How to bridle a horse

How to bridle a horse

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Many people wonder if it is possible to ride a horse without a bit in its mouth. Riding with a bit seems normal to many people, and there are many ancient examples of bits, so bits have been in use for a very long time. You may wonder, though—can a horse go from being ridden with a bit, to being ridden with a bitless bridle? Or, can a horse be trained right from the beginning without using a bit at all?

Early Training

Yes, it is entirely possible to train a horse to be ridden without a bit right from the early days of its training. In fact, it’s possible to train a horse to be ridden without any sort of bit or headstall on its head at all. The downside is that the horse will be limited to doing things, like trail riding, that doesn’t require any specific type of bit or bridle. A horse destined for the show ring will need to learn to carry and respond to an appropriate bit. Additionally, many people will prefer to ride their horse with a bit in its mouth for many reasons.

If you ride your horse at home, out on the trail, or at very small shows where there are no rules regarding bits, and you feel safe with your horse in a bitless bridle, you don’t need a bit. Distance and pleasure trail riders like bitless bridles because they allow the horse to eat and drink without removing the bridle. This makes the horse more comfortable and, when competing in long-distance riding events, may make the horse more likely to drink, which is very important for preventing dehydration.

Making a Change

If you are riding your horse with a bit, you can make the change to bitless. It’s best to try out your bitless bridle in a ring or arena first. See how well your horse responds because when you go out, you want to make sure your horse is obedient to your aids. Most horses make the transition easily. Some even become more relaxed. Others may require some re-schooling, spending more time working on upwards and downwards transitions before you’ll be confident that they are responding well to going bitless. It’s important to remember that the bit does not control the horse, obedience to training does. So, whether you ride your horse with a bit or not, it can still be difficult and even dangerous to ride if it’s not well-trained.

Choosing a Bridle

There are many different choices when it comes to bitless bridles, and just like finding the right bit, it might require trying a few different ones before you find one you and your horse are comfortable in. Bosals, side-pulls, and mechanical hackamores are all options you can try.

Remember though, that you are not necessarily being kinder to your horse by using a bitless bridle. Any equipment is only as humane as the person who handles it. A great deal of pain can be inflicted on a horse by the improper use of a bit or a bitless bridle. Even a simple side-pull can cause pain and damage if used improperly. Bitless bridles with long shanks can be quite painful if the rider does not know how to use them effectively.

For some horse sports, you will not be able to use a bitless bridle. For instance, dressage will require you to use a bit. You can, however, ride “hor concours” with a bitless bridle at some competitions. You may be able to use a bitless bridle in jumper or western classes. If you are competing, you will need to check the individual rules for each sport.

How to bridle a horse

Mykolas Svarauskas / EyeEm / Getty Images

Before putting a bridle on a horse, start with your horse haltered and safely tied. You may have the horse in cross-ties or tied with a lead rope with a panic snap or quick-release knot. Some people like to leave their horses untied, but that can be a problem in public stables where random people may distract or potentially spook the horse. It’s best to avoid your horse getting loose among other horses and people when in the stable; this could lead to accidents. Make sure you use a safety knot if you are not using crossties. You’ll also want to brush away any dirt or grit on the horse’s face. Before riding, always groom the horse.

Secure Your Horse

Undo the halter, slide the halter’s noseband down over the horse’s nose, and slip the crown back up over the horse’s ears. This action will secure your horse briefly while you put the bridle on. Stand beside the horse’s neck, facing forward with the bridle in your left hand. Slip the reins up over the neck. Both the reins and halter are now around the horse’s neck, should it try to get away.

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The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Slide the Bit in the Horse’s Mouth

Hold the bridle up over the horse’s nose with your right hand. Using your left-hand fingers, move the bit against his lips and insert your thumb into the space between the front and back teeth—the bars of the mouth. If the horse resists taking the bit, wiggling your thumb may encourage the horse to open its mouth wider. Slide the bit in and lift the bridle higher with your left hand so the horse can’t spit the bit back out. Be careful around the horse’s teeth; you don’t want the bit knocking into them carelessly. Eventually, you’ll be able to do this in one smooth motion.

