Do you know the different parts of a bridle and what they are used for?
There are so many different types of horse bridles, that it can be difficult to decide which one you should buy for your horse. Part of your decision is dependent on the discipline, you ride in whether it’s jumping, Dressage, Eventing, English, Western, or even just leisure riding, each approach requires a different riding bridle. However there are so many variations of style, colour and configuration even within each riding sport, it can be confusing.
To understand what it is you will be buying, you should first know the different parts of a bridle, how to fit a bridle, how to put a bridle together and the part each piece plays in the bridle as a whole.
There are seven bridle pieces that fit together to form the bridle
The first bridle part is the headpiece, also known as the headstall or crown piece, it sits on top of the horse’s head behind the ears and combined with the browband keeps the bridle in position. The leather splits into two straps, one containing the cheekpieces and the other the throat latch (also known as the chin strap), whilst a third piece of leather running underneath the headpiece provides the connection to the noseband.
Many headpieces are padded to provide additional protection over the horse’s sensitive poll area, it is generally used more in competition, English bridles and in conjunction with double bridles. Its function is to alleviate potential pressure on the poll area.
This type of headpiece is cut away behind the ears with the padding extending out making it soft for the horse and particularly useful for a horse that is sensitive around the ear area.
The throatlatch does up underneath the horse’s chin and keeps the bridle balanced and in place.
The Browband is the part that goes over the horse’s forehead. It works in conjunction with the headpiece to keep the bridle in the correct place. The brow band is not adjustable so it’s important that you choose the correct browband size.
A well-fitting browband should sit across the horse’s forehead, below the base of the ears in a position that does not cut into them and should not droop down. You should be able to fit no more than two fingers underneath the browband.
Whilst functional, the right browband should also highlight the best features of your horse’s head. There are many styles to choose from, such as plain padded, coloured piping and stitching, coloured crystal browbands, thin wave or v-shaped browbands with crystals set onto the front and wave-shaped browbands with larger crystals.
All English bridles have two cheek pieces, one on either side. They play a crucial role because they connect to the horse’s bit and regulate the amount of communication the rider has with the horse. It is important that the cheek pieces have plenty of length adjustment up or down, to ensure the bit is sitting in the right position in the horse’s mouth. You may find you need a different size of cheek piece compared to the rest of the bridle.
There is a myriad of choices when it comes to the type of noseband used and this really defines the type of bridle you are looking for. Below is a brief description of some of the more commonly used nosebands.
This noseband is also called a Cavesson Noseband, it is commonly used in a snaffle bridle and consists of a single padded band that goes around the horse’s nose. It provides a comfortable fit without restriction to the horse’s mouth. It is ideal for horses who are generally quiet in the mouth and don’t generally fuss with the bit.
Also known as a “Hanovarian Drop” or simply a Flash, it has an additional strap to the Plain Noseband that does up under the bit and around the mouth, it can be fully adjusted to different degrees depending on how much control you require over the horse’s mouth. The additional Flash strap is used for horses who may open their mouths or attempt to put their tongue over the top of the bit, this is the only difference between the Flash and Plain Noseband.
Also known as a “pull back” or Crank Cavesson. Very similar to the English Plain Noseband and is commonly used on Double bridles and Dressage Bridles. The only difference is that the back has a padded section with a buckle strap that provides additional tightening if required. Suitable if you require a little more control over the horse’s mouth. Helpful in preventing the horse from “crossing his jaw” thus evading contact through the bit. Care should be taken to ensure this is not over-tightened.
Also known as a “pull back” or Crank Cavesson. Very similar to the English Flash. The difference is that the back has a padded section with a buckle strap that provides an additional degree of tightening. It is ideal if you require a little more control over the horse’s mouth where a Flash Noseband would not be advisable or is not allowed in competition. It is helpful in preventing the horse from “crossing his jaw” thus evading contact through the bit.
Care should be taken to ensure this is not over-tightened. The name ‘Crank/Pull Back’ sounds severe, however, it can equally be used without being tightened – as a plain nose band. It’s also worth considering if your horse has sensitive skin, having the additional padding at the back is preferable.
The additional Flash strap is used for horses who may open their mouths or attempt to put their tongue over the top of the bit, this is the only difference between the Flash and Plain Nose band.
The Grackle Noseband, also known as the “Cross-under” or “Figure Eight” is designed to prevent a horse from opening his mouth and crossing his jaw. The front crossover point of the Grackle is the main pressure point. The straps pass through a slotted leather circle, which on quality bridles has a removable sheepskin back. This is very important as it can be washed and cleaned to avoid it becoming hard through use and chaffing the horse’s delicate nose area.
The grackle should be fitted so that the sheepskin part sits in the centre of the nose and the two crossover straps sit on the hard bone part going down, avoiding the fleshy parts of the nose.
It is ideal if you have a horse who doesn’t like the position of an English or Swedish Nose band, or the thickness of a Nose band as most Grackle’s have much narrower straps.
The Drop Noseband prevents a horse from opening his mouth to resist the contact but has a more definite action than the Flash. Some horses respond well but others resent it. The low-pressure point in front and pressure in the curb groove at the back is said by some to encourage a horse to lower his head. It can also act to stabilize the bit (and lower jaw) without pulling the cheeks into the molars as a cavesson/plain noseband can.
Most bridles are made with one strap and one buckle. However some are available with two buckles on the noseband allowing you to change nosebands without removing the bridle completely, a useful option if you need different nosebands for different disciplines (or Phases, if Eventing).
We have also found the two buckle system particularly useful for young horses that are bridle shy or have not been bridled before, as you can put the bridle on the horse in parts (carefully of course!).
The bit is a crucial piece of horse tack because it fits in the horse’s mouth and together with the reins supports the rider’s leg and balance signals to the horse.
Movement of the reins applies pressure to the bit in the horse’s mouth and assists with steering and braking, although an accomplished horse rider on an experienced horse should need to use very little pressure on the bit. It is important that you learn how to measure a horse bit.
Reins are available in a variety of styles, with all leather or rubbers grips, and are attached to the horse’s bit. If the fastenings used are billets, they should be attached to the inside. If the reins are fastened with more common buckles, they should be fastened on the outside.
Hopefully, you now have an idea of the parts of a bridle and how they fit together. Before purchasing however you should be aware of the different types of bridle and importantly how to measure for a bridle.