Bridles Buying Guide
|What is the purpose of a bridle?||How does a horse bridle work?|
|Parts of a bridle||Fitting your horses bridle|
|Putting on a bridle||What types of bridle are available?|
|What colour bridle should I have?||How to care for a bridle|
What is the purpose of a bridle?
The bridle helps the rider to control the horse's head, and the speed and direction of the horse.
The bit, headpiece, and reins all work together to form a means of communicating with the horse while riding.
How does a horse bridle work?
Put simply, it uses pressure.
The way a bridle works takes advantage of a horse’s natural inclination to move away from the discomfort of pressure. It results in the horse moving in the direction the rider wants to go as the rider pulls on the reins. By using strategic pulls, the rider signals what they desire of the horse.
The bit works by applying pressure too to the horse’s mouth, i.e., the bars and corners of the horse’s mouth, lips, tongue and palate.
Whilst the primary use for the headpiece is to hold the bit in place in a horse’s mouth, it may also create additional pressure on a horse’s cheeks, chin, nose, or poll.
Parts of the bridle
The three primary parts are the headpiece, bit, and reins. The headpiece is the part that fits around the horse’s head and includes the following:
Head Piece: The head piece is the main strap that goes over the horse’s head just behind the ears that holds the remaining parts of the bridle in place.
Cheek Pieces: The cheek pieces are straps that connect the bit to the head piece. Their length is easily adjustable to fit the horse for comfort and to maximize responsiveness.
Throat Lash: Part of the head piece includes the throat lash which runs from the horse’s right ear under the throat and attaches below the left ear on the left side of the jaw. The main purpose of the throat lash is to prevent the bridle from coming off over the horse’s head.
Browband: The browband connects the head piece across the front of a horse’s forehead holding the bridle pieces together and prevents the bridle from sliding behind the poll onto the upper neck. In some disciplines, such as dressage, decorative browbands are fashionable.
Noseband: The noseband helps to hold the bit in place. As its name suggests, it encircles the nose of the horse.
Reins: The reins of a bridle attach to the bit. The reins are the rider's link to the horse and are seen on every bridle. Reins are often laced, braided, have stops, or are made of rubber or some other rubber material to provide extra grip.
Bit: The bit goes into the horse's mouth, resting on the sensitive interdental space between the horse's teeth known as the "bars."
Fitting a Bridle
Cheek Pieces (Bit height): When the bit is at the correct height you should see one or two soft wrinkles at the corner of your horse’s lips. For a gag bit you may want to only have one soft wrinkle.
Browband: It should rest lightly and sit just about ½ to 1 inch below the front of the ears. It should be long enough so that it does not pull at the headpiece but not to long that it moves about.
Throat lash: It is important that your throat lash is not too tight for your horse’s comfort. There should be enough room to be able to fit the width of your hand between the throat lash and your horse’s jaw.
Noseband: A cavesson noseband should sit two fingers width below the cheekbone, if it is too high it can be uncomfortable for your horse. The buckles should sit between the jaw bones to prevent creating a pressure point.
Putting a Bridle on
- To put a bridle on, untie your horse and loop the lead rope through the tie loop, stand to the left of your horse, undo your horse’s headcollar and fasten it round your horse’s neck to temporarily secure them.
- Put the reins and any martingale or breastplate over your horse’s head and then, facing forwards, put your right hand underneath your horse’s head and hold the bridle up over your horse’s nose with your right hand.
- Using your left hand, put the bit towards your horse’s lips and insert your thumb into the bars, the space between the front and back teeth. If your horse does not open his mouth, wiggling your thumb may encourage them. Slide the bit into your horse’s mouth and lift the bridle slightly higher to the bit does not come back out.
- Hold the bridle with your left hand and with your right, gently bend the horses right ear forwards to slip it in the bridle and then with their left. Pull the forelock over the browband.
- Fasten the throat lash buckle. Be careful not to do it too tightly, you should be able to fit the width of your hand between the strap and your horse’s jaw.
- Then tighten your horse’s noseband, how tight your noseband should be will depend on the type of noseband your horse has, but a traditional cavesson noseband should have about two fingers with between the lower jaw and the strap. If your horse has a flash, you can then tighten this.
- Take off your horse’s headcollar and you are ready to go!
What types of bridles are available?
There are many different types of bridles which vary in function and are designed to have different effects on the horse. The three main types are:
The Snaffle Bridle
The Snaffle bridle is the most commonly used bridle because of its versatility and functionality. It is typically used in starting young horses, in all disciplines, i.e., show jumping, dressage, eventing and showing as well as in hunting.
A snaffle bridle consists of a snaffle bit, of which there many variations, a single set of reins attached to the bit and a noseband or cavesson. The noseband or cavesson that comes in different styles. These include:
The Standard Cavesson: A cavesson noseband is the most common and simplest type of noseband and can give an aesthetic look. This noseband sits 2cm below the cheekbone and can help prevent the horse from opening his mouth. A flash can be added for additional control.