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The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Pull the Crown Over the Left Ear

Grasp the crown of the bridle with your left hand, and with your right hand, gently bend the horse’s right ear forward to slip it under the crown.

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The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Pull the Crown Over the Right Ear

Switch your grasp of the crown of the bridle to your right hand, and with your left, gently slip the left ear under the crown. Do not pull the bridle too high; this action pulls on the horse’s mouth. Be careful not to bend your horse’s ears uncomfortably.

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The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Fasten All the Buckles or Snaps

Fasten the throat latch of the bridle. An endurance bridle has a snap at the throat latch. Most traditional leather bridles will have buckles. Do not fasten the throat latch too tightly; you want your horse to be able to flex its neck. Leave about 4 inches of slack. You should be able to slip the width of your hand between the strap and your horse’s jaw.

Unless you use a special noseband, such as a figure-eight, flash, or grackle noseband, leave about two fingers width between the lower jaw and the strap when you attach the noseband or cavesson. If you are using a curb bit, you’ll need to fasten the curb chain or strap. Leave the width of two fingers between the chain and the lower jaw. Leaving the chain too loose or tight can make the action of the bit or the chain more severe. If the bit has a port, it could rotate up and hurt the top of the horse’s mouth.

Slip the halter off, tidy your horse’s mane and forelock, and you are ready to go. Some people like the forelock under the browband; some leave it over the top.

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The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Removing the Bridle

Remove the bridle by slipping the halter (attached to a crosstie or lead rope) back over the horse’s ears. Undo the throat latch, curb chain, and noseband. With your left hand, reach under the horse’s neck and slide the crown over the horse’s ears. Hold it as you did when you were putting it on. Gently lower the bit out of the horse’s mouth. Be careful not to knock the horse’s teeth. With your right hand, slip the halter on and pull the reins up over the horse’s neck to completely remove the bridle. Once you remove it, you may wish to clean your bridle or wipe the bit before hanging it away.

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You can ride a horse without a saddle, although it isn’t that safe for the novice rider, but few riders can effectively control their horse without a bridle.
The bridle is such an essential part of your horse tack, that you should make sure that you purchase the right type and size of bridle for your horse and the work you want your horse to do.

The horse bridle is designed to connect the bit in your horse’s mouth with the reins in your hands.

The bit & reins combination allows you to send signals to your horse. To signal when it should turn, stop and even speed up.

How to bridle a horseThere is a wide range of leather and synthetic bridles that will fit your horse or pony, including snaffle bridles, in-hand bridles, flash bridles, competition bridles, bitless bridles, double bridles etc and most all consist of the following parts – headpiece, cheek pieces, throat lash, browband, noseband and the reins.

Without reins a bridle, like a bit, is just decoration.

Most bridles are fully adjustable, and few horses have problems with a bridle unless it is too small or too large.
  • Too Small – and the bridle will be too tight making your horse or pony feel constricted
  • Too Large – and the bridle will move around preventing it operating as it should and limiting the riders control

The horse bridle is attached to a bit which is placed in your horses mouth and attached to your reins.

The bridle fits over your horses head and helps you, the rider, exert control over the direction and speed of your horse.

  • The headpiece which goes over the top of the head at the poll, runs just behind the ears. It can be a plain piece of leather or come with comfort padding. Some bridles also shape the headpiece to go around the ears.
  • The cheekpieces of the bridle attach to the headpiece at one end and the bit at the other end. They can be adjusted to suit different face lengths.
  • The noseband runs is fitted around your horses face and is used to keep your horses jaw closed.
  • The browband runs horizontally from just under one ear to just under the other ear and is used to prevent the bridle from slipping back from the poll.
  • The reins attach to the bit and are held by the rider. Most bridles come with reins, however there is a wide variety of reins ranging from plain leather, plaited leather, rubber covered, half rubber covered, etc, which can be fitted based on the riders preference.

