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A bridle is an essential piece of equipment used in horse riding and other equestrian activities to help direct and communicate with the horse.
The headstall, also known as a headpiece or crown piece, slips over the horse’s head and rests at the poll, the occipital protrusion at the back of the animal’s skull behind its ears. The headstall is the main strap that keeps the bridle together and holds the bit in place in the horse’s mouth.
The throatlatch, sometimes referred to as a throatlash, is usually part of the same piece of leather as the headstall or crownpiece. The primary purpose of the throatlatch is to keep the bridle from slipping off the horse's head. The throatlatch runs from one ear to the other, sitting under the horse's throat, where the windpipe meets the head at the underside of the animal's jaw.
Most bridles feature cheekpieces, which are leather straps on either side of the horse’s face that connect the headpiece to the bit.
The noseband wraps around the nose and jaw of the horse. The noseband puts pressure on the sensitive areas of the horses face providing direction and control from the rider. It's often used to keep the horse's mouth closed or to attach other pieces of equipment, such as martingales.
Reins are the leather or synthetic straps that attach to the bit or bridle and are used by the rider to control the movement of the horse and give subtle commands. The type of reins you use need to match your bridle and riding style. English bridles come with two reins that buckle onto the bridle on either side and then buckle to each other. While western bridles may be attached to split reins, which do not connect to one another unless you tie them in a deliberate knot, or closed reins, which are fashioned from a single piece of leather, a rope of synthetic material.
The browband is a leather or synthetic strap that stretches across the horse’s forehead and attaches to the headpiece. The purpose of a browband is to prevent the bridle from sliding behind the poll onto the animal’s upper neck. Many riders choose to attach decorative browbands to their harnesses to style their horse for competition or to reflect their personal sense of style.
There are hundreds of different bridle designs and variations, designs, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Broadly speaking bridles can be grouped into two categories: standard bridles and bitless bridles.
Snaffle bridles are the most simple and common type of bridle. They are generally made of leather and consist of a headstall, a cheekpiece on each side, a browband, a throatlatch, a bit, reins and a noseband. Snaffle bridles are suitable for all the levels of English riding except for the highest levels of dressage. Contrary to what the name suggests, snaffle bridles can fit with both snaffle bits as well as curb bits.
Double bridles are very similar to snaffle bridles, but instead of having a single cheekpiece on each side, double bridles have two straps per side, which are often merged into a single strap called a sliphead. Double bridles are set up with two bits in use together – a curb bit called a Weymouth and a small, thin snaffle bit called a Bridoon. Two sets of reins are used with this style of bridle, one attached to each of the bits. Double bridles are used in high-level dressage competitions and showjumping because the binary bits give the rider the ability to apply more significant control over a well-trained horse and execute precision movements. Not recommended for casual and inexperienced riders.
Pelham bridle is a popular alternative to the double bridle, featuring just one bit but two reins. The Pelham bit combines elements of both a curb bit and a snaffle bit. The bit is attached to two sets of reins. Pelham bridles apply pressure to different parts of a horse's head, depending on which rein is used. In English riding, the Pelham bridle may be used in place of a double bridle, when it is desirable to have double reins but not two bits. Pelham bridles are also utilised for polo when the action of a double bridle is desired, but due to the fast pace, the rider isn't always able to make rein adjustments.
While western bridles have a distinctive look, they are similar to a snaffle bridle in many ways. Like the snaffle bridle, the western bridle has a headstall, a cheekpiece on each side, a bit and reins. However, it does not have a noseband, and a browband and throat latch may or may not be attached. These bridles were designed to be lightweight and comfortable for stockmen and their horses while riding long distances and working long hours. As their name suggests, western bridles are used in western disciplines, such as reining and rodeo, but due to their simplicity, they’re popular among trail riders and hobbyists.
A Barcoo bridle is an all-purpose leather bridle commonly by Australian stockmen and drovers for working horses. Barcoo bridles are designed with one ring into which the throat latch, browband and crown piece are sewn. While these bridles were traditionally designed for riding long distances and working long hours, they are also very attractive and sometimes used in competition.
Gag bridles are made for use with gag bits. The gag bit works on the horse's lips and poll simultaneously. Applying pressure to the horse's lips makes the animal raise its head. Gag bits are more commonly in equestrian sports like polo, cross-country and show jumping for increased control in situations where a horse may become too excited or try to bolt.
Halter bridles also called endurance bridles or trail bridle, are designed to combine a halter and a bridle. Halter bridles are lightweight and feature quick-release buckles that allow the rider to remove the bit and reins while the cheekpieces stay in place, keeping the animal restrained at all time. Popular with endurance riders and trail, halter bridles come in handy when need to take a quick break on the trail. Halter bridles are often made from synthetic materials and come in a wide variety of colours and high visibility fabrics, making them particularly popular with pleasure riders, junior riders and trail riders needing to stand out in dim conditions.
The term bitless bridle describes a wide range of equine headgear that is designed to help the rider control the horse without using a bit. Instead of a bit many bitless bridles will use noseband or cavesson to apply pressure to parts of the horse's head to control its movements. They are commonly in western riding and for training young horses. Bitless birdles are used on mature horses with dental issues that make using a metal bit painful, and on horses with mouth or tongue injuries that may be aggravated by using a bit. Bitless bridles are sometimes used in endurance and trail riding but are rarely seen competitively in other disciplines, such as English riding. The level of direct control the rider has over the animal is limited with A Bitless bridle, and equestrian sports such as dressage require precision control of the horse's movement, making bitless bridles unusable.
A bitless bridle is sometimes referred to colloquially as a hackamore. However, a hackamore is just an older style of bitless bridle. The hackamore, and its modern variants, use a noseband of a set diameter to put tension on pressure points around the horse’s face, nose, and chin to provide control.
Cross-under bridles control the horse through poll pressure. When you put pressure on one or both reins, it squeezes the horse's entire head, but primarily pressure is applied to the poll. When the pressure on the reins is lessened, the pressure on the horse's head is released.
At EQ Saddleworld we have a variety of bridles for all styles of riding, including snaffle bridles, double bridles, pelham bridles, gag bridles halter bridles and bitless bridles and hackamores. Stocking the world's most trusted equestrian brands, we have a wide selection of bridles from makers such as Horze, Lumiere, Schockemohle, Horsewear Ireland, and Zilco.