The horse bridle is arguably the most vital piece of tack to get right. If you fit the wrong bridle onto your horse, it can cause pain and discomfort, and prove detrimental to your horse’s wellbeing.
A horse bridle can also make or break your relationship with your horse. Different bridles offer different levels of communication and control. If the wrong type of bridle is fitted, a horse will likely grow frustrated, miss cues, and resist your training initiatives. Not to mention that a good-fitting bridle is also essential for your own safety as well as your ability to effectively steer and direct your horse.
Clearly, bridles are important. But with so many types of bridles available, choosing the right one can prove difficult. In this article, I’ll identify the best bridle for each bridle type, from the best anatomical bridle designs to Western bitless bridles.
Bridle Size and Measurement Guide
Across all horse bridle types, there tend to be four distinct sizes and four distinct measurements to choose from.
The four distinct sizes you’ll encounter are:
- Pony: Pony-sized bridles are designed to fit ponies and smaller horses. These bridles come with smaller browbands, nosebands, headstalls, and throatlatches to ensure that they provide sufficient support for young horses.
- Cob: Cob bridles are made to fit horses with a stature somewhere between ponies and full-sized horses. These bridles are also suitable for horse breeds that are small even when fully grown. This includes the likes of American Quarter Horses, Morgans, and Arabians. Horses that have short and triangular-shaped heads are also well-suited for these bridles.
- Full: Full bridles are designed to fit the average, fully-grown horse. You’ll most likely find the browband and noseband on a full bridle fit to come with standard measurements.
- Oversize: These bridles are designed for horse breeds that have a bigger fully-grown stature than the average horse. These bridles are sometimes referred to as “Warmblood” bridles. This is because this bridle fit is often recommended for warmblood horses. They’re also often fitted on draft breeds (called “coldbloods”) such as Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires.
On top of these different sizes, you need to measure different parts of your horse’s anatomical features and make sure the following fit your horse’s head:
The crownpiece reflects the distance between one corner of your horse’s mouth, up over its head, and down towards the other corner of its mouth. The crownpiece itself sits at the top of the head, hence the name.
The crownpiece is important as it helps to distribute pressure evenly over the horse’s poll area. The “poll area” refers to the space directly behind a horse’s ears. This part also helps to keep the rest of the bridle in position.
The browband measures from behind one ear to behind the other ear, running horizontally over the forehead. This part also helps to keep the bridle in place, specifically by keeping it from slipping to the back of the head.
Some Western-styled bridles don’t feature browbands, but all English bridles do. On English bridles, they’re almost as important for aesthetics as they are for providing support. Many English bridles come with decorative browbands.
As the name implies, the noseband runs around a horse’s nose. The measurements for a noseband start about an inch below the cheekbones. It runs along the length of the nose (going above the nostrils) towards an inch below the other cheekbone.
The noseband gives the rider control over the horse by discouraging resistance and evasion. It also prevents the horse from opening its jaw wide or crossing its jaw.
Within the noseband category, there is a wide range of different types. This includes the likes of figure-eight, cavesson, flash, and drop nosebands. Each type of noseband is designed to influence the behaviour of the horse in a slightly different way.
The throatlatch runs from the base of one ear, underneath the throat, and towards the base of the other ear.
Like most parts of the bridle, the throatlatch provides extra comfort and stability for the horse. A properly fitted throatlatch will also prevent the bridle from slipping.
Another purpose of the throatlatch is to connect the crownpiece with the noseband.
What are the Main Types of Horse Bridles?
You’re probably wondering: why are there so many types of horse bridles available? This isn’t only to make picking the right bridle as confusing as possible for the rider.
Different bridles are made to cater to different riding styles, horse anatomy and behaviour, training levels, horse breeds, and event-specific requirements – the list goes on and on.
Overall, there are two distinct types of bridles: Western and English. Within these two distinct styles, there are lots of essentially spin-off bridle types. In the section below, we’ll detail all the types of bridles you’ll find, as well as the best example of each.
The Best English Bridles
English bridles generally come with a browband, noseband, cheekpiece, and headpiece. You’ll find them mainly used for English riding disciplines, such as trail riding, jumping, and dressage. The main types of English bridles, and the best examples of each, are as follows:
1. Snaffle bridle
Snaffle bridles come with a snaffle bit, which is characterised by its jointed metal mouthpiece. Interestingly, this bit can be swapped in for a Pelham bit or a curb, making a snaffle bridle a flexible bridle option. Snaffle bridles tend to feature a headstall, browband, and throatlatch. They sometimes feature a noseband, but not always.
