When I was young and attending the local riding school, the only type of bridle I was familiar with was the snaffle bridle. A traditional sort of bridle made from black or brown leather with a single bit, usually a snaffle bit, hence the bridle’s name. Some bridles had brass clincher browbands and others had a decorative stitch but that was the fanciest it got; some ponies wore cavesson nosebands and some wore none at all.
As the years passed and I progressed from riding school ponies to loan ponies, I learned about: double bridles, in-hand bridles, and the various bits to go with them as well as all the other extra gadgets, such as martingales and breastplates.
Another 20 years later and bridles have further adapted in so many ways. Thanks to advanced research and owners becoming more aware of their own horses we now have anatomical headpieces, rolled leather, bitless options and a huge array of different bits that is enough to blow anyone’s mind.
So, if you are a beginner or even a regular horse rider then this brief description of each bridle may be of some use to you:
The Snaffle bridle is what I remember to be the traditional style bridle. Originally constructed of five parts: a headpiece, browband, two cheek pieces, a noseband and a pair of reins.
Traditionally the snaffle bridle had a simple plain cavesson noseband but these days the nosebands are mostly made with an additional loop at the centre of the noseband in which an extra strap can be connected to the noseband making it a ‘flash’ noseband.
Snaffle bridles were traditionally used with a snaffle bit (hence the name), but today we have so many different varieties of bits available to the horse owner that these bridles should be renamed the ‘single bit bridle‘.
The double bridle is similar to that of a snaffle (single bit) bridle but instead, it holds two bits with two pairs of reins and an additional narrow leather headpiece known as a slip head which lies directly under the main headpiece.
This bridle is also known as-as Weymouth bridle due to one of the bit’s that are used. The snaffle bit (known as a bradoon bit) is often smaller in diameter and bit rings to a traditional snaffle and is connected to the bridle using the additional slip head under the main headpiece. A standard pair of reins, usually plaited reins are connected to this bit but I have also seen laced reins are becoming popular nowadays.
The second bit (known as a curb bit) is usually a Weymouth bit. It is connected to the bridle using the main headpiece and cheek pieces and used with a thinner plain pair of reins. The correct way to fit a snaffle bit is above and behind the Weymouth bit.
Double bridles should always be a cavesson style noseband and not any of the other fancy styles, a padded crown piece (headpiece) is normally desired too due to the pressure a Weymouth bit can cause on the poll area.
In my experience, an in-hand bridle is traditionally made with brass clinchers on the browband and a decorative stitch on the noseband. The noseband is fitted directly onto the cheek pieces, therefore, does not require its own headpiece strap.
Traditionally this bridle is used with a brass ring vulcanite straight bar bit but an alternative bit can be used if desired. By using a leather butterfly lead or a lead with a Newmarket chain connected to the bit rings it provides a more centralised contact allowing greater control during showing.
The purpose of this bridle is to show the horse’s face and bone structure off without it being covered up with a standard bridle.
A bitless bridle is just that, a bridle without a bit. Control is usually done via a noseband.
As a child, I remember watching showjumpers on TV using a bridle called a hackamore but there has been so much development in this area with adjustable nosebands becoming more popular, particularly one with straps that cross under the jaw which applies pressure around the whole head.
Another example is a side pull noseband that has reins attached to side rings which applies pressure to just the nose when control is taken.
As a child, I had only ever seen a western bridle on horses when watching an American film, but today there are many horse owners who ride ‘western‘ and there are now clubs and associations in the UK that support and promote those who wish to ride western.
The Western bridle is similar to the snaffle ‘single bit’ bridle in that it has a headpiece, browband, cheek pieces, and a throatlash. There is normally no noseband and the bit that is used is usually similar to the Weymouth bit we use on a double bridle, with just one set of reins.
A Western bridle is often shaped and decorated on the browband and cheek pieces and sometimes the browband is not the traditional sort that goes across the horse’s forehead but instead there is just one strap that loops one ear.
So there you have it, a brief description of the bridles commonly used in the UK. It’s not a definitive list and there are many adaptations of these on the market, called various fancy names, with a fancy price tag to go with it. Just be mindful that the most expensive bridle is not always the best, if attached to a well-known label then it is usually a marketing strategy you are paying for and not always for the best quality.
In my experience as both a horse rider and now a saddler, I find a lot of the ‘off the shelf’ bridles are not adequately sized for many of today’s horse shapes and therefore if you are going to pay hundreds of pounds for a bridle, then why not have one made to measure so that you know it is perfect for your horse’s needs.
Bespoke Bridle Service
If you are within the Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and The Black Country counties and wish to discuss having a bridle made to measure your horse or pony then contact me directly using the contact form below or visit my website, The Lady Saddler.