A bridle isn’t just a piece of tack; it’s a vital tool for communication between you and your horse. It’s always exciting getting new riding gear and tack. Especially when it improves enjoyment and comfort, and brings you closer to your horse.
There are many different types and styles of horse bridles depending on the discipline and type of riding you’re doing.
We highlight the essential factors that go into choosing a bridle to help you actively develop that special bond with your horse. Choosing your bridle wisely is an invaluable step to happy, confident, and relaxed riding.
What Are The Parts Of A Bridle?
Let’s jump off with a quick checklist of the different parts of bridle gear so that new riders who want to learn more can fully appreciate this vital piece of riding equipment. English bridles normally consist of the following:
- Headpiece or Crownpiece: The main strap that goes over your horse’s head behind the ears to provide support and stability for the rest of the bridle.
- Bit: The mouthpiece that sits in your horse’s mouth. It is attached to the headpiece by the cheekpieces. The bit, which is usually metal, lets you communicate with and guide your horse with your reins.The snaffle bridle is the most common of the traditional English bridles and has one bit. A double bridle has two bits – the snaffle (or bridoon) bit and the curb (or Weymouth) bit.
- Reins: The reins are attached to the bits. They are the communication line between your hands and your horse’s mouth. Through the reins, you can signal your pony to turn, stop, or change speed.A double bridle has two sets of reins.
- Browband: The strap that runs horizontally across your horse’s forehead to keep the headpiece in place.
- Noseband: The noseband encircles your horse’s nose. It helps keep the bridle in place and prevents the horse from opening its mouth too wide. It also enables additional control by applying pressure to the sensitive nose area.
- Throat lash: The strap that fastens beneath your horse’s throat to prevent the bridle from slipping off the head.
- Cheek pieces: The cheek pieces run from the browband and headpiece to the bit. They are used to keep the bit in place and encourage your horse to keep its head facing forward.
- Buckles: The buckles on the bridle let you adjust the straps so that everything fits your horse properly.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Bridle
Different riding disciplines ask for different performances from the horse. Competitions also have set rules about tack. The relevant discipline will influence aspects of the horse bridle. Here are some examples:
- Dressage: Dressage bridles in lower-tier events are usually simple and elegant with fancy browbands. They often have a plain snaffle bit and a wide, padded noseband for better communication with subtle rein aids.In high-level dressage and showing, you often see double bridles. The two bits and two sets of reins allow super responsive and precise control of the horse. In Prix St. Georges and international Grand Prix dressage, double bridles are compulsory.
- Jumping: Jumping bridles may have a slightly raised noseband and a more decorative browband. Snaffle bits are commonly used to allow the horse freedom over jumps. Pelham bits that have elements of a snaffle and curb bit are also used.
- Cross-country and polo: In cross-country, show jumping, and polo you often see a distinct noseband. A grackle or figure-eight noseband keeps the horse’s mouth closed while letting the nostrils flare to allow more airflow through the nose.
Aside from specific disciplines, there are a bunch of other factors that go into choosing the best bridle for your big pony.
A bitless bridle might suit your horse if it has a sensitive mouth. Learn about hackamores here
Material Of The Bridle
A bridle of fine leather is a winning handsome look. But there are many synthetic bridles available today. Many come in leather-look styles and may be made of BioThane rubber coating or synthetic nylon.
Synthetic materials may last you for a decent while but leather is more durable and generally longer lasting. Leather will also look better for longer if well-maintained.
Synthetic materials need less care and maintenance. Overall they are a cheaper option even though they will need to be replaced more regularly.
Price And Budget
Your budget may not stretch to the perfect bridle you’ve always imagined for your horse. In this case, you will need to shop around for deals, sales, or discounts. However, be careful about scoring a canny bargain only to find everything is the wrong size.
You could maybe start with an affordable synthetic bridle while saving for your dream future horse bridle.
Size and appearance
Appearance-wise, a bigger horse with a larger head is more suited to a slightly bulkier bridle with a wider headpiece. Following from this, all the other parts of the bridle may be slightly wider for a consistent look (i.e. browbands, nosebands, and cheekpieces).
In contrast, a fine-featured equine will benefit from a more slim-line bridle.
The choice of bridle ultimately comes down to what suits and is appropriate for your horse. And also what works best for you as the responsible person in the saddle.
