Expert Rider Explains the Different Types of Horse Bridles

So you need the best horse bridle brands for your horse, but don’t know where to start?

We can help you.

Here we will cover the different types of horse bridles you will come across and provide you with some advice on where to start.

Let’s get started!

What Is A Horse Bridle?

close-up shot of brown horse's mouth with bit

A horse bridle is an essential piece of riding tack. It is usually made of leather and goes on the horse’s head.

The bridle holds the bit in place in the horse’s mouth, though some bridles are designed for use without a bit. These are called bitless bridles.

To work and bridle must have reins. These attach to the bit. Through the reins, the rider can communicate with the horse.

For example, the most basic communication the rider gives through the reins is asking the horse to slow down or stop.

A very experienced rider can communicate through reins to the bit and thus the horse with very subtle and gentle signals.

These signals combine with other communication from the rider’s leg and seat.

Use Of A Bridle

For a bridle to work properly, it needs to fit correctly and as comfortably as possible.

The bridle must be complete for all the parts to work in guiding you with your communication with the horse.

The bit applies pressure in the horse’s mouth. Where in the mouth the pressure applies depends on what type of bit you use.

Some bits apply pressure to the tongue, or the roof of the mouth, or the mouth’s corners. Or it can be a combination of these pressures.

These pressures communicate what the rider wants the horse to do.

For example, moving the right rein to turn puts pressure on the right side of the mouth.

These cues use the horse’s want to move away from pressure. This is why gentle and precise cues are needed.

To further explain using the previous example, when the horse turns to the right, you release the pressure on the right rein.

Certain bits with shanks apply pressure to the horse’s poll when you use the reins.

You need to be careful with these bits as they are often very strong, and should only be used by experienced riders. Don’t forget to check out guide on getting horse on the bit.

CHECK: 7 Best Tack Cleaning Products

Parts Of A Horse Bridle

The basic, and most common bridle is a snaffle bridle. All bridles have several of the same parts. We’ve outlined these below.

1- Browband

The browband sits across the horse’s forehead. It is above the eyes and in front of the ears.

If you are putting a bridle together, this is the first part that you put on. The browband has loops on either end.

You feed both straps from the sides of the crownpiece through these loops. The browband helps keep the bridle in place on the head.

Crownpiece(Headpiece): This is basically the main part of the bridle. It goes over the horse’s poll, sitting behind the ears.

The top part is a single piece of leather. On each side of the crownpiece, the single piece splits into two pieces.

These two pieces sit on each side of the horse’s face and are the straps that you attach other bridle parts to.

2- Cheekpieces

The bridle has two cheekpieces, one for each side of the bridle, and thus face. These attach to one of the side straps.

The two side straps are slightly different. One is thinner and a different length.

The straps where the cheekpieces attach are the wider ones, and they are equal lengths on each side.

The bottom part of the cheekpieces have a buckle. This buckle loops around the rings of the bit.

Once attached to the straps, it is the cheekpieces that keep the bit attached to the bridle.

3-Throat latch

The throat latch is part of the crownpiece. On the right side of the bridle, the longer thinner piece is the throat latch.

This passes under the horse’s jaw and attaches to the opposite, thinner strap. The throat latch is not secured tightly. Its purpose is to help keep the bridle on.

4- Noseband

The noseband is the part that goes over the horse’s muzzle.

It has one long thin strap that you thread through the right browband loop over or under the crownpiece (depending on the bridle’s design) and down through the left browband loop.

It then attaches to the thin strap on the other side of the noseband with the buckle.

The other part of the noseband with the somewhat curved piece of leather wraps around the horse’s muzzle and buckles to itself under the jaw.

When securing the noseband, its two straps tuck under the cheekpieces and not over them. The noseband goes on snuggly but with enough room to fit a finger between it and the jaw.

The noseband sits on the nose with a gap of two fingers width below the end of the cheekbones.

Another less commonly used name for the noseband is cavesson.

Not all bridles or horses need a noseband. Western horses often go in a bridle with no noseband.

Check: Horse Bridle Measurements

Other Common Bridle Parts

The following are some other common bridle parts. Not all horses need these, but they are parts you will see frequently.

1- Flash

The flash is a thin piece of leather that attaches to the top center of the noseband.

The straps wrap around the lower part of the muzzle, passing in front of the bit, and resting just behind the chin.

Again, this should not be too tight. It is a common, bad practice to make the flash very tight in an attempt to keep the mouth closed.

2- Figure 8 Noseband (Grackle)

This noseband crosses diagonally over the horse’s face with a center sitting slightly higher than a standard noseband.

The back two straps buckle snuggly just in front of the upper jaw bone.

The lower two straps pass in front of the bit and buckle so they sit just behind the chin.

The center area where they cross is padded with a disk, often fleece lined, that sits against the face.

This noseband helps prevent the horse from crossing its jaw and keep its mouth closed.

While it is a stronger noseband than a standard one, it puts less pressure over the nostrils, allowing the horse more airflow.

The sides of a figure 8 have a metal ring that sits just below the cheekbone on the upper jaw.

You must carefully fit this type of noseband so the rings do not sit directly on top of the cheekbones which is uncomfortable, even painful for the horse.

4 Types Of Horse Bridles 

For English riding, there are several types of horse bridles.

Each has a specific purpose and suit different types of horses or riding disciplines. Here will explain the different types of bridles.

1- Snaffle Bridle

A woman fitting a snaffle bridle to her horse. Snaffle bridle is one of the types of horse bridles.

Snaffle bridle is the most common type of bridle and comes with a few different configurations.

You will see the snaffle bridle in all English disciplines, including hunters, jumpers, eventing, dressage, and even trail riding. Most bits fit onto a snaffle bridle.