Example Horse Bridle Types

Bridles also come in a variety of different colours, the most popular being Black and Havana (Dark Brown).

Other colours include Oak, Australian Nut and Tan to name a few.

Although it makes no difference to your riding which colour bridle you choose nearly everyone chooses to match it as closely as possible to their horses saddle and other leather work they use.

Different saddlery manufacturers colours can vary by shades, sometimes vary slightly; and this can be due to the way that manufacturer dyes the leather or the colour of dye they happen to use.

If you want to ensure all your saddlery matches, you should source all parts from the same manufacturer and from the same range.

Horse Owners who ride solely for pleasure will normally use the traditional snaffle bridle

However, if your horse is hard to control, you may require a different type of bridle, such as a snaffle bridle with a flash noseband or a snaffle bridle with a drop noseband.

These bridles make it difficult for your horse to manipulate the bit and / or to get their tongue over the bit.

If you want to compete in dressage competitions, you can begin training your horse in a snaffle bridle, but competition rules may insist you eventually use a double bridle.

If you ride side-saddle, which is becoming more and more popular, you will need a double bridle.

The Working Bridle in English and Western Riding

A double bridle is a bridle with two bits and not two bridles as some riders suppose.

It has two headpieces and two pairs of reins. The extra headpiece, known as a slip head, is really two straps connected by a buckle with cheek attachments for a bit on each end. The double bridle is a sophisticated riding aid and like any other complicated device has no place in the hands of a novice rider or on the head of a novice horse.

For Western Riding, there are several very different bridle choices.
The traditional Western bridle is fairly similar to a standard English snaffle bridle, except that it does not have a noseband. However, both of the other common Western bridle styles, the bosal and mechanical hackamore bridles, have no browbands and no bits.

Instead of using a bit to control the horse, Western riders control their horses by applying pressure to the noseband.

If you are interested in using a hackamore bridle, keep in mind that the bosal model is used to train horses to use a hackamore, while the mechanical hackamore is the model you will want for your horse.

How to bridle a horse

Sometimes, there are several ways to get something done, and more than one of them would work.

But when it comes to bridling your horse, there is actually one PROPER way to do it.

Free Carson James Insider Exclusive Checklist.

IS YOUR HORSE MENTALLY SOUND?

How to bridle a horse

Your horse’s lack of mental soundness is the key root to most problems. Get the mind right and you’ll have the dream horse who’s not easily distracted, doesn’t spook easily, and is able to hold it together when something unexpected happens. Grab my mental checklist to see if your horse can check off all the boxes.

To begin with, this will be much easier if your horse is already good at lowering his head — we have videos and articles about getting a horse good at that.

The next step would be to work on the mouth.

You can use a soft lead rope for this, and even put some jelly on the lead rope for an extra incentive.

Start by rubbing around the mouth with the lead rope.

If the horse raises his head, just go with him and hang in there.

If he’s been taught to lower his head already, you can get it back down pretty easily.

Put a finger/thumb in the corner of his mouth to encourage his jaw to break loose and the mouth to open.

Then lay the lead rope in the crease of his lips while using finger/thumb again until he opens his mouth.

Lift the soft rope into his mouth in the position where the bit will lie.

Hold it a few seconds and then let it fall out. Repeat this until he seems comfortable with it.

Now it’s time for the bridle. Put the reins over his neck and your left hand on the crownpiece (the top of the bridle).

Don’t try to put the bit in his mouth, but lift the bridle up until the crownpiece is near his ears, his nose is through the bridle opening, and the bit is BEHIND his jaw (under his chin).

You can use your right hand to keep the bridle open while you’re doing this.

Then drape your right arm over his poll between his ears and take the crownpiece in your right hand, leaving your left hand free.

Your right hand has become your ‘working’ hand.

Your left hand is the ‘guide’ hand.