Best snaffle bridle: Suffolk Hunter Bridle
This Suffolk Hunter Bridle comes in a range of sizes, which makes it suitable for ponies right up to oversized horses. The leather is tough, which makes it appropriate for both shows and schooling. There are two versions of the bridle available: the more casual Plain Stitched and the more eye-catching Fancy Stitched.
Suitable for: This product is best for horses competing in dressage or casual trail rides. It’s also a good option for training.
- Comes with matching laced reins
- Good price
- Different stitching options available
- The leather comes stiff
- Needs to be oiled regularly
2. Pelham bridle
Pelham bridles feature one bit – known as a pelham bit – that has a joint in the centre as well as shanks. These bridle types also come with two reins; one rein is attached to the curb ring, while the other is attached to the snaffle ring. Pelham bridles are often recommended for polo riders due to the high level of control and comfort they offer.
Best pelham bridle: Sats Polo Pelham Bridle – with Sweet Iron Pelham Bit
This pelham bridle has been designed exclusively for polo but can be used for other disciplines. It comes in all leather and is available in Havana Brown as well as London Tan.
This particular product comes with a browband, a Cavesson noseband, cheekpieces, and two pairs of reins. The Sweet Iron Pelham Bit must be bought separately but is a great option as it helps with mouthing and assists with control.
This bridle features limited padding, which is standard with most pelham bridles.
Suitable for: Pelham bridles are often used for polo, general riding, and schooling. It’s sometimes also used for show jumping, hunting, and dressage.
- Good for a range of horse riding activities
- Comes with one buckle and one stitched reign
- Pelham bit not included
3. Best double bridle
This bridle type is sometimes known as a Weymouth bridle. It’s unique in that it features two bits in the horse’s mouth (hence the “double” part of its name). These two bits are known as a bradoon and a curb. This bridle offers the best level of communication you can have.
Best double bridle: Horze Vienna Weymouth Dressage Bridle
This bridle option isn’t cheap; however, you’re guaranteed long-lasting usage. The product features several layers of leather to ensure it can withstand heavy use without cracking and breaking. The bridle is also adjustable, and can easily be used as a snaffle bridle.
Plus, the product comes with two different rein types: plain curb reins and leather reins.
Suitable for: Double bridles are best for competitive dressage. This product comes with three sizing options – Cob, Horse, and Warmblood – meaning it’s a suitable option for small, medium, and large horses. However, based on reviews, many of these sizes run large.
- Super durable
- Comes with two different rein options
- Easily adjustable
- Very expensive
- Sizes run large
4. Best dressage bridle
Dressage bridles are known for their show-stopping appearance. They can be characterised by their flash nosebands, padded dressage saddles, bling, and black (or brown) look.
Best dressage bridle: Dover Saddlery Single Crown Padded Dressage Bridle
Dover Saddlery’s Single Crown Padded Dressage Bridle has a refined elegance to it. The bridle is only available in black and is decorated with a cut-back crownpiece and flash noseband. This flash noseband comes with extra padding, ensuring your horse is as comfortable as possible.
The product also features extra fine stitching and stainless steel hardware. Best of all, the bridle is relatively affordable for dressage.
Suitable for: This product is available in three sizes, catering to small horses right up to oversized ones. Dressage bridles are most suitable for dressage, obviously.
- Extra padding
- Extra-fine stitching
- Refined look
- Only available in black
5. Hunter jumper bridle
Hunter jumper bridles typically feature snaffle bits and padded or fancy stitching. They can feature a range of different noseband options, including plain cavesson and fancy-stitched cavesson. They carry a classic appearance about them.
Best hunter jumper bridle: LeMieux Kudos Competition
The LeMieux Kudos Flash Competition bridle is technically a snaffle bridle but it can be used for hunter and jumper disciplines. It’s lightly padded all over and features protective pieces underneath the leather. Not only does this boost comfort, but it also helps to evenly distribute pressure across your horse’s face.
It comes with a removable flash strap, fancy stitching, and hook-stud bit ends.
Suitable for: This bridle type is recommended for either the hunter show ring or the show jumping ring. It’s available in four sizes: pony, cob, horse, and oversize.
- Plenty of size options
- Well-padded to reduce pressure
- Removable flash strap
- Only available in Havana colour
6. Bitless bridle
Like Western bitless bridles, English bitless bridles put pressure on other areas of the head instead of the mouth.
Best bitless bridle: Equipride Bitless Bridle
This bitless bridle is made using quality leather and is designed to meet English bitless design expectations. Specifically, it comes with a padded browband, noseband, and headpiece. The leather is super smooth to the touch. Its softness and bitless design help your horse become more responsive and obedient. The crystals on the browband and noseband are a lovely added touch.
