The Sunday Jog-Up: Tips from a Groom


Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up?  Do you ever wonder how they get that way?  (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!)  Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse.  Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!

Previous entries:  Reader Reviews  1st Edition


Sheath Cleaning

Quarter Marks

Extreme Makeover: Button Braids , Part II 

                          Extreme Makeover: Taming the Tail

                          Extreme Makeover: Mane Event

                          Shank You Very Much

                          Organizational Skills 

                          Know Your Rules

                          Safety First  

                          Odds & Ends

                          What About Tack? Part I , Part II

                          Shining, Shimmering, Splendid

                          A Close Shave

                          Get those white legs white!


As with most things, being a good groom requires extreme attention to detail.  One, you want the horse looking his best.  And two, you want to ensure horse and rider are SAFE.  Properly-fitted tack is important to achieve both those requirements.  Today we will discuss how to fit a bridle, with various bits and nosebands commonly seen in our sport.


Let’s start off with something simple: a plain snaffle bridle and cavesson noseband.  This is the most “traditional” headwear for jogs, and also what you’ll see on hunters.  The plain cavesson should be fitted about one or two fingers’-width below the cheekbone, high enough not to interfere with the bit ring.  An ordinary snaffle should create one or two wrinkles in the lips; but poke your finger in the mouth to be sure it sits in a good position.  Too high is uncomfortable, but so is too low (it can bang against the canines).

A plain cavesson (usually a padded crank) is standard for double-bridles.

Well-fitted snaffle with cavesson noseband              Double bridle with plain noseband


The most common bridle seen in eventing and dressage is the flash bridle.  The flash attachment helps keep the horse’s mouth closed, limiting his evasion to the rider’s aids.  Of course in an ideal world, the horse would always accept the bit with a smile…but there are times when the mouth yaws open in response to a “DO IT NOW!!!” rein aid (as in, steering for that skinny over –there–) and a flash can speed along the communication process.  Some people believe in starting ALL young horses in a flash, so that they never learn the habit of opening the mouth; others believe the flash is a “quick fix” to hide bad hands (there is some truth to that).  I personally prefer a flash because it also helps stabilize the bit in the mouth, limiting the risk of pulling a bit ring through.  And, in my opinion, because it flatters a lot of horses’ heads.

When fitting a flash, keep it HIGH, just under the cheekbones.  The flash should rest over the bone of the nose, not on the soft cartilage where it may interfere with breathing.  Fasten the cavesson tightly so that the flash attachment does not pull it downward over the bridge of the nose (a “broken” down noseband).  The buckle of the flash should rest above the horse’s nostril; cut off any excess strap that extends down to the chin.  Some people people fasten it “upside down” with the excess tucked under the cavesson loop; this is a quick-fix if you lose your keeper, but I much prefer it pointing downward.  Use a braiding rubberband for a keeper if necessary.  Always ensure there is no excess pressure under the chin– never buckle it below the bit.

 Nicely-fitted flash, high on bridge of nose. 


Often on event horses and jumpers, you will see a figure-8 noseband.  The figure-8 has the same principle as the flash: an added lower strap to keep the mouth shut. The fig-8 sits higher on the bridge of the nose, giving full room to the nostrils to expand (thus you see a lot of them on xc).  On some horses, it is more effective than a flash; perhaps because of the high fit.  It also helps some horses who lock and cross the jaw.  There are two styles: fixed-ring, and sliding cheek.  The fixed-ring is much easier to use, though fitting odd-sized heads can be an issue.  The sliding fig-8 can fit a wide variety of faces, but the loose straps are easy to lose…and difficult to adjust on a horse who flings his head impatiently.  As with the flash, you ideally want the buckles to end up between cheek and jaw (upper) and between nostril and mouth (lower).  If your fixed-ring does not fit, a saddler can probably shorten it for you.


Personally, I don’t think a figure-8 flatters most horses’ heads.  Only those with long, narrow faces seem to look better in a fig-8 than a flash.  Unless the horse really goes better in it, I much prefer a flash or plain noseband.  The fixed-ring fig-8 is designed to sit HIGH on the horse’s face– the ring is just a few inches below the eye, so the upper straps cross over the cheekbone.  Sometimes this rubs the cheekbones, so pay attention to any skin irritation and adjust the bridle accordingly.  The sliding fig-8 lacks the stability to cross the cheek, so it is usually adjusted just like a flash– directly under the cheekbones.


Well-adjusted Fixed Figure-8


Other nosebands: a drop noseband is also suitable for dressage.  It is fitted low on the bridge of the nose, and fastens only below the bit.  It can be more helpful than a flash at keeping the mouth closed, but has greater risk of interfering with breathing.  (On a personal level, I think they make horses’ faces look extremely long and ugly!  But if it works for you, who cares!)


Drop noseband

Lever or Crescent Noseband

Kineton Noseband                                                              

For jumping and xc, you may also see horses wearing a lever (or crescent) noseband; also good for keeping the horse’s mouth closed, perhaps useful on those that lockjaw and pull.  Kinetons are rarely seen anymore, but they can help give some “oomph” to your half-halt if the horse responds well to nose pressure.  And then there’s a whole variety of “combo-bits” with hackamores and the like.  Consult a professional for hands-on advice fitting specialty bits and nosebands.


Whatever bridle you use, remember the Pony Club rules of fitting:  Always have two holes above, and two holes below whatever buckle you use.  Accidents happen and bridles DO break, and you will need that extra buckle hole.  It also accounts for a variety of fittings– different-sized bit rings will necessitate lengthening or shortening the cheekpiece, even on the same horse’s head.  You never want to be on the LAST hole anywhere– punch more, or have the bridle shortened if needed.  For gags, 3-rings, and elevators, you may need pony-sized cheekpieces to accomodate the upper shank of the bit– it’s often too long for the average bridle on an average horse.


Bridles are getting increasingly fancy– with more padding and accessories than ever before.  Padded crowns can help some horses, but the most important aspect of any bridle is that it FITS and is kept clean.  Too-tight browbands pinch the ears; crusty foam and dried grass stuck to the flash can make lips raw.  I haven’t had much personal experience with bitless bridles or the new Micklem bridle, but there are many options for all sorts of horses.  Use whatever makes you and your horse most comfortable.


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