Western Vs English Bridle: What’s the Difference?

A question that new equestrians often have is: what is the difference between an English vs Western bridle?

They serve the same function but are designed differently based on the techniques used by the people involved in each type of discipline.

This article will explain the similarities and differences between the Western vs English bridle, and help you decide which one to choose.

Let’s get started!

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Comparison Between English vs Western Bridle 

Western bridle vs English bridle?

No matter what style of horseback riding you do, the bridle is one of the most important pieces of equipment you use.

It is how the rider communicates with the horse and tells them where to go using their hands. Let’s explore English vs Western bridles and see how they are alike and separate from each other.

English Bridle 

English style riding requires closer contact, and the bridles reflect that. There are several different types of English bridle, each with different parts and designs. These include:

man riding a horse for dressage riding, one of the types of english riding

  • Snaffle bridle– one set of reins and a bit. It can be used with a wide variety of bits and is the most used English bridle because of its functionality and versatility.
  • Double bridle– a bridle with two bits (Pelham and Weymouth) and two sets of reins. Used most commonly in upper-level dressage due to its elegant appearance.
  • Bitless bridle– a bridle without a bit that is used with horses that have a sensitive mouth
  • Figure 8 bridle– a bridle used on hunter/jumper horses that has a crisscrossed noseband 
  • Fox hunting bridle– a flat bridle used when foxhunting that uses a Pelham or snaffle bit

English Bridle Parts 

An English bridle has several parts that distinguish it from other pieces of riding equipment so that it can better suit the needs and preferences of English riders 

  • Brow band– a piece that goes under the horse’s ears and over the forehead  and prevents the bridle from sliding back onto the horse’s neck
  • Crownpiece– the main piece that goes behind the ears and keeps the bottom of the bridle in place
  • Throatlatch– starts at the right ear and attaches at the left ear below the jaw to prevent the bridle from sliding over the horse’s head
  • Noseband– a long and thin strap that attaches at the headpiece and goes over the horse’s nose 
  • Cheekpieces – straps used to adjust bridle fit that connect the bit to the bridle crownpiece
  • Reins – thin straps of leather that attach to the bit and allow the rider to communicate with the horse 

Western Bridle 

Western horse bridles are generally simpler in design than their English counterparts. They typically do not have a noseband and will sometimes lack a browband as well.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what sets the Western bridle vs English one apart.

a lady riding a horse with western bridle and showing some western riding principles

Types of Western Bridle 

There are only three types of Western bridles for Western riding disciplines, whereas there are multiple types of bridles for specific English riding disciplines. The three core Western bridle types are:

  • Working bridle– used for trail and stock riding as well as shows, all have a throatlatch to keep the bridle in place and are used with a curb bit 
  • One Ear bridle– the one ear strap attached to the crownpiece substitutes the browband to keep the bridle in place. Most have a throatlatch, but if they do not it is usually a show bridle
  • Two ear bridle– same design as the one ear but with a place for each of the ears, used exclusively for shows since there is no throatlatch

Parts of a Western Bridle 

The Western bridle has all the same parts as the English one, with the exception of the noseband. The western bridle parts include:

  • Crownpiece– the strap that is behind the horse’s ears and connects all the other parts of the bridle
  • Cheekpieces– sit behind the cheek and connect the crownpiece to the bit 
  • Browband- prevents the bridle from sliding down the neck, and attaches to both sides of the crownpiece 
  • Throatlatch– prevents the bridle from sliding over the ears, a separate strap that runs through the browband slot 

Now that you know more about the similarities and differences between the English bridle vs Western and vice versa, let’s go over how to know which one to choose to fit you and your horse’s needs.

Which Bridle to Choose English or Western?

The main determining factor you should use to determine whether to use the English bridle vs Western bridle is what riding discipline you want to engage in and how often you will be showing in either.

Both have distinct rules regarding tack that is used, especially when at competitions.

So if you want to participate in English riding disciplines, such as show jumping, cross country, dressage. hunter/jumper or saddle seat, you would be better off choosing an English bridle.

However, if you want to participate in Western styles of riding such as barrel racing, pole bending, reining, or Western dressage, you are better off using a Western bridle.

close-up shot of a brown horse being ridden by a lady

Now, when you are at home practicing with your horse, you can mix and match tack pieces as you please.

Show organizations just have rules for tack depending on the style of riding and can prevent you and your horse from competing if you are not in the proper attire.

FAQs

Can you ride English with a Western bridle?

A girl in english style riding attire

There is no rule that prevents this in a casual setting such as a lesson or trail riding. However, it will be in your best interest to avoid this at competitions so that you are not prevented from competing based on attire.

Can you use a Western bit on an English bridle?

There are no rules as to what bit you use with what bridle while you are at home. However, this practice may or may not be permitted in a competitive situation, so use caution with this.  Also, make sure your horse is comfortable no matter what bit you use.

Why do Western Bridles not have nosebands?

The noseband helps to keep the bit in place in the horse’s mouth. Western riders place less pressure on the bit with their reins, and instead use a looser rein and one-handed neck reining to communicate with their horse. Thus, the bit stays in place in the horse’s mouth and there is no need for a noseband.

Why are there different bridles for English riding and Western riding?

a women playing western riding game

Because these two types of riding have a different visible style, and bridles that are allowed in one style are banned in another. For example, using a figure-eight style English bridle for a Western show is not permitted because Western riding styles are more focused on horsemanship,

Conclusion

English and Western bridles are two similar but different pieces of equipment. The biggest difference between them is: how many different styles there are, the complexity of simplicity of the design, and whether or not they have a noseband. Other than these things, they are the same.

Despite this, the reason why both styles exist is due to the rules and techniques used in the English and Western riding styles respectively. To choose the right bridle, determine which style you want to participate in with your horse.

References

  • “Bridle Fitting Basics: The Different Straps, Parts, and Pieces.” 2017. Horse Canada. Horse Canada. September 6, 2017. https://horse-canada.com/magazine/equine-ownership/bridle-fitting-basics/.
  • “Choosing the Right Bridle for Your Horse: The Ultimate Guide.” 2020. Wehorse Blog. November 30, 2020. https://www.wehorse.com/en/blog/horse-bridle-types/.
  • “Do I Need a Noseband? On the Purpose of Nosebands. – Maria Cooke.” 2019. Maria Cooke. December 11, 2019. https://mariacooke.com/do-i-need-a-noseband-on-the-purpose-of-nosebands/.
  • Drum, Michelle. 2021. “English Bridles — the Ultimate Rider’s Guide.” Farm House Tack. Farm House Tack. October 7, 2021. https://www.farmhousetack.com/blogs/barn-blog/english-bridles-the-ultimate-rider-s-guide.
  • “English vs. Western Riding: Similarities and Differences – US Whip.” 2020. US Whip. 2020. https://uswhip.com/blog/english-vs-western-riding-similarities-and-differences/.
  • smith. 2020. “Types of Bits: The Essential Buying Guide for Western Horse Bits.” National Roper’s Supply. National Roper’s Supply. December 21, 2020. https://nrsworld.com/blogs/learning-center/types-of-bits.
  • “Types of Western Bridles.” n.d. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://afs.ca.uky.edu/files/western_bridles.pdf.
horse wearing an English bridle (english vs western bridle)

What do you use, an English or a Western bridle for your horse? Let us know in the comments below!

Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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