Use your left hand to spread the bit and your pinky finger to open the curb strap.

Lower the bridle, use your thumb to encourage his mouth to open, and GENTLY pull the bit into his mouth BY raising your right (working) hand so that the bit simply floats into his mouth.

NEVER force the bit into his mouth or let it bang on his teeth.

Finish by pulling the crown piece over his ears and buckling the throatlatch.

When you unbridle, you can teach the horse to be patient by moving the crownpiece back and forth some before you actually lift it off his ears.

Keep the entire weight of the bit suspended by your holding the crownpiece.

Never let the bit ‘fall’ out of his mouth.

Allow it to float out of his mouth by lowering your right hand that is holding the crownpiece.

A horse that is bridled properly will never have a reason to fight against it.

Carson James’ background is in Vaquero Horsemanship. For the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. He was often in situations where he either had to figure out how to help the horse understand, or it could easily turn into a life or death situation. Carson now travels the country putting on training clinics teaching people the fundamentals of Horsemanship. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they’re easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.

Learn how to bridle a horse easily and politely by doing the following;

How to bridle a horse

Click the image above to go back to the beginner’s page

How to bridle a horse

First you will start by unfastening the halter from the left side. Sometimes you may leave it on under the bridle for a trail ride or something similar.

  • Slip the nose piece of the halter off and then tie the it around his neck.
  • Notice that I have the bridle and reins hooked over my left arm

How to bridle a horse

  • Here you can see I am bringing my horses nose down and towards me and I have the bridle ready and in the proper position.It is facing outward so it will go on the correct way.

How to bridle a horse

  • Now put the reins over his neck to keep them off the ground. Another option is to leave them draped over your arm.
  • You can see that I also have the halter rope draped over my arm. I don’t keep my horse tied while saddling or bridling in case he needs to move his feet.
  • If your horse is good about being bridled, you may not need to leave the halter on his neck, but it gives you a way to direct his movement if needed without pulling on the bridle.

How to bridle a horse

  • See how the horse’s head is relaxed and low? If your horse is having issues with the bridle at this point you’ll need to slow down and get him relaxed using approach and retreat until he is no longer bothered and can keep his head low.

How to bridle a horse

  • Now switch over from having it draped over your left arm like shown, to holding it by the crown piece (top) in your right hand.
  • If you have an english bridle, make sure the cavesson or nose band is unbuckled. This will make it much easier.

The following two steps are very important when learning how to bridle a horse.

How to bridle a horse

  • Your left hand will be at the bottom to guide the bit. If it is a western bridle, you’ll need to separate out the curb chain from the bit.
  • Put your left index fingers at the front of his mouth and feel for area between his top and bottom teeth. This will keep you from banging his teeth with the bit.

Your right hand should be placed at the poll and holding the tack between his ears.

How to bridle a horse

  • Use your left hand to guide the bit into his mouth. You’ll put your thumb in his mouth like shownwhere there are no teeth to ask him to open his mouth.
  • As you do this and he opens, lift up with your right hand.
  • Try and make the bit a pleasant experience.

Hint: It is important to pull up with the right hand vs. pushing the bit up with the left. This keeps things a bit taut. If you have any jointed bit and you push it in, it will just collapse inside his mouth. If it isn’t jointed it will just fall out if you haven’t taken the slack out of the top of the bridle.

  • At this point your bridle is half on and you’ve been polite by allowing him to be relaxed and gently guiding the bit into his mouth.

Now you are ready to learn the finishing steps of how to bridle a horse; Putting the crown piece over the ears, and adjusting and fastening.

Press the button below to move on and finish learning how to bridle a horse.

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How to bridle a horse

In order to ride your horse, you will have to bridle them. The bridle is a piece of equipment that is used to direct a horse and consists of the bit and reins.

How To Bridle a Horse

To put a bridle on your horse, you need to start with your horse-halter on and the horse to be safely tied. You can use cross-ties or have them tied with a lead rope with a quick-release knot. Some will bridle their horse when they are untied but if there are a lot of people around it could be a problem. You do not want your horse to get loose among other people and horses as this could cause an accident.

