THE grackle, ‘figure of eight’ or even ‘Mexican’ noseband, has been around since 1931, when it was first seen in public on the winner of the Grand National. ‘Grakle’ was reported to have been quite a handful and required expert handling. The Grackle noseband was invented specifically to control him, as he was renowned for pulling hard during a race. It was then seen in jumping on the horses of the successful Mexican jumping team in the late 1940s. Since then, it has grown in popularity mostly among jumping and event riders.
The grackle noseband consists of two diagonally crossing narrow straps with their crossover point (usually over a small circular pad of sheepskin or felt) on the front of the horse’s nose. The object of a grackle noseband is to prevent or at least discourage a horse or pony from crossing his jaw and opening his mouth to evade the action of the bit.
If a horse wearing a bridle with a grackle noseband tries to open his mouth to evade the bit, he will feel pressure on bridge of the nose and his chin groove. A bridle with a grackle noseband has a similar action to a dropped noseband, but it acts over a wider area, which makes it more effective in preventing a horse or pony from crossing its jaw.
The top section of each strap of the grackle noseband passes under its relevant bridle cheekpiece and they meet and fasten near the jaw. The lower sections of the straps pass under the bit on each side, resting in the chin groove again, and fasten on the nearside just below the bit (some riders fasten them so the buckle lies between the bit and the crossover point).
As with any noseband which passes along the chin groove, should the horse attempt to open his mouth, not only will he feel pressure in the chin groove but on the bridge of the nose too, which has the subsidiary effect of bringing the nose in and maybe down.
The grackle and the flash noseband, which has a similar action, are unlikely to interfere with breathing.
They must be fitted snugly but comfortably, again allowing you to slide a finger under the straps all round – although, if they are too loose, they will be ineffective.
The purpose of a grackle noseband is to help the horse and rider achieve and maintain better contact, especially with a horse who inclines to make attempts at evading the rider’s hands (by way of escaping the action of the bit). The grackle noseband should help the horse accept the contact and learn and understand what behaviours (such as crossing the jaw and opening the mouth) are not acceptable.
You can only use a grackle noseband in dressage if you use a snaffle bit, which means it is limited to use only in the lower-levels. It is illegal to use a grackle noseband with a double bridle (a bridle with two bits) or with any bit with a curb-chain, as it will interfere with the proper action of these bits. It can also cause considerable discomfort in the horse’s mouth, so emphasis must be put on correct fitting.