Bridle: Everything You Need To Know As A Rider

Horses are magnificent creatures. They are graceful, powerful, loyal and spirited animals that have been part of human society for a long time. Horses are useful in a lot of ways. They are used on farmlands and are a big part of equestrian festivals and competitions.

Riding a horse is one of the most exciting feelings ever but it takes quite a bit of work to get a horse there. When a horse is born, it has to be trained before it can be ridden. The process of training a horse is long and involves a lot of processes. One of these processes is training it to get bridled. The bridle is a piece of equipment used to control the horse and is very important when riding.

What Is A Bridle?

The bridle is a piece of equipment that is worn over the head of a horse to control it. It is a kind of headgear that has many parts. The bridle helps the rider turn the head of the horse, stop it and make it go.

The bridle is made up of three parts: the bit, headstall and the reins.

The Bit

The bit is a horizontal piece of metal placed in the mouth of a horse. The bit allows the rider to control the movement of the horse by placing pressure on different parts of the horse’s mouth. This pressure that is applied is useful in controlling the horse’s speed and direction.

There are different types of bits. The type of bit a rider uses is based on some factors. This includes the rider’s style of riding, the horse’s level of training, the rider’s skill and the purpose of the horse.

To further explain this, consider stock seat riding. This is a style of riding that originated in the United States. It is a common style for riders working with livestock while riding a horse. Stock seat horses are usually ridden using curved bits. Riders usually place one hand on the reins and have minimal reign contact on the horse’s mouth. But, hunt seat horses are usually ridden with ring snaffles. The rider maintains constant reign contact with the mouth of the horse.

The type of bit used on a horse can also be determined by the skill of the rider and the experience of the horse. A horse that has not been trained properly could react adversely to any kind of pressure from bits so they need to be properly trained to get used to it. Inexperienced riders could be heavy-handed with their use of the bit. A golden rule that applies in the use of bit is less is more.

What Are The Types Of Bits?

Snaffle Bits

Snaffles are a very popular type of bit. They are commonly used in both western and English styles of riding. A bit is only called a snaffle if it has rings on either side of the mouthpiece instead of shanks. The snaffle bit could be joined in the middle or not, but most of them are. A snaffle bit does its work by applying pressure on a horse’s bars. The bar is a space between the horse’s front and back teeth where the bit sits. The bit also acts on the corners of the horse’s mouth and the tongue.

Snaffle bits are known as non-leverage bits. That is, the pressure is felt by the horse indirectly. When the reins are drawn back, the pressure is felt on the horse’s lips and at the sides of its mouth. Snaffle bits are used with only one set of reins.

Curb Bits

Curb bits are types of bits that usually come with long shanks which are found on either side of the mouthpiece. They connect to the cheekpiece of the horse and the reins. A shank is a piece of the bit that extends from the ends of the bit’s main body.

A curb bit usually comes with a curb chain or strap. It fits under the chin of the horse. The purpose of the shank is to add a bit more leverage on the mouthpiece. The longer the shank, the more severe the bit is considered to be. But there is a way to adjust the severity, this is done by adjusting the curb strap.

English bridles have 2 reins attached to the curb bit. For Western riding, one set of reins attached to the bottom of the shank is used.

The Headstall

A headstall is often made of leather and goes from behind the ears, down the side of the horse’s face to the bit. The headstall is made to hold the bit, nosepiece or bosal. When a headstall is used in combination with a bit, bosal, or nosepiece, the result is known as a bridle. The headstall has several parts, they are:


The crown piece is that part of the headstall that goes over the top of the horse’s head and passes behind its ears. The Crownpiece further extends down the sides of the horse’s head and connects with the cheekpieces.

The Browband

The browband is the part of the headstall that goes in front of the ears of the horse and crosses the brow of the horse. The purpose is mainly to keep the headstall in place and prevent it from sliding down the neck of the horse. The browband can be replaced with an earpiece in some headstalls. The earpiece performs the same function as the browband. This prevents the whole contraption from sliding down the neck.


The throatlatch is kind of optional when it comes to headstalls. Some have it and some don’t. The throatlatch goes under the head of the horse behind the throat.


The cheek piece buckles with the crown piece at the side of the horse’s head. They usually have some type of fastener at the bottom. The fastener is used to attach a bit, nose piece or bosal.

The headstall is one part of a horse’s accouterments that can be decorated and blinged up. It is not uncommon to see a horse’s headstall colored and decorated with shiny bits and pieces.

The Reins

The reins are the part of the bridle that attaches to the bit. It helps you to control the horse while riding it. As a rider, it is important for you to understand what types of rein to use as it usually determines your riding style. Reins can be made of leather or rubber. Leather reins are very popular and have a variety of uses. You might want to choose a rein type that favors your riding style. Here are the types of reins available:

English Reins

English reins usually have a standard design. A lot of English bridles come with 2 reins that attach to the bridle on both sides and then buckle together. Some English reins may have some designs including plaits or laces. These are to make sure they don’t slip from your hands when handling them.