Once you have your horse safely tied, brush away any girt or dirt on the horse’s face.

1. Secure Your Horse

The first thing you do is undo the halter and slide the noseband down over the nose. Net you slip the crown back up over their ears. This will help to secure your horse briefly why you are putting the bridle on. Stand beside the horse’s neck, facing forward. The bridle should be in your left hand. Slip the reins up over the neck of your horse. Now you have both the halter and reins around the neck in case they try to getaway.

2. Slide The Bit In The Horse’s Mouth

Using your right hand, hold the bridle up over the horse’s nose; using your left fingers, move the bit against their lips. Insert your thumb into the space between the front and back teeth. This is called the bars of the mouth. If the horse is resistant to taking the bit, wiggle your thumb. This may encourage him to open their mouth wider. When the horse’s mouth is open wide enough, slide the bit in, lifting the bridle higher with your left hand.

This is done so the horse cannot spit the bit back out. When you put the bit in, make sure that you are careful and do not knock it on the horse’s teeth. With practice, you will be able to do it in one smooth motion.

How to bridle a horse

3. Put The Crown Over The Left Ear, Then The Right Ear

Grasp the crown of the bridle with your left hand. Using your right hand, gently bend the right ear of the horse forward to slip it under the crown. Switch the grasp of the crown to your right hand, using your left hand to gently slip the horse’s left eat under the crown.

Make sure that you do not pull the bridle too high because this will pull on the horse’s mouth. You also do not want to bend the ears uncomfortably.

4. Fasten All The Snaps Or Buckles

The first one to do is the throat latch. At the throat latch, the endurance bridle has a snap. Most of the traditional leather bridles will have buckles. Do not do the throat latch too tight because you want to make sure that the horse can flex their neck properly. You should leave about four inches of slack. Between the horse’s jaw and the strap, you should be able to slip in the width of your hand.

Unless you are using a special noseband, like a flash, figure-eight, or grakle noseband, you should leave about two fingers width between the lower jaw and the strap when you do up the cavesson or noseband. If you are using a curb bit, you will need to do up the curb strap or chain. Between the jaw and the chain, there should be a width of two fingers.

If it is left too tight or too loose, it can make the action of the chain or bit more severe. It could rotate up and hurt the top of the horse’s mouth if the bit has a port. Slip the halter off and tidy the forelock and mane. You are now ready for your ride.

How to bridle a horse

Removing The Bridle

When you are done with your ride and ready to remove the bridle, slip the halter back over their ears as you did when bridling the horse. Make sure that the halter is attached to a lead rope or cross tie so you have some control over the horse. Undo the throat latch, curb chain, and noseband. Using your left hand, reach under the neck of the horse and slide the crown over the horse’s ears.

Gently lower the bit out of the horse’s mouth, again being careful not to knock their teeth. Using your right hand, slip the halter on properly. To completely remove the bridle, take the reins up over the neck of the horse completely.

Making Sure The Bit Is In The Right Position

Some say that the correct bit position can be determined by using the wrinkle method. This means that you have to look at the horse’s mouth and count the number of wrinkles it has in the corner of the mouth to where the bit meets the mouth. The more wrinkles the horse’s mouth has, the more constant pressure it will experience from the bit. The horse will also feel it more when you pull back on the reins. You do not want too many wrinkles in the mouth or the bit will become unbearably painful.

How many constitutes an appropriate amount of wrinkles varies from one to two. Some horsemen say that if the horse has no wrinkles in the corner of the mouth, it could mean that the bit is sitting too low in the mouth. If the bit is too loose in the horse’s mouth, there is a risk of it hitting the horse’s teeth as you ride.

Conclusion

  • After removing the bridle, you should clean it before you put it away.
  • The bridle needs to be put on the horse before you can saddle the horse.
  • If you have never bridled a horse before, have someone experienced show you how and then watch you make sure that you are doing it correctly.

