The locking strap - why do we use it?

Der Sperrriemen - Warum verwenden wir ihn?
The locking strap (often incorrectly called a puller strap) has been an integral part of many nosebands for many years, especially in classic riding. When riders are asked why they use a flash strap, they often get answers like: "I don't know.", "I bought the noseband with the flash strap already attached," and "We've always done it that way.". Or also: “My horse otherwise sticks out his tongue,” “My horse walks without the safety strap against the bit,” etc. These answers show that there is a great deal of ignorance. We at 4Hooves are of the opinion that we should always carefully question everything we do or don't do in order to be able to form our own and independent opinion. We would therefore like to dedicate today's article to the topic of locking belts. The choice of our equipment is particularly important for the well-being and health of our horses. We will therefore get to the bottom of the questions of where the locking belt originated, what meaning and purpose it fulfills (has), and what raison d'être it still has today - or perhaps doesn't have.

The origin of the locking belt

For a long time it was assumed that the history of the emergence of the ratchet belt in the military began in the First World War. The reason for this - according to widespread opinion - was that horses suffered a disproportionate number of lower jaw fractures because their mouths opened wide when they fell. To date, however, there is no clear evidence or historical images to support this assumption. It is believed that the Hanoverian noseband was created for the purpose of fixing the lower jaw, rather than the English combined noseband. The locking belt and the puller belt are also often confused. The latter is guided from the bridge of the nose through the bit rings and back again without being placed around the horse's lower jaw and is intended to better divert the resulting pressure when the reins are picked up to the bridge of the nose in order to prevent the horse from pulling against it. When exactly the locking belt we know today came into being remains hidden in the mists of history. The first picture of an English combined bridle (found by Holger Suel) was taken at the 1956 Olympic Games in Stockholm and shows the American show jumper Frank Chapot. Since then, the locking belt has been widely used. But why? Why do we use a utensil that prevents our horses from opening their mouths while riding? Is it important that our horses can open their mouths when riding? Let's take a closer look at this.

The effect of the locking belt

Proper buckling of the locking strap is essential. Therefore, the FN has established the 2-finger rule in the LPO . This means that there must be space for two fingers between the bridge of the horse's nose and the noseband and the locking strap. This also applies to its counterpart in western riding, the mouth closer. In Switzerland this is stipulated even more precisely with “a distance of 1.5cm”. Depending on how tightly the locking strap is buckled, it sometimes makes it impossible for the horses to open their mouths. However, this is important for the following reasons: Horses, like us humans, produce saliva that has to be swallowed again and again. If the horse has a bit in its mouth, as is usually the case when riding, the snaffle bit puts pressure on the palate when it comes into contact with the rider's hand. The stronger the pressure of the rider's hand and therefore the bit, the stronger the pressure on the palate. There are nerve receptors on the palate that prevent the swallowing reflex and block the lid of the larynx. To reduce this pressure from the bit on the palate, the horse must open its mouth slightly. A locking strap prevents this. As a result, the horse's saliva collects in its mouth and what is known as "salivation" occurs. This causes liquid to form in front of the horse's mouth, which can develop into foam. It is often assumed that this is a sign that the horse is working correctly or going “through the poll” correctly. First and foremost, however, this is a sign that the horse is not or cannot swallow its saliva. [caption id="attachment_131210" align="alignnone" width="530"] Horse with bridle Horse with bridle | Source: Canva[/caption]


In order to better understand and understand what it must feel like for our horses not to be able to swallow their saliva, we recommend this little self-test: Take a spoon and press it to the roof of your mouth. What happens? You will probably find that you can no longer swallow. The reason is the same as with our horses: When pressure is placed on the palate, the nerve receptors located there prevent the swallowing reflex and block the lid to the larynx. You may even experience a gag reflex. However, this is not present in horses, which means they cannot vomit and instead often experience colic. Another consequence that occurs when the horse cannot swallow its saliva is the following: Saliva not only transports the food that has been chewed in the mouth into the stomach, but also provides a natural protective function for the stomach mucosa. It contains important minerals - especially sodium bicarbonate - which acts as a chemical “buffer” to prevent acidification of the stomach. If this acid buffer is missing, stomach acidification quickly occurs. Is the gastric mucosa e.g. If, for example, the stomach is thinner than normal in some areas due to stress, hyperacidification of the stomach contents in these areas will quickly lead to a stomach ulcer. Since stomach acid is almost pure hydrochloric acid, it can simply eat away the “protective covering” of the stomach walls in thin areas. This will of course cause the horse to become unwell and should be taken very seriously. A horse's stomach disease can cause the horse to constantly try to calm its aching stomach by tensing its muscles, which can of course cause "unrideability" when riding.

Side fact:

By the way, around half of all horses in recreational sports and even 80% of horses in competitive and high-performance sports suffer from stomach problems. The underlying cause for each horse must be examined on a case-by-case basis. No general statements can be made on this. In addition to preventing swallowing, the locking strap also restricts the horse from chewing. A movement that the horse needs to loosen its jaw joint. If the jaw joint becomes tense, this tension can extend into the back because the muscles are connected to each other by muscle chains. This can be very painful for the horse. In addition, loose muscles are an important prerequisite for keeping our horses healthy. Nerve disorders can also occur if the barrier strap presses on the sensitive nerve pathways on the horse's head. Strong and constant pressure is often a cause of pain.

Positive effect of the locking belt?

But are there also reasons for using a locking belt? The main argument from proponents of the locking strap is that it reduces pressure on the lower jaw. If we ride with constant rein contact, starting with light contact, we are putting constant pressure on the horse's mouth and lower jaw. So we constantly pull on the horse's mouth and lower jaw. In order to prevent the lower jaw from simply opening due to the pull, the horse must always actively keep it closed with its jaw muscles. The noseband, including the locking strap, should instead take on this task so that the horse can relax its jaw muscles. This allows the rider to ride with constant rein pressure without the horse having to actively keep its mouth closed. Another argument is that the chances at the competition seem to be better when riding with a locking strap or that riders without a locking strap seem to have little chance of progressing without a locking strap - especially in dressage tests.

Does the locking belt still have a right to exist today?

We are convinced that we all want the best for our horses and want to make decisions for them to the best of our knowledge and belief. We want a partnership with our horses and this - like between us humans - is based on communication. And our horses communicate with us continuously. Sometimes the signs are very clear, sometimes we have to look very closely to recognize them. If our horse is happy, relaxed and satisfied, then he will show this to us: through a relaxed facial expression and a relaxed body. On the other hand, if it feels discomfort or is in real pain, it will show us this too. However, we often interpret these signals as bad behavior, stubbornness or even calculation. But horses always act in the moment. If there is pain there, they will show a defensive reaction. And this can also be expressed by the horses walking against the bit, sticking out their tongue, etc. So we can ask ourselves whether we are willing to listen to our horses. Whether we are willing to see the signs and interpret them. Whether we are willing to recognize our horses' defensive reactions as their voice. And whether we are willing to investigate the cause of the problem instead of suppressing the problem. In the end, the decision rests with each of us and depends on the horse-rider combination: Do we ride with a strap or without?

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