Suitable for: Bitless bridles are mainly used on horses who have suffered from injury around the mouth area. If your horse struggles to use a bit, then a bitless bridle works as the best alternative. This particular product comes in pony, cob, full, and draft sizes.
- Soft leather
- A wide range of sizes is available
- Cross-over design
- The bling might not be to everyone’s taste
7. Drop noseband bridle
This bridle type ensures that your horse keeps its mouth shut when riding. It sits at a lower point on the horse’s nose.
Best drop noseband bridle: Dover Saddlery Drop Noseband
This product is just the drop noseband part; however, it can be fitted onto any traditional crown-featuring bridle.
The leather is really good quality, especially when you consider the low price of the bridle. The material also has a glossy finish to it, which looks really good once fitted onto your horse.
Suitable for: Drop noseband bridles are typically used for premium riding events, including dressage, eventing, and show jumping. You can also use a noseband bridle for flatwork and general training. Unfortunately, this product is only made for full-size horses.
- Great price
- Premium leather
- Limited size options
8. Anatomical bridle
Lastly, you have anatomical bridles. Anatomical bridles are mostly associated with English horse riding disciplines, although you can still get some anatomical bridles designed in Western styles.
Anatomical bridles are designed with a horse’s anatomy in mind, first and foremost. The straps are laid out in a way that avoids pressuring nerves, blood veins, and other pressure points. The best anatomical bridle designs create a high level of comfort and effectively relieve pressure for the horse.
But what is the best anatomical bridle design?
Best anatomical bridle: Henri de Rivel Pro Anatomical Bridle
We think this Henri de Rivel Pro Anatomic bridle is the best on the market when it comes to anatomical bridles. The leather is soft and the design expertly misses all the main pressure points on your horse’s face. Once you’ve fit this bridle on your horse, you’ll hopefully notice them to be considerably more relaxed and responsive when out trail riding.
Anatomical bridles tend to be on the more expensive side. If you’re looking to avoid splashing out, this Henri de Rivel model is a perfect mid-range option.
The colour options include Australian Nut and Havana.
Suitable for: Anatomical bridles are great for trail rides, as well as dressing, show jumping, and eventing. This anatomical bridle comes in cob, horse, and oversized.
- Anatomic bridles provide maximum comfort
- Mid-range price
- Range of sizes and colours
- Difficult to assemble at first
Best Western Bridles
You can identify a Western bridle from an English bridle based on its lightweight build and structure. Western bridles don’t come with a noseband, while English bridles do. In most cases, Western bridles are also missing a browband. This structure allows for effective communication through weight and reining.
They are designed to provide maximum comfort for the horse, especially on the facial nerves, when going on long-distance trails and performing Western horse riding disciplines. This includes rodeos, trail riding, and reining – basically, any activity that involves cattle ranchers and cowboys.
The main types of Western bridles you’ll encounter are as follows:
1. Western bitless bridle
Western bitless bridles work by applying pressure to parts of the horses instead of the mouth. They’re “bitless”, so they don’t feature a bit to go around the horse’s mouth at all. They are similar to hackamore bridles, which is the historical name for a bitless bridle.
Western bitless bridles provide maximum comfort to horses who have sensitive areas on and around their mouths. They’re also good for horses that have suffered an injury around their mouth area.
Best Western bitless bridle:Horze Leather Bitless Bridle
The Horze Leather Bitless Bridle is perfect for horses who suffer from mouth issues. It’s made from 100% genuine leather made soft, which ensures your horse enjoys maximum comfort when wearing it. It’s attached to web reins, which ensure that the rider is also comfortable while riding.
Suitable for: Should be suitable for horses of all sizes.
- Comfortable for the rider and the horse
- Made with real leather
- Not legal for most shows
2. Working bridle
If you’re looking to train your horse for ranch riding, cattle handling, or trail riding, a working bridle would be your best bet. It’s relatively basic in appearance, featuring just a browband, headstall, and bit. Its utilitarian design gives you maximum control over your horse when doing some country disciplines.
Best working bridle: M Toulouse Working Hunter Snaffle Bridle
The browband of the M Toulouse Working Hunter Snaffle Bridle features stylish stitching, which gives this working bridle a stand-out look. Despite being a Western working bridle, this piece of kit is made from European leather.
You can maintain a strong connection with your horse when using this bridle thanks to the flat leather laced reins.
Suitable for: This bridle is available in full and extra full sizes.