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Hi! I’m Anna and I´m a certified cynologist (KAU, ACW). Handler, blue cross volunteer, owner of Chinese crested kennel “Salvador Dali” and breedless friend called Fenya. “I can’t imagine my life without dogs and I totally support the idea #AdoptDontShop”.

How to bridle a horse

Bridle fitting isn’t something we often think too hard about. Often our criteria for bridles is, “does it go on the horse’s head?” and “is the bit too high or low?” Don’t be ashamed if you’ve never put any more thought into the fit of your horse’s bridle, it’s not something we really talk about like saddle fit or bitting. Sometimes we apply weird rules that we don’t quite understand, like the “two wrinkle rule” or “four fingers under the throat latch.” Let’s take a look at how your bridle should fit and we’ll talk a little about why without launching into a full blown lecture on equine anatomy and physiology.

Let’s start with the basics, when selecting a bridle you are usually given the option of a few sizes; Pony, Cob, Full, Warmblood. There is no hard and fast industry standard for what size each piece of a bridle will be in each of these sizes, so you will need to make a judgement call on which size might fit your horse best. For instance, a 16hh thoroughbred will probably wear a full. A 17.2hh Irish Sport Horse with a roman nose might fit better in a warmblood, a 15.1hh quarter horse cross might wear a cob, and a little welsh pony is probably going to wear pony size.

Once you have selected the bridle and size you think will fit, you should put it on your horse without a bit. Fit the bit last so you don’t have to worry about too many fitting factors at one time or the horse’s comfort. First let’s look at the splits. The splits are part of the crown of the bridle, and when fitted properly, sit just below the browband. The browband in turn should fit about ½” (or 1 finger width) below the base of the ear. If the splits do not have clearance below the browband, the throatlatch will not hang correctly nor sit flush against the horse’s face.

Speaking of browbands, the brow sits on a group of nerves and vessels, so it is important that it fits correctly. A browband which is too large can allow the bridle to slip out of place, a browband which is too small will pinch and pull the crownpiece into the base of the ears. A browband should fit so that two fingers (stacked) fit comfortably under the front of the browband.

As we already mentioned, the throatlatch should be unimpeded by the browband, allowing it to hang vertically from the split. The throatlatch helps to stabilize the bridle by preventing it from tipping side to side. This is where “four fingers under the throatlatch” comes in. You should be able to fit four fingers (stacked) between the throatlatch and the throat to ensure that the horse has enough room to flex, but not so much that the bridle is loose.

How to bridle a horseBefore we go much further there is one biology term you should learn as we’ll be referencing it a lot; this is the Zygomatic Ridge. In humans we often refer to this as the cheek bones. The zygomatic ridge protrudes from the horse’s face, and gives us an excellent landmark in terms of fitting many parts of the bridle.

Next let’s look at nosebands. We’ll start by looking at a plain noseband, also known as a plain cavesson, as many other types of nosebands are a variation on this theme. The noseband should be fit two fingers below the Zygomatic ridge. Fitting the noseband higher will put pressure directly on a nerve bundle in the horse’s face which can cause the horse discomfort. When tightening the noseband you should be able to fit two fingers (stacked) under the front of the noseband.

The cheek pieces attach to the crown and support the bit in the mouth. Now you might be thinking, “oh now it’s time for the ‘two wrinkle rule’” and you would be right; we tighten or loosen the cheek pieces to raise or lower the bit in the horse’s mouth and usually we know we’ve hit the mark when we see two wrinkles in the corner of the horse’s mouth. However, I would argue that the “two wrinkle rule” is more of a guideline than a rule. Depending on the conformation of the individual horse’s mouth, the two wrinkle rule could allow the bit to be hanging too low or too high. Ideally, the bit should sit just in front of the horse’s first molars. This placement ensures that the bit hits the correct area of the tongue – you might notice that when a bit is too low in the horse’s mouth they often play with it too much in an attempt to spit it out.

