Do Anatomical Bridles Work?
Anatomical bridles are designed with the facial anatomy of a horse in mind. Sometimes they’re called ergonomic bridles. Regardless of the name, they’re designed to keep the horse as comfortable as possible during ridden work – and in turn, help the horse perform at its best due to enhanced comfort and freedom. Theoretically then, everyone wins. But do they actually make a difference to your horse’s comfort and way of going?
How Are Anatomical Bridles Different from Regular Bridles?
Each type of ergonomic bridle is cut slightly differently to accommodate different things. For instance, some have cutaway poll pieces, others have nosebands which relieve pressure on certain facial nerves, some have padded or shaped pieces, and some are ‘missing’ key parts of the bridle to make them more comfortable for the horse. Each element of the bridle is carefully shaped and positioned while keeping the horse’s bone structure, nerves, ligaments, and muscles top of mind.
So, do they make any difference? In some cases, they can be revolutionary. And for some horses, a stock-standard cavesson bridle will be fine. At the end of the day, we all want our horses to be comfortable, and anatomical bridles are designed to be another tool to help you achieve that.
Remember if you’re looking at investing in an anatomical bridle, you should check the appropriate rulebook to make sure you’re within the rules for your discipline. Something allowed for the jumper ring might not be permitted in the dressage arena.
With What Issues Can Anatomical Bridles Help?
If your horse is more comfortable around his face and ears after changing bridles, you could see a difference in some of the below behaviors:
- Head tossing
- Face rubbing
- Tilting of the head
- Struggling to bend or accept the bridle
You might also find that an uncomfortable horse is generally resistant or tense, rather than having one specific and notable issue. Sometimes, a change in tack can make all the difference to a horse who is uncomfortable or otherwise restricted. In other cases, it’s simply a schooling issue which needs to be addressed with time and skill.
Anecdotally, some riders and trainers rave about different anatomic bridles – just as they do with certain girths, saddles, or bits. In some cases, you might see an instant and notable difference, particularly if the horse was uncomfortable in his previous equipment.
In general, if the horse absolutely loves a new bridle, you might see changes in their acceptance of the contact, ability and willingness to offer flexion of the jaw, stability in the head position and neck carriage, and an overall feeling of elasticity and lightness in the contact instead of the horse leaning or ducking behind the contact. Of course, none of this is guaranteed – but they are possibilities.
What Horses Do Anatomical Bridles Suit Best?
Some horses seem to go well in most bridles and bits. Others can experience significant change when they find a bit or bridle that they really like and feel comfortable in. Unfortunately, a lot of the experimentation process is simply trial and error.
In a very generalized sense, horses who are very sensitive about their bridle fit are often also sensitive about other things, including their tack. If you have a horse who is generally reactive in their personality and who is particular about things like precise saddle fit and types of bits, they might benefit from an anatomical bridle.
Horses with teeth issues might also prefer the bridle styles which avoid putting pressure on facial nerves. If that sounds familiar to you, try something like the Horze Stewart or Horze Highbury bridles which avoid the nerves around the mouth and can keep the bit nice and still in your horse’s mouth without adding pressure.
If your horse tends to display issues with the contact, you might experiment with different bridles to see if they are more comfortable in certain styles – perhaps they only like padded nosebands or need freedom for their ears, for instance.
And of course, horses performing at high levels sometimes benefit from any additional freedom or comfort they can get; just like how making tiny adjustments on a car can make all the difference in an F1 race but wouldn’t be noticeable for an everyday driver doing the grocery run.
If a horse is twitchy about his ears being rubbed or touched, you might want to look at something like the Horze Classic Dressage bridle which offers a cutaway, shaped crown piece and padding around the ears.
Remember though, there’s no substitute for a correctly fitted and comfortable bridle and bit. All the padding and shaping in the world will be of no use if the bridle fundamentally doesn’t fit the horse’s head. Make sure the different parts are correctly adjusted to avoid any undue pressure or pulling.
When are Anatomical Bridles Worth It?
So, if the bridle might work wonders and might make hardly any difference, when is it worth splashing out? The bottom line: an anatomical bridle isn’t going to solve all of your schooling issues. Not on any horse. Just like wearing the most advanced running shoes won’t make you Usain Bolt. But you’d definitely see an improvement in performance if you had wide feet and previously weren’t wearing shoes designed to work with your own anatomy.
If you have a horse who has a specific problem which you think could be alleviated through different equipment, it’s probably worth it. If your horse doesn’t have any particular issues with his way of going and you just want to try one out for interest’s sake, you might not get the full benefit. In that case, it’s probably better to see if you can borrow one for a ride or two before committing.
The good news is that as these bridles become more and more commonplace, they’re also becoming much more affordable. So if you’re hunting for a new bridle anyway, you can usually find one which is ergonomic and comfortably shaped without having to pay much extra than you would for a standard bridle.
It’s hard to argue against anything which is designed to help your horse feel more comfortable and at ease. For that reason, anatomical bridles are here to stay – and that’s wonderful for horses and riders alike. If you are in the market for a new bridle, getting one which suits your horse’s head and relieves as much pressure as possible is a natural choice. And depending on the horse, you may even feel a difference in their way of going.
What bridle do you use for your horse, and why? Did you find a certain bridle made a difference to their comfort and way of going? If so, drop us a comment telling us about the transformation!