Split Reins

This type of rein is common in Western horsemanship competitions. They are made of two separate straps that extend from either side of the horse’s head straight from the bit. The straps can be tied to a knot at the ends if the rider chooses.

Closed Reins

These are crafted from a single piece of material. This could be leather, polyester, rope or nylon. It attaches to the bit on either end of the horse’s head. It is then looped around the neck of the horse. Closed reins are usually used in rodeo events and by riders who work cattle. They are also usually shorter than split reins.


This is a special type of rein. It is only used with a bosal hackamore bridle. It is usually made of rope or horsehair. The Mecate rein is connected to the bottom of the bosal. It is then wrapped around the horse’s neck and attached again using a special knot.

Types Of Bridles

The Snaffle Bridle

This is the most common and uncomplicated type of bridle in use in the world today. This type of bridle consists of a headpiece, one single cheek piece on either side, a throatlatch, browband, bit, reins and finally a noseband. It is usually made of leather.

Do not pay too much attention to the name. This kind of bridle can be used with several types of bits, including but not limited to snaffle bits. This type of bridle is generally considered to be a gentle one. It might not be too suitable for horses that are sensitive. This is because it does not really take into consideration some pressure points on the horse’s face.

The snaffle bridle is used quite widely across all levels in English competitions. It is also a great bridle for pleasure riding. The snaffle bridle is not too specialized and can be used on almost any horse.

Double or Full Bridle

The double bridle is a bridle for professionals. Using this type of bridle requires a great level of skill and is not suitable for untrained riders. This is important as the rider could end up damaging the mouth of the horse if they don’t know what they are doing.

This bridle is similar in construction to the snaffle bridle. The only difference being that it is built to accommodate a second set of cheek pieces. These are usually merged into a single piece known as a slip head. This is necessary to accommodate a second bit.

Here is where it gets a little bit complicated. This is the only type of bridle that can be used with two bits. The two bits used with this bridle are of two types. The bridoon is a small and thin snaffle and the curb, is a harsher bit with shanks.

Because of the two bits used in this bridle, it is also necessary to use two sets of reins, one for each bit. This kind of bridle can only be used with a cavesson or crank noseband.

The double bridle with the two bits is well suited for very fine movements of the horse. The two bits allow a professional rider to give fine instructions to their horse. This produces amazing results. That is why this kind of bit is only allowed at the top levels of dressage.

The double bridle is usually difficult to find and very expensive.

Western Bridle

The Western bridle is like the snaffle bridle in many ways. It also consists of a headstall, a bit and a single rein set. Western bridles usually have long reins and are split. This bridle was made to be very comfortable for horses that were being worked over long distances.

The Western bridle, as can be guessed, is used in all Western disciplines. This includes reining and rodeo. They are popular because of their ease of use. You can toss a Western bridle over the head of a horse and start riding. One major downside of this bridle is that the split reins can be a bit much for new riders to handle. It is not a very good feeling dropping the reins while riding a horse. The Western bridle is generally cheap but there are some pretty expensive models too.

Bitless Bridle or Hackamore

The bitless bridle can be found in a variety of styles. Most of the other types of bridles, except the double bridle, can be converted into a bitless bridle. The only thing that needs to be done is to attach a different noseband.

A bitless bridle, as the name implies, does not use a bit. Instead, it controls the horse by exerting pressure on other parts of the horse’s head other than the mouth. This includes the face, nose, and chin.

Contrary to popular opinion, the bitless bridle is not necessarily a kinder option. It depends on what the horse likes and also on how gentle or harsh the rider is. Bitless bridles are useful for horses with dental issues.

Final Thoughts

The bridle is a simple yet complicated piece of equipment that is very important in riding a horse. The type of bridle that is selected for a horse depends on the level of training of both the rider and the horse. The preference of the horse is also something to consider. Some horses have a fussy mouth, so a bitless bridle would be the logical option for them. Some also get uncomfortable when a bitless bridle is used. Either bitless or not, the choice of bridle for a horse and rider should be left to professionals.

Taking care of a horse or training a novice to ride a horse can be challenging. It requires a lot of dedication and could be stressful if not handled properly. One of the first lessons is bridling a horse, and doing it correctly. This is why a platform like Equine Planners comes in handy. The Equine Performance Planning App helps both trainers and students to manage all their activities. These include managing lessons, user payments, and even barn management. It is an all-inclusive platform that keeps everything organized. It is available on mobile and desktop and is very easy to use.

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Table Of Contents

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Chapter 1 – Bridle: Everything You Need To Know As A Rider

Chapter 2 – What Is A Bridle?

Chapter 3 – The Bit

Chapter 4 – The Headstall

Chapter 5 – The Reins

Chapter 6 – Types Of Bridles

Chapter 7 – Final Thoughts



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