When it comes to communicating with your horse, there is no piece of riding equipment more important than the bridle. The knowledge you have in selecting, fitting, using and caring for horse bridles will not only influence your relationship with your horse and the quality of your ride, but it will also save you money, stress and time in unnecessary Vet and Equine Dentist bills. This rider’s guide provides all the basic information you’ll need to help you choose the right bridle for you and your horse.
What is a Bridle?
A bridle is ‘the’ key piece of horse head gear with a long and very important history. Its story stretches back thousands of years to the steppes of Mongolia and its development has played a role in the establishment of empires and religions around the world.
Despite its age, the purpose of the bridle has stayed the same, as an essential piece of riding tack designed to direct and control the horse. Sure, the various components of the bridle have changed and improved over time, but its function of exerting pressure on sensitive areas of the horse’s head and face has remained unchanged. A bridle achieves this through a simple system of connecting pieces.
What types of bridles are there?
Horse bridles can be categorised into two main types, English and Western. Within these two categories there are multiple variations as summarised below:
- English bridles – are used in English style riding which requires closer contact between the rider and horse. Components of an English bridle include:
|Components of a English Horse Bridle|
|Headpiece (Crownpiece): Goes over the crown of the horse’s head (behind the ears) to hold the bridle on.
Browband: Extends over and across the horse’s forehead stopping the bridle from sliding away.
Cheek Piece: Connects the headpiece to the bit.
Bit: The metal part of the bridle that goes in the horse’s mouth and is the rider’s primary source of control.
Noseband: Goes over the horse’s nose and forms another key source of control for the rider.
Reins: Connect the rider’s hands to the bit and the bridle.
Throatlatch: Keeps the bridle from slipping off over the horse’s head.
Variations of the English bridle include:
- Snaffle – the most commonly used bridle featuring one bit, one set of reins and a cavesson noseband.
- Dressage – usually black, padded and come with flash nosebands. Anatomic bridles fall into this category with various designs and lots of bling.
- Figure 8 – used mostly in show jumping and cross country, this bridle keeps the horse’s mouth shut whilst maximising nostril breathing.
- Hunter / Jumper – a very traditional looking bridle often used in hunter show, or show jumper rings
- Bitless – operating without a bit, this bridle is used with horses with sensitive mouths. It achieves direction and control via the noseband or cavesson.
- Dropnose – a variation on the snaffle where the lower band or drop band is used to hold the horse’s mouth closed while riding.
- Weymouth / Double – uses two bits (a bradoon and weymouth bit) and two sets of reins at once. Double bridles are used in upper-level dressage events. This bridle is often recommended for more experienced riders as improper use can hurt your horse and make it rather ungovernable.
- Western Bridles – characterised by a simpler design in comparison to English bridles. Western bridles consist of a headpiece, cheek piece, browband and throat latch. They do not have a noseband. Unlike English bridles, Western bridles come in three types:
- Working bridle– has a throatlatch, uses a curb bit and is mostly used in trail and stock riding.
- One Ear bridle– has one ear strap attached to the crownpiece (in place of a browband) and has a throatlatch (unless they are used as a show bridle in which case there is no throatlatch).
- Two ear bridle– same concept as the one ear bridle and is used exclusively for shows since there is no throatlatch.
The type of riding discipline you want to engage in is key to choosing the right bridle as both have distinct rules regarding tack.
If your fancy is English riding (show jumping, cross country, dressage. hunter/jumper or saddle seat), then an English bridle is for you.
If you’re more into Western riding (barrel racing, pole bending, reining, or Western dressage), then a Western bridle is your choice.
What sizes do bridles come in?
Bridles come in five sizes – oversized, full-size, cob, pony and small pony. It’s important to have a bridle and bit that fits your horse’s mouth. If a bit or bridle doesn’t fit correctly, it can cause both pain for your horse and lead to ineffective cuing or injury.
With the increased availability of horse bridles online, there are plenty of existing resources on the web that cover off on how to fit a horse bridle. To check the fit of your bridle, the British Society of Master Saddlers provides clear and definitive advice in making sure your purchase fits like it should.
How do I care for my new bridle?
Whilst equestrian bridles aren’t the most expensive piece of tack you will buy, they are by no means the cheapest and you’ll soon learn that without proper care, you’ll chew through them pretty fast. Most are made of leather which means the way you care for your other equine leather products like your saddle, reins, saddle bags, girths etc, will be pretty much the same.
● Don’t take shortcuts. Disassemble your bridle before you apply any cleaning or rejuvenating products.
● Avoid excess oiling. Too much oil will result in a product that becomes dull and potentially weak or stretched.
● Never use mineral oils. That is, anything derived from petroleum. It will dry out, discolour and damage your leather.
● Force drying is a no no. Take your time in cleaning and allow time for drying. Use of a heater or radiant sun is the quickest path to permanent damage.
● Check, check, check. Use this time to review the quality of stitching, look for signs of wear or stretching. Finding a problem from the comfort of your chair is much better than learning about it from the height of your saddle.
● Cream, Wax or Oil – As a rule, cream or wax products are better as they stay with the product longer. Oil is tempting as it provides a quicker finish but it doesn’t last nearly as long.
● Don’t use hot water. Warm water used to remove dirt if absolutely necessary. Hot water removes essentials oils and if it’s really hot it can spoil your tack.
Horse bridles and bits, be they English or Western, have the exact same function, have similar components and differ only in their styling, complexity and use of a noseband. Understanding their similarities and differences ensures your bridle aligns with the rules and techniques used in your riding style of choice.
No matter the style of bridle, your local tack shop or online saddlery will have the experience and know how to answer your questions. And as always, contact your online saddlery expert before you buy. That way you can shop with confidence, knowing that the quality expertise you receive now will be the one you can expect for years to come.