Finally let’s look at reins. The length of the reins will depend on the size of the horse, the size of the rider, and the rider’s personal preference. As a guideline, the reins should be long enough so that the horse is able to stretch on a loose rein, but also short enough that the rider’s foot could not get caught in the bite when contact is taken up. Remember when looking at reins, a rein which is too long can be shortened by a professional, a rein which is too short cannot be lengthened.

Remember when fitting all parts of the bridles which can be adjusted via a buckle that for a proper fit the strap should buckle on the middle hole. A strap that is fit on the very first or very last hole leaves little room for adjustment should the horse grow or change shape over time. This is especially important for cheek pieces, the rings of the bit your using now may not fit the same as the rings of the bit you use in the future.

One final note to remember when fitting your bridle – look at where the cheek straps and overhead straps lie in relation to the zygomatic ridge. These straps should lie behind the zygomatic ridge, this is to prevent the straps from getting too near the horse’s eyes and also to prevent irritation from rubbing along that ridge.

Wait, I use a different noseband!

Let’s take a quick look at other popular types of nosebands

Flash Nosband – A flash noseband or flash cavesson looks very similar to a plain cavesson, with the addition of a smaller strap which buckles below the bit and helps to keep the horse’s mouth closed. This type of noseband should also fit two fingers below the How to bridle a horsezygomatic ridge, but with a one finger tightness. The flash strap should have a two finger tightness when fastened.

Figure 8 or Grackle – A Figure 8 or Grackle noseband crosses in front of the nose and fastens in two places behind the jaw. The center pad where the straps cross should fit high on the nose. The top straps will cross over the zygomatic ridge before buckling behind the jaw, the lower straps will buckle below the bit, behind the chin. Each strap should have a ½” or one finger tightness between the strap and the face.

Drop Noseband – A drop noseband fits low on the horse’s nose and also aids in keeping the horse’s mouth shut. The drop should fit below the bit but above the end of the nasal bone – the ends of the nasal bone are fragile, so if you’re uncertain regarding the fit you may want to seek assistance or try a different cavesson. When tightened, you should be able to fit one finger between the noseband and the face.

How to bridle a horse

Bridle fitting isn’t something we often think too hard about. Often our criteria for bridles is, “does it go on the horse’s head?” and “is the bit too high or low?” Don’t be ashamed if you’ve never put any more thought into the fit of your horse’s bridle, it’s not something we really talk about like saddle fit or bitting. Sometimes we apply weird rules that we don’t quite understand, like the “two wrinkle rule” or “four fingers under the throat latch.” Let’s take a look at how your bridle should fit and we’ll talk a little about why without launching into a full blown lecture on equine anatomy and physiology.

Let’s start with the basics, when selecting a bridle you are usually given the option of a few sizes; Pony, Cob, Full, Warmblood. There is no hard and fast industry standard for what size each piece of a bridle will be in each of these sizes, so you will need to make a judgement call on which size might fit your horse best. For instance, a 16hh thoroughbred will probably wear a full. A 17.2hh Irish Sport Horse with a roman nose might fit better in a warmblood, a 15.1hh quarter horse cross might wear a cob, and a little welsh pony is probably going to wear pony size.

Once you have selected the bridle and size you think will fit, you should put it on your horse without a bit. Fit the bit last so you don’t have to worry about too many fitting factors at one time or the horse’s comfort. First let’s look at the splits. The splits are part of the crown of the bridle, and when fitted properly, sit just below the browband. The browband in turn should fit about ½” (or 1 finger width) below the base of the ear. If the splits do not have clearance below the browband, the throatlatch will not hang correctly nor sit flush against the horse’s face.

Speaking of browbands, the brow sits on a group of nerves and vessels, so it is important that it fits correctly. A browband which is too large can allow the bridle to slip out of place, a browband which is too small will pinch and pull the crownpiece into the base of the ears. A browband should fit so that two fingers (stacked) fit comfortably under the front of the browband.