There’s much to think about here:
- Poll sensitivity: Some horses have a sensitive poll area (the area just behind the ears). A specially shaped headpiece with extra padding may be best for them.
- Nose sensitivity: Many sensitive horses don’t like pressure on their nose area. The wrong noseband will exaggerate the feeling of pressure on the face and restrict breathing. It can seriously distress the animal.When considering nosebands, you want to ensure your horse’s mouth is not over-tightened or suffering discomfort.Many riders ride their mount without a noseband. Extra padding under the noseband can provide some relief.
- Mouth sensitivity: Some horses have very sensitive mouths and may react strongly to even slight rein pressure. By nature, they may be reluctant to accept a bit.Mouth shapes and sizes, tongue sizes, gum fleshiness, number of teeth, and teeth density also vary widely between horses.It’s essential therefore to pay attention to choosing a bridle bit that suits your horse and its sensitivities.
- Bitless bridles: Bitless bridles don’t use bits; instead they rely on pressure on the nose, chin, and poll to engage the horse. A bitless bridle isn’t always advisable, especially if the horse has no training riding bitless.It’s also possible that, as the horse gets accustomed to nose and chin pressure, it becomes less responsive. And, as mentioned, some horses are highly sensitive to pressure on the nose or poll areas.
As much as we want our horse to be comfortable under saddle, we must also ensure that we are comfortable and in control in the saddle.
This means choosing the right bridle parts so that you can ride safely. The bit and noseband are particularly relevant here. Different bits apply different pressures to different parts of the horse’s mouth. You want a bit that encourages a good positive consistent response from your riding companion.
If your horse plays with its bit, you could use a flash noseband which is designed to prevent your horse from getting its tongue over the bit. This will help you keep bit contact and control.
How To Measure And Fit A Horse Bridle
The fit of the bridle is perhaps the most crucial factor affecting your horse’s comfort. It’s important to get all the measurements right.
Measuring your horse’s head
Using a soft measuring tape, take the following key measurements:
- Headpiece and cheek piece – measure from one corner of the mouth, up the cheek, across the head, behind the horse’s ears, and down to the other corner of the mouth.
- Browband – measure around the horse’s forehead, from the back edge of one ear to the back edge of the other.
- Throat lash – measure from the back of the ear, under the throat, and up to the other ear.
- Noseband – the proper nose measurement depends on what type of noseband you’re considering. It’s a good idea to take a few measurements of the nose circumference. A drop noseband sits closer to the nostrils (around 4 inches away) while a flash strap angles toward the edge of the horse’s mouth.
How to fit the bridle
- Place your arm between your horse’s ears, holding the bridle’s headpiece near the brow.
- With your other hand, encourage your boy or girl to take the bit. Place your thumb into the side of the mouth to open it if necessary.
- Ease the bit into place behind the teeth. Be careful of chomping gnashers.
- Slip the headpiece over the head and behind the ears. Make sure it’s snug enough to prevent slipping but not too tight to be restrictive.
- Check the browband lies flat against your horse’s forehead – but not too tight.
- Fasten the throat lash. Check that you can insert at least two fingers between the throat lash and the cheek piece to prevent the lash from causing distress.
- Fasten the back of the noseband. Check that you can comfortably fit a finger down the side of the band.
- Run your fingers underneath the cheek pieces to check they’re not too tight.
- Adjust and fasten so that everything is neat, straight, and comfortable on the horse.
Make the bridle comfortable
Pressure points, chafing, and pinching can all occur if the bridle is not properly padded or if it’s sitting awkwardly. Besides fitting correctly, you can also see to it that the crownpiece, browband, noseband, and cheek pieces have some padding to reduce pressure and rubbing.
It’s good to regularly check the bridle’s fit. As horses change shape due to growth, training, or weight fluctuations, your bridle may need minor adjustments to maintain a proper fit.
What is a cavesson noseband?
The cavesson is the simplest and most common type of noseband. It traditionally consists of a single strip of leather that encircles the horse’s nose and is fastened under the chin.
What is a drop noseband?
The drop or Hanoverian noseband encircles the horse’s nose at a lower point than the traditional cavesson noseband. It lies about 4 inches above the nostrils and is meant to prevent the horse from putting its tongue over the bit.
Edward with a Cavesson noseband on