- Quality leather design
- Easy care
- Allows for easy control over your horse
- The noseband is unpadded which could create discomfort
3. One-ear bridle
One-ear bridles, as the name makes clear, only wraps around one of the horse’s ears. This removes the need for a browband. Instead, one-ear bridles are held in place using a small slot.
Best one-ear bridle: Triple E Nylon Trail Single Ear Bridle
This one-ear bridle is super cheap, sturdy, and flexible.
The Triple E Nylon Trail Single Ear Bridle is also available in a range of vibrant colours, including turquoise, royal, and red. It comes with snaps which makes changing bits simple.
While it’s made with nylon and not leather, the stitching on this bridle is tough and sure to withstand the wear and tear of casual riding.
Suitable for: This one-ear bridle is recommended for horses who suffer from sensitive foreheads or simply get irritated by browbands. It’s a great option for training exercises and quick arena rides.
- Super affordable
- Range of colours
- No chin strap
- Not suitable for trails
4. Two-ear bridle
The two-ear bridle doubles up on the one-ear bridle, with two separate pieces fitted around each of the horse’s ears. These are held in place using two separate ear slots.
Two-ear bridles are notable for not featuring a throat latch.
Best two-ear bridle: Tory Silver Oklahoma Double Ear Headstall
This double-ear headstall is perfect for creating a two-ear bridle. It’s made using fine bridle leather and Oaklahoma-style silver, ensuring long-lasting comfort for your horse.
Unfortunately, this bridle is only suitable for average-sized horses. So, if you’ve got a pony or a large horse, you may need an alternative two-ear bridle.
Suitable for: This product is another good option if your horse suffers from sensitive areas around those forehead facial nerves. In terms of disciplines, this product is good for Western riding, rodeo events, and show-horse events.
- Durable materials
- Comfortable for horses with sensitive foreheads
- Limited size options
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Bridle
Before purchasing a horse bridle, consider the following factors to ensure the bridle you buy is the best option for your horse’s head.
The most crucial factor in deciding on which bridle to choose is safety. The safety rating of the product not only affects you but also the safety and well-being of the horse. If the bridle is unsafe or fits poorly, it can cause serious pain and discomfort to your horse’s face. In worst-case scenarios, a bad bridle can cause long-term damage to the horse’s head, mouth, and face.
For the rider, a poorly chosen bridle can cause accidents while riding. For example, if it comes loose, you could lose control of the horse.
Fit and comfort
The second most important factor is the fit and comfort level of the bridle. Horses have sensitive facial nerves. If you fasten the wrong bridle onto their face, it can cause pain and discomfort and significantly impact their wellbeing.
By choosing a bridle that fits comfortably, a horse is less likely to resist. This guarantees effective communication between you and the horse, which ultimately leads to performance enhancement.
Horse’s level of training and temperament
Your horse’s age and experience level should influence your choice of bridle. If you’ve got an inexperienced or young horse on your hands, then you’ll need a light or gentle bridle. This will encourage a positive learning experience, allowing you to train your horse more easily.
If you’ve got a mature and experienced horse, you’ll need a bridle that offers maximum communication and control.
How to Tell if Your Horse’s Bridle is Uncomfortable
Once you have fastened a bridle, your horse will make it pretty evident whether or not it finds it comfortable. If your horse makes any of the following movements, then you may need to consider getting a different bridle fit:
- Nostril clamping
- Striking out at their face
- Muzzle pinching
- Face rubbing
- Leaning on the reins
- Resisting bending
- Reluctance to step through
- Resisting their bridle
- Refusing at jumps
What bridle does Charlotte DuJardin use?
Charlotte Dujardin currently uses a Double Bridle designed by Equipe. Her bridle of choice features a narrow rolled throatlatch, rolled cheek pieces, and poll adjustability.
Are anatomical bridles worth it?
An anatomical bridle is worth it if your horse has shown discomfort with all other types of bridles you’ve tried. An anatomical bridle is designed to miss out on facial nerves and other pressure points to provide maximum comfort to your horse. With an anatomical bride, your horse may appear more accepting of contact.
What is the most comfortable bridle?
The most comfortable bridles are anatomical bridles, which are designed to alleviate pressure by missing sensitive facial nerves in their design. They also use soft padding and soft leather to prevent discomfort.
Why won’t my horse let me touch his face?
A horse may not let you touch its face due to discomfort in its upper jaw, facial nerves, ears, or other anatomical features. This may be due to the bride you have chosen for your horse. You could try using an anatomical bridle instead to provide maximum horse comfort.