The majority of bits attach to a snaffle bridle with one rein. Some bits use two reins and also fit on a snaffle bridle.

These bits include the pelham, Dutch gag, gag, and the elevator.

A snaffle bridle is configured with different nosebands. These are a standard noseband (cavesson), a figure 8 (grackle), crank noseband, flash noseband, or a drop noseband.

The noseband also acts at the location for attaching a standing martingale.

Running martingales split and attach to the reins on either side of the horse’s neck.

The snaffle bridle works by applying pressure to the horse’s mouth, face, and poll depending on which bit you use. 

The crownpiece of a snaffle bridle comes in a choice of different headpieces. A traditional crownpiece with a straight cut single piece of leather.

Next, you have monochrome or ergonomic headpieces.

These are shaped so they sit more comfortably behind the ears. They also have different levels of padding.

These bridles come in black or brown leather. In dressage, black is the preferred color. While for hunters, equitation, and jumpers brown is preferred.

Certain nosebands are not allowed in competition in some disciplines.

For example, a hunter does not wear a flash, drop or figure 8 noseband. These horses wear a standard noseband.

If you are unsure if a certain bit or noseband is allowed when competing in your discipline, it is best to consult with the relevant association.

They will have a rule book and be able to tell you what is acceptable to use or not. Using the wrong tack in some classes can result in your disqualification.

2- Weymouth Bridle

black weymouth bridle, one of the types of horse bridles

A Weymouth is the type of bridle you commonly see on advanced dressage horses.

This bridle is also called a full or double bridle. Double bridles have two bits, a bradoon and a curb bit.

It is always used with two reins, one to each bit. These bridles will have extra straps and cheekpieces to attach both bits.

The curb (Weymouth) bit allows for the application of leverage. A double bridle also uses a different type of noseband.

These are usually crank nosebands, and they are wider and sit slightly differently on the horse’s muzzle.

The reason for this fit is so the noseband does not interfere with the curb bit. You do not use a flash on a full bridle.

3- Bitless Bridle

woman riding a horse with a bitless bridle, one of the types of horse bridles

As the name says, a bitless bridle is a bridle that does not use a bit. Bitless bridles come in different designs.

They work by applying pressure to the horse’s face. There are a few reasons why people use a bitless bridle.

They allow a horse to still exercise if it has a mouth injury.

It can also help with retraining if a horse was bitted before, but ridden with heavy hands.

Some horses might develop issues from bit use.

This can be from the confirmation of their mouth not being able to comfortably take a bit or if they have a permanent dental issue.

Another reason people use bitless bridles is they believe it is more comfortable for the horse, and bits cause pain.

In some way, this is correct, but don’t jump straight into a bitless bridle without learning all the details.

A bitless bridle can exert an extreme amount of pressure on the horse’s face if they are not used correctly.

This can actually be more uncomfortable and painful than a bridle with a bit.

So if you want to go this route, do some research on the different bitless bridles, their designs, and how they work.

Also, get some professional help to teach you how to ride in this bridle correctly. If you do this, you can have a happy, comfortable bitless horse.

4- Mechanical Hackamore

a lady fitting mechanical hackamore, one type of horse bridles, to a brown horse

A mechanical hackamore is a type of bitless bridle, but it is a strong type of bridle, due to how it works.

These bridles work by applying a lot of pressure to the nose and poll.

The reins attach to a nosepiece that has long shanks. It is the leverage and poll pressure of these shanks that make this a strong bridle.

The nosepiece also has a curb strap that puts pressure on the horse’s chin when the reins are used.

The severity of the hackamore bridle varies depending on the type of nosepiece used and the length of the shanks.

The longer the shanks, the stronger it is, as it applies more leverage and pressure.

For example, a stiff rope nosepiece or, one that is braided, has a harsher effect than a softer or flatter piece. 

A mechanical hackamore is not the bitless bridle to use if you want to be kinder to your horse.

This bridle choice can cause the horse severe pain. It is not a bridle to use on a young horse in training as it does not give accurate enough cues.

It should only be used after other options are exhausted.

Conclusion

As you can see, choosing a bridle for a horse is a sometimes complicated endeavor.

There are many options for bridle configurations and hundreds of different kinds of bits.

To add to this, each horse is an individual, and what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another.

The best advice for choosing a bridle is to keep it simple. Start with a basic snaffle bridle, a padded headpiece is great is a good choice.

Use a common snaffle D-ring or eggbutt bit.

If you are unsure if this type of bridle is working well for your horse, get the help of an experienced trainer to find what is best for you and your horse.

References:

  • “Learn How Mechanical Hackamores Work.” n.d. The Spruce Pets. https://www.thesprucepets.com/all-about-mechanical-hackamores-1886064.
  • Miller, Kim F. n.d. “Become a Horse Noseband Know-It-All.” Expert How-to for English Riders. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/lifestyle/horse-nosebands-11817.
  • Nutter, Gigi. n.d. “Is a Flash Noseband Necessary?” Dressage Today. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://dressagetoday.com/lifestyle/is-a-flash-noseband-necessary.
  • “Overview of English Bridles | Dover Saddlery.” n.d. Www.doversaddlery.com. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.doversaddlery.com/overview-of-english-bridles/a/496/.
  • Tack, Farm House. n.d. “What Is a Horse Bridle, and How Does It Work?” Farm House Tack. https://www.farmhousetack.com/blogs/barn-blog/what-is-a-horse-bridle-and-how-does-it-work.
a lady showing a demo on how to put different types of horse bridles to a stallion

Any thoughts on these types of horse bridles? What do you use for your horse? Share with us!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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