Drop Noseband: A drop noseband was invented by the Spanish Riding School. It sits on the chin and nasal bone. It reminds the horse to keep the mouth closed and prevents the horse crossing the jaw and evading the bit. A drop should never sit below the nasal bone as an incorrectly fitted drop noseband can restrict the horse’s nostrils.
Figure-8 or Grackle: A grackle noseband, also known as a Grackle, Figure 8 or Mexican noseband crosses from under the horse’s cheekbone, over the nose and in front of the horses bit. It prevents the horse opening the mouth and crossing his jaw. It provides more room for expansion of the nostrils and is popular in eventing and show jumping. It has also recently made allowed for British Dressage.
Flash Noseband: The “Flash” or thin strap is attached at the centre of the cavesson noseband and is secured under the horse's chin.
It is very effective in keeping the horse's mouth closed, so much so that it is actually called a "mouth closer" in Germany!
It is supposed to stabilize the bit in the mouth and prevent the horse from crossing his jaw or putting his tongue over the bit when he is trying to evade its influence.
Crank Noseband: A crank noseband looks similar but with additional padding and a leverage buckle. Also known as the Swedish, cinch or adjustable noseband, the crank noseband is designed to be fastened snugly around the horse’s nose. If it were secured with a buckle, it would dig into the back on the horse’s chin. So, a leather strap is threaded through small roller bars to achieve leverage before it is secured via a buckle which is on the leather strap, not the horse’s chin. This allows a more precise fit that distributes pressure on the horse evenly.
Weymouth Bridle or Double Bridle
A Weymouth or Double Bridle is more commonly used in Dressage and Showing but that does not mean they are not used in other disciplines too. This bridle consists of two bits that go into the horse’s mouth called a Weymouth and a Bradoon bit. The Weymouth is a curb bit which provides pressure on the horse’s poll to encourage a lower head carriage and the Bradoon is like a snaffle with smaller rings, and this sits just above the Weymouth in the horse’s mouth. These are used with a curb chain.
A Double Bridle is used two reins, one from each bit. You hold the rein that attaches to the snaffle as you would normally and the curb rein is held between your second and third finger, while your thumbs should sit on top of both reins, keeping them secure. These bridles are used with a cavesson or crank noseband.
There are many types of bitless bridles but there is one thing that makes them all different from a snaffle and a double bridle, they do not have a bit! The variations of bitless bridles distribute pressure in different places, some horses prefer different ones so it may be a bit of trial and error before you find the right one for your horse. We often consider bitless bridles to be less severe than regular bridles, but this is not always the case. They can provide pressure on one or more of the following, nose, jaw, curb, cheek or poll and distribute pressure directly with or without leverage or directly or indirectly with cross straps. The main types of bitless bridles are:
Cross Under: A cross under bitless bridle have two straps that cross behind the jaw and apply pressure all around the head, distributing the pressure and making it softer on the horse.
Hackamore: Works by applying pressure to the nose, poll and chin groove. It features shanks which the reins attach too.
Bosal: Features a noseband made from rope or rawhide with reins tied to the bottom, it applies soft pressure on the horse’s nose.
Rope Halter: These are traditional rope halters with rings to allow reins to be attached.
Side Pull: A Side Pull bitless bridle applies pressure on the horse’s nose and looks a lot like a horse headcollar.
Anatomical bridles are designed in a way to help prevent pressure on your horse’s facial nerves. They are created with the horse’s anatomy in mind and can provide additional comfort to your horse in different ways. For example, some anatomical bridles work by avoiding points on your horse’s head that may be more sensitive so the bridle sits in different places to a regular bridle for example these bridles could have a cut a way headpiece or a noseband that avoids the facial nerves. Another way that a bridle can relieve pressure is by having a wide or padded headpiece or noseband to create a more even distribution of pressure.
What colour Bridle should I choose?
More commonly bridles come in black or brown to match the rest of our tack, for example, your saddle and your reins. However, bridles can come in lots of different colours. These different colours can be subtle with different colour padding such as the HKM Colour Bridle or bright like the HKM Santa Fe Bridle. Brightly coloured bridles are often used for disciplines such as Endurance.
The colour you choose should be determined by the rules of the discipline that you want to do. For example, brightly coloured bridles are not allowed for British Eventing. The most important thing to think about when choosing a bridle is the comfort of your horse, you need a bridle that fits their confirmation and is suitable for their way of going.
How to care for a Bridle
A horse's bridle should be cleaned regularly to keep it in good condition and to prevent discomfort for your horse. A build-up of dirt and sweat and cause rubs or a pressure point. The bit should be cleaned using warm water and not soap as it wouldn’t be nice for your horse to taste! A leather bridle should be cleaned with a warm damp sponge and then a good quality leather cleaner should be applied. Some bridles, especially when new or they have not been used in a while, may need oiling to soften the leather. To oil a bridle, you should use Neatsfoot or leather oil.