If you are a newcomer to horses, ponies and riding then one of the first things you will use is a bridle! Bridles are used to control the horse's pace, speed and direction. There are different types of bridles to be used with different types of bits. In this blog I wanted to concentrate on the basic snaffle bridle which is used most widely in English riding.
The snaffle bridle consists of (top to bottom) a Headpiece, a Browband, a Throatlash, Cheekpieces, a Noseband and Reins plus the bit.
This fits over the head at the Poll and behind the horse's ears. The Throatlash is part of the Headpiece and so are the straps that attach to the Cheekpieces on either side of the horse's face. When the Headpiece is attached to the Cheekpieces the small buckles should lie slightly above the horses eye level. The Cheekpieces should be of equal length on each side of the face and the same, or closest hole should be used to buckle up to ensure the headpiece sits centrally.
This sits around the front of the head, just below the ears and connects to the Headpiece to prevent the bridle slipping back down the horses neck. It is important that the Browband is the correct size as a small one may pinch the horse's ears or cause rubs, too large and it will allow the bridle to slip backwards. If you don't fancy the plain Browbands then there are some amazing ones available!
This strap sits under the cheek and around the horse's throat (as you would expect) and is sometimes called the Throatlatch. This is to prevent the bridle coming off over the horses head if it is pulled forward for any reason! It usually buckles on the near side of the horse.
To fit this correctly you should be able to put the width of a hand (ie: from thumb to little finger) between the cheek and Throatlash. This is to ensure that the horse has no restrictions to his breathing.
It is important that the Reins are the correct length for the rider, horse or pony and activity. Often show jumpers and eventers have longer reins which will allow them to let them slip through their hands to the buckle when landing over a difficult fence if necessary. It is important that Reins are the correct length as if they are too short the rider will be encouraged to lean forward into an incorrect riding position. Long Reins can be dangerous as they may get caught around the riders foot or stirrup.
Reins also come in different widths and this is equally important as too wide reins will prevent a child from holding them correctly. However, reins must be wide enough to be strong for larger horses!
Reins can be covered in rubber to aid grip but are also available plain, plaited or laced. It is largely a matter of personal preference but plain leather reins can become slippery when wet which will cause the reins to be more likely to slip through the riders fingers.
There are a huge variety of Nosebands available, all for different functions!
- Cavesson - is the most common type used. It can be plain as in the first picture, raised or piped as in this picture. These nosebands do not have much function but aesthetic as most horses or ponies look better with a noseband than without. The noseband should be buckled below the cheek bones but at a height that ensures it does not rub on the cheekbones. When buckled (under the nose) there should be space for 2 fingers between the horses nasal bone (on top) and the nose band.
- Flash - made up of a cavesson noseband with a loop and a strap which passes through this loop. The strap passes below the bit round the chin groove and the buckle fastened just under or just over the horses lips (DO NOT fasten in the chin groove as this will cause injury). The cavesson strap is usually buckled so that the noseband is slightly higher than for a cavesson on its own and is done up more firmly. The flash strap is done up 4 fingers above the nostrils to ensure that breathing is not affected and tighted so that 1 finger can fit between the strap and the chin. The aim is to stop the horse opening his mouth or crossing his jaw.
- Drop - this noseband has 2 sections, the top part goes over the horses nose as a cavesson would, the lower part is secured below the bit under the chin groove. It is important that the front strap is not fastened too low and as with the flash strap it should be 4 fingers above the nostrils. The drop part should be fastened tightly enough to prevent the horse crossing his jaw or opening his mouth too wide (1 finger width). Again, the buckle should be below the lip and not in the chin groove.
- Grackle - this again is used to prevent the horse opening his mouth or crossing the jaw. It consists of 2 straps which cross over at a pad which should be lined with sheepskin. The design of this means that a larger area of the head is acted on with the pressure point on the nose and therefore it has a stronger effect than the Drop or Flash nosebands. Fitted in a similar way to the Flash with the top straps fastened just below the cheekbones. The lower straps are fitted below the bit again in the chin groove and buckle just below the lips.
Putting on a bridle.
Assuming that it is the horse's own bridle!
- Tie the horse up with a headcollar and leadrope.
- Place the reins over the head.
- Undo the headcollar and fasten around the horses neck.
- While holding the bridle in your left hand, put right arm under neck/head and pass bridle to right hand.
- Holding the bridle by the cheekpieces (in right hand) cradle the bit in the left hand and place it on the horses lips. He should open his mouth, if not, place your left thumb in the corner of his mouth and wiggle - this should encourage him to open his mouth!
- Gently slide the bit in, being careful not to bang the teeth, at the same time raising the bridle in your right hand. Fold each ear under the headpiece gently with your left hand and tease the forelock foreward.
- Fasten the throatlash and the noseband (ensuring it passes under the cheekpieces).
- If you are not riding immediately the reins should be twisted and then one rein passed through the throatlash before it is fastened. This will prevent the horse from getting a leg caught in the reins.
I will be uploading a 'How to ....' video to my vlog channel in the next couple of weeks about tacking up.
Removing a bridle
- Place the headcollar around the horses neck and fasten.
- Unbuckle the noseband and throatlash.
- Take the reins in your right hand and bring them up to meet the headpiece, using your left hand too take hold of the bridle either side of the headpiece (by the browband) and gently ease the bridle over the horses ears.
- Slowly lower the bridle, taking care not to lower too quickly that the bit bangs on the horse's teeth.
- Most horses will open their mouths and allow the bit to drop out.
- Put the bridle over your shoulder and replace the headcollar.
Look out for my blog about Bits and Martingales next week.
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Until next time!