If you choose your equestrian bridle wisely, you will not only heighten communication between you and your horse, but you can become a better rider as well. You may be able to ride a horse without a saddle, but it’s nearly impossible to ride without a properly fitted bridle. Without this signaling device, you cannot communicate with your horse. Pronto’s Equestrian Bridle Buying Guide will help you talk to the animal by showing you how to buy one of the most important pieces of your horse’s tack.
The kind of equestrian bridle you need depends on the kind of riding you plan to do. English bridles are better for showing horses, while Western bridles work best for trail rides.
Bridles come in four off-the-shelf sizes: Pony, Cob/Arabian, full-size and over-size. Don’t rely on sizing alone; measure your horse’s head behind the ears from each corner of the mouth and look for a bridle with adjustable straps for the best fit.
If a bridle doesn’t fit, it will chafe your horse and lessen communication. Since most bridles are adjustable, it should be relatively easy to fit the bridle to the horse. Think about the type of bridle your horse has been using and choose a similar style.
Braided rope bridles are less expensive and require little maintenance, but they can chafe your horse. Leather bridles are more comfortable for the horse but cost more and need regular upkeep to last. If you’re showing your horse, look for a bridle that matches your saddle.
For younger horses, horses with mouth injuries and for those who believe that bridles with bits are inhumane, choose bitless bridles. These bridles control the horse through pressure on the noseband instead of the mouth. Most horse shows do not allow bitless bridles.
The bit of a bridle goes into the horse’s mouth and rests on the sensitive space between the horse’s teeth.
The browband of a bridle runs from under one ear of the horse across the forehead to the other ear. The crownpiece of a bridle usually runs through the browband.
This type of noseband is found on English bridles and is attached to the bridle by the browband. A cavesson has a more precise adjustment than other nosebands.
This piece of the bridle goes around the horse’s head and rests just behind the animal’s ears. The crownpiece is the main strap that holds the bridle in place and keeps it from moving down.
A bridle will have two cheekpieces that attach to either side of the crownpiece and run down a horse’s cheek. The cheekpieces of a bridle attach to the bit rings; in a double bridle, there are two cheekpieces.
This piece of a bridle circles the nose of a horse, and it is used to both keep the animal’s mouth closed and to attach pieces of equipment.
The most common type of bridle bit, with a mouthpiece attached to a ring on either side of the mouth.
This part of a bridle runs beneath a horse’s windpipe from ear to ear and prevents the bridle from coming off.
There are two main types of bridles: English and Western. The kind of riding you do will determine the style of bridle you choose.
Snaffle bridles are a type of bridle commonly used in English-style riding. This bridle has one bit and one set of reins. The English bridle is almost always used along with some sort of noseband or cavesson. These kinds of equestrian bridles are generally used for showing or dressage events and tend toward the expensive.
Another kind of English equestrian bridle is the double bridle, sometimes called Weymouth bridles. These equestrian bridles use two bits at once: a small snaffle called a bradoon and a curb or Weymouth bit. These models require the use of two sets of reins and are usually only seen in upper-level dressage or in saddle-seat riding or showing events that require formal attire and equipment.
The Western bridle is used in Western-style riding. This kind of equestrian bridle does not have a noseband. In the place of a browband, you may find Western bridles fashioned with a “split ear” design. This design includes a small strap that circles one or both ears to provide extra support and security to keep the bridle from slipping. Instead of a bit, the rider communicates with their horse using pressure to the noseband or earbands. Many Western equestrian bridles have split reins that don’t buckle at the end. Western bridles tend to be more affordable than English bridles as their purpose is everyday use versus showing or other competitive events.
When deciding on a bridle, consider the size of your horse—proper fit means comfort for your horse.
Off-the-rack bridles are offered in a few basic sizes that are linked to the kind of horse you work with. Common bridle sizes include Pony, Cob/Arabian, full-size and over-size, for horses like Clydesdales.
Though you may have a pony, you still want to consider the size of your horse’s head—a small-bodied horse may have a large head and vice-versa. To get the right fit, measure your horse’s head behind the ears from one corner of its mouth over the top of the head to the other corner of the mouth.
If your horse has an average head size for its breed, an off-the-shelf bridle will fit. If you choose a bridle with adjustable straps, you should be able to achieve about the same fit as you would if you invested in a custom-made bridle.
A bridle that doesn’t fit could hurt your horse and prove ineffective when you’re riding. Fortunately, nearly every piece of a bridle is easily adjusted. Each piece of the bridle should be individually adjusted to the horse’s head; anything that is too loose or too tight could end up halting communication between you and your horse.
To fit the bridle to the horse, first measure the width of your horse’s mouth at the spot where the bit rests, and then make sure to add a half inch to the measurement; this will ensure a correct fit. Five-inch bits are considered standard in the equestrian world.
When fitting the cheekpieces of the bridle, you need to adjust the length so the bit is neither too high nor too low to the horse’s mouth. If you choose an equestrian bridle with a noseband, its adjustment will depend on your use. The standard is to adjust it so one finger can fit between the noseband and the horse. A bridle’s browband should not pinch the horse’s ears, and it should not pull the bridle forward, which causes the browband to rub against the backs of a horse’s ears.
When tightening the bridle’s throatlatch, make sure there is a space equal to the width of four fingers between the throatlatch and the horse. When you’re fitting your horse, think about the kind of bridle the horse is used to; this may make your work a bit easier.
Bridles come in different styles and looks. Elaborate silver bridles can be wonderful for showing, but if you mainly go on trail rides, you’ll save money by choosing a plainer, less-decorative bridle. Many bridles will match your saddle, which will be a consideration if you plan on showing your horse.
There are also a variety of braided rope equestrian bridles available. Rope bridles do not need as much upkeep as leather bridles, but they can rub your horse’s head and cause blisters. Most riders prefer leather bridles because they are sturdy and comfortable for the horse, but these bridles cost more and require regular cleaning and conditioning to last.
A hackamore is a bridle that uses a nosepiece instead of a bit to communicate with a horse. English riders sometimes use a jumping cavesson, which is a leather noseband reinforced with a cable and with bridle rings attached to it. There are also sidepull bridles, popular with Western riders.
The cross-under or “figure eight” bridle is another kind of bitless bridle that connects the reins of a bridle to a loop that passes from the noseband. The cross-under directs pressure from one rein to the opposite side of the horse’s head or pressure on both reins to the entire head.
Bitless bridles are a good choice if you have a young horse or a horse with a mouth injury. Some riders believe that bitless bridles are more comfortable for the horse and are therefore more humane. These bridles are commonly used for endurance training, trail riding and sometimes in rodeo settings. Most horse shows do not allow bitless bridles.
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