As we already mentioned, the throatlatch should be unimpeded by the browband, allowing it to hang vertically from the split. The throatlatch helps to stabilize the bridle by preventing it from tipping side to side. This is where “four fingers under the throatlatch” comes in. You should be able to fit four fingers (stacked) between the throatlatch and the throat to ensure that the horse has enough room to flex, but not so much that the bridle is loose.

How to bridle a horseBefore we go much further there is one biology term you should learn as we’ll be referencing it a lot; this is the Zygomatic Ridge. In humans we often refer to this as the cheek bones. The zygomatic ridge protrudes from the horse’s face, and gives us an excellent landmark in terms of fitting many parts of the bridle.

Next let’s look at nosebands. We’ll start by looking at a plain noseband, also known as a plain cavesson, as many other types of nosebands are a variation on this theme. The noseband should be fit two fingers below the Zygomatic ridge. Fitting the noseband higher will put pressure directly on a nerve bundle in the horse’s face which can cause the horse discomfort. When tightening the noseband you should be able to fit two fingers (stacked) under the front of the noseband.

The cheek pieces attach to the crown and support the bit in the mouth. Now you might be thinking, “oh now it’s time for the ‘two wrinkle rule’” and you would be right; we tighten or loosen the cheek pieces to raise or lower the bit in the horse’s mouth and usually we know we’ve hit the mark when we see two wrinkles in the corner of the horse’s mouth. However, I would argue that the “two wrinkle rule” is more of a guideline than a rule. Depending on the conformation of the individual horse’s mouth, the two wrinkle rule could allow the bit to be hanging too low or too high. Ideally, the bit should sit just in front of the horse’s first molars. This placement ensures that the bit hits the correct area of the tongue – you might notice that when a bit is too low in the horse’s mouth they often play with it too much in an attempt to spit it out.

Finally let’s look at reins. The length of the reins will depend on the size of the horse, the size of the rider, and the rider’s personal preference. As a guideline, the reins should be long enough so that the horse is able to stretch on a loose rein, but also short enough that the rider’s foot could not get caught in the bite when contact is taken up. Remember when looking at reins, a rein which is too long can be shortened by a professional, a rein which is too short cannot be lengthened.

Remember when fitting all parts of the bridles which can be adjusted via a buckle that for a proper fit the strap should buckle on the middle hole. A strap that is fit on the very first or very last hole leaves little room for adjustment should the horse grow or change shape over time. This is especially important for cheek pieces, the rings of the bit your using now may not fit the same as the rings of the bit you use in the future.

One final note to remember when fitting your bridle – look at where the cheek straps and overhead straps lie in relation to the zygomatic ridge. These straps should lie behind the zygomatic ridge, this is to prevent the straps from getting too near the horse’s eyes and also to prevent irritation from rubbing along that ridge.

Wait, I use a different noseband!

Let’s take a quick look at other popular types of nosebands

Flash Nosband – A flash noseband or flash cavesson looks very similar to a plain cavesson, with the addition of a smaller strap which buckles below the bit and helps to keep the horse’s mouth closed. This type of noseband should also fit two fingers below the How to bridle a horsezygomatic ridge, but with a one finger tightness. The flash strap should have a two finger tightness when fastened.

Figure 8 or Grackle – A Figure 8 or Grackle noseband crosses in front of the nose and fastens in two places behind the jaw. The center pad where the straps cross should fit high on the nose. The top straps will cross over the zygomatic ridge before buckling behind the jaw, the lower straps will buckle below the bit, behind the chin. Each strap should have a ½” or one finger tightness between the strap and the face.

Drop Noseband – A drop noseband fits low on the horse’s nose and also aids in keeping the horse’s mouth shut. The drop should fit below the bit but above the end of the nasal bone – the ends of the nasal bone are fragile, so if you’re uncertain regarding the fit you may want to seek assistance or try a different cavesson. When tightened, you should be able to fit one finger between the noseband and the face.