bummer! I have had very good results with a figure 8 noseband jumping. I feel like it allows her full use of her airways, but still keeps her mouth adequetly shut. I dont use a flash on my 3 year old gelding either. He seems fine and I assume the occasional open mouth behavior will go away in time with more training.

  16. My OTTB isn't relaxed in the jaw, but I haven't decided whether or not a flash is going to help him. He seems to be headed in the right direction with out it, but I realize that a flash, fitted loosely, could give him more of the right idea.

    A barnmate uses a flash with her mare, who still manages to get her tongue up, over and out of her mouth, flapping in the breeze. Everything about that seems wrong to me.

    Sorry, I have to post anonymously, so my last comment doesn't come back to bite me.


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.