Just like your saddle, the fit of your bridle is so vital for your horse’s comfort. Research has found that the pressure bridles exert on certain areas of the horse’s head can lead to issues with performance, acceptance of a contact and overall way of going – all of which are exacerbated by overly tightened, too big or too small bridles. While we are more than happy to check your bridle when we visit, here are a few pointers to help you check fit at home:
Whether you choose a subtle plain design or a glitzy, sparkling bling browband, they should all sit in the same place: in the groove below the horse’s ears. The band should lie flat against the head, neither sagging to leave a gap at the front (too big) or pulling the headpiece into the ears (too small).
If you find any rub marks on or around your horse’s ears, you may want to consider using a differently shaped headpiece. While more traditional designs usually have a straighter headpiece, these may not suit every build of horse or pony, and there are now plenty of curved headpiece designs available for those who need extra relief around the ears.
The throat lash should be fastened so that you can fit a fist (or four fingers sideways) between the leather and the horse’s jaw. While some believe the throat lash is for stopping the bridle coming off over the head, it is actually included purely for aesthetic reasons! If it is overly tightened it can interfere with the horse’s breathing, ability to flex at the poll and ability to swallow – so do check it every time you tack up.
The noseband should sit 1 – 2 cm below the cheek bones (unless it is a grackle). If you are using a plain cavesson noseband, or one with a flash, you should be able to slide two fingers underneath it, while the buckle should be fastened at the back of the jaw, between the jaw bones.
If using a crank noseband, you must make sure it isn’t over tightened, as this can be incredibly uncomfortable and restrict movement of the jaw, which in turn restricts your horse’s ability to swallow. The recommended gap between the noseband and the nose is 1 – 2 fingers, and also make sure that the padded section of the chin strap stays central.
Drop nosebands should sit a little lower than cavessons, but you must make sure the airways aren’t restricted. A drop noseband should rest on the facial bones, while the chinstrap should fit under the bit and into the chin groove – do check that neither the buckles or rings interfere with the bit or lips.
When using a grackle, you must make sure you fit it very carefully. It should be snug, allowing for a 1 – 2 finger clearance all the way round – if it is too loose, the noseband will fail to work, while too tight and it will cause unnecessary pressure that is very uncomfortable for the horse. The cross over section needs to sit centrally on the nose, with the top straps sitting just below the check bones and the lower strap sitting in the chin groove.
With the bridle sitting in the right position and fitted correctly, the bit should sit in the corners of the mouth (giving slight clearance out of either side of the mouth to ensure the sides don’t pinch) and produce one or two creases – this will vary between horses.
If you are new to using a double bridle, it is best to get expert guidance when fitting it for the first time – this way you can make sure your horse is comfortable while you get to grips with using the bridle.
The headpiece needs to sit comfortably behind the poll, with the brow band sitting about 2 fingers below the ears to avoid pinching. For the noseband, it needs to sit halfway between the cheekbones and corners of the mouth. Like we mentioned before, the noseband shouldn’t be too tight – you should be able to fit 2 fingers beneath it.
Finding the best combination of bits can be a trial and error process, but whichever you choose, position is key. The snaffle bit should sit ¼ to ½ inch above the curb bit, comfortably in the toothless gap between the incisors and molars. The curb chain should sit behind the chin groove and make sure it lies flat and is not twisted. When the contact is taken up, the curb chain should be adjusted so that the shanks of the curb bit come back to a 45 degree angle and then return when the contact is released.
When correctly fitted, all the side buckles on a bridle should roughly be in line with the horse’s eye. Also, the buckles ought to be fastened in the middle of the adjustment holes rather than at the very bottom or top – in these scenarios you may need to use a smaller or larger bridle size. If your bridle allows for adjustments to be made on both sides of the head, try and make sure the sides are level, rather than high on one side and low on the other.
If you have any doubts as to which bridle style or size would best suit your horse, do get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to help.