How to Choose the Perfect Bridle
Can’t settle on the perfect bridle for your horse? We don’t blame you! There’s an option for everyone, and every horse. From glossy patent leather and bling browbands to plain cavesson bridles, from functional drop nosebands to fancy anatomical headpieces. The choices are endless!
There’s no question that equestrians are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking something which is stylish, functional, and budget-friendly. To get you started, here’s some things you need to consider when you’re shopping for bridles.
At the top of your considerations when bridle shopping should be form and function. The major things to take into consideration are the noseband, as well as any ‘special’ features of the bridle. It goes without saying that any bridle you buy should fit your horse comfortably and not pull anywhere or sit awkwardly.
Importantly, your noseband choice has to complement your bit choice. When the two are fitted correctly, it will allow for a secure and elastic connection. Here are some popular noseband choices:
- Cavesson – a plain, standard noseband with no flash and very little action. It works well with most bits and along with a crank, can also be used with a double bridle. A cavesson will work for almost any horse with regards to size and breed, but you would likely choose a thicker one for a Clydesdale than you would for an Arab!
- Crank or cinch – similar to a cavesson, but which doubles back on itself to fasten. This means there is no buckle under the jaw to possibly cause discomfort. The cinch noseband does help to prevent crossing the jaw, but they are very easy to overtighten and can cause discomfort if not adjusted properly. These are common in the Dressage ring, and are also very often used with double bridles at the higher levels.
- Flash – a cavesson or cinch with an additional strap which sits at an angle and fastens underneath the bit. It has more action than a cavesson as the additional flash strap can prevent the horse from opening his mouth, but is generally quite well accepted. It is important to correctly fit and adjust the flash strap so that it doesn’t pull on the noseband itself. A flash is often the first choice for young horses as it can help to keep the bit quiet and secure in the mouth, and help to prevent them from trying to evade the bit. Also very commonly seen in the jumping and eventing worlds and can give a little bit of extra control on a horse who is a little strong for a plain cavesson.
- Drop – a drop noseband features only one strap which fastens underneath the bit (i.e. it has no cavesson strap). Similar to a flash in that it prevents the horse from opening his mouth, but which has a more definite action. These used to be very popular nosebands but have become less fashionable in recent years as they aren’t always the most flattering on the face. Having said that, some horses who don’t go well in a flash seem to prefer the action of the drop.
- Figure Eight – A figure eight noseband, also called a grackle, features two straps which cross in an X shape over the horse’s nose. One fastens high up on the jaw, and another fastens below the bit similar to a flash. It sits fairly high up and is often considered comfortable for the horse as it allows the nostrils to be fully opened and avoids pressure on the cheekbones. These are useful for sensitive horses, and can help to stabilize the bit in the correct position in the mouth. They’re also very handy for horses who tend to twist or cross their jaw to evade the contact.
Plenty of bridles come with additional features designed to help improve the horse’s comfort in various areas. This varies from bridle to bridle, but all are designed to help improve fit and, as a result, performance.
Many bridles feature anatomically shaped and/or padded headpieces, for instance, which are designed to alleviate pressure on the poll and behind the ears. Another common feature is pressure relief bridles which have anatomically shaped nosebands which avoid the horse’s sensitive facial nerves. There are also bridles which have special additions to areas such as the cheekpieces which might cradle the bit differently to a standard bridle.
Do they work?
Often, these bridles might make a huge difference to one horse but no difference to the next. Ultimately, it will depend on the individual horse’s preferences as to whether this might help improve the way of going. As a general rule of thumb, it is usually the more sensitive horses that respond best to these anatomically designed bridles. Having said that, they are often more pricey and it’s best where possible to borrow one before purchasing to see if it makes any difference to your horse.
There’s no getting around it, aesthetics are an important part of your perfect bridle. Call us vain, but us horse people like to make sure our horses look their best!
First, consider your style. If you’re an event rider who always sticks to classic, traditional dress you probably don’t want to buy something covered in bling and made exclusively of shiny patent leather. If you’re a Dressage rider who loves all things matching and sparkly though, it’s probably a good choice!
Keep your horse’s head shape in mind. If your horse has a fine Arab-type head, a thin and delicate bridle will likely show off his features best. If you have a 17.2hh draft cross, you probably don’t want to splurge for that slimline bridle with fine detailing.
Finally, colour is important too! If you don’t have any tack then go with what suits your horse best; chestnuts look incredible in brown, whereas greys normally suit black better. Otherwise, match your saddle tone as closely as possible for that cohesive look in the ring.
When you’re choosing a bridle, it’s important to keep in mind the rules and guidelines for whichever discipline you compete in most. Eventers might need more than one bridle for quick changes between phases, but if you’re a Dressage rider or Jumper, there are certain rules on what bridles and bits are permitted. You can get these here from USEF for each discipline.
If you’re a fairly new competitor or haven’t checked the rules in a while, it’s best to check that whatever bridle you’ve got your heart set on will be allowed, especially if it has a special feature such as a cut back headpiece or modified noseband.
Dreaming of a Ferrari but on a Toyota budget? You might have to compromise on your dream bridle, whether that means swapping out a crystal browband for a plain one, or opting for a secondhand bridle instead of brand new. If you have a budget and want to splurge, make sure you pick something that you truly love and will proudly show off for years to come!
Whatever you decide, remember that a good quality bridle will often last for years and years. If you’re spending less, still try and get the best quality that you can by buying on sale or opting for a more plain style made of good leather. If you’re buying something that you don’t need to last long term or which will only be used from time to time (e.g. an emergency replacement bridle, a spare, or one used from time to time on new, young, or dealing horses) then you don’t need to splurge on something high quality.
Hopefully, these tips have helped to narrow down your bridle search! Keeping in mind your budget, the type of noseband your horse prefers, and your discipline’s competition rules, you should be able to find a bridle which not only fits comfortably, but which really shows off your style and your horse’s beautiful face!
Which of our bridles is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.