Written by Jay McGarry on June 18, 2012 at 7:09 am
One of our customers suggested that I write about bridles. We have certainly had a lot of discussion lately on different bridles and their unique features. There are so many available in all sorts of configurations. You have probably heard the terms integrated, padded headstalls, anatomically designed, dropped, cranks and so on. How do you decide which one will work best for your horse or pony?
The very first thing to do is find out what is appropriate for your discipline. Each discipline has its own requirements or uniform if you will, with some flexibility, except for Hunters. Hunters prefer the simple noseband without a flash, often with decorative or fancy stitching, in brown, usually with laced reins. Hunter tack is often based on their traditional look. The Hunter horse is featured without any interference and therefore, should not be hindered or encumbered with a flash. The browband and the noseband can have a round or square ridge, (round raised or square raised), and can be of varying widths. (More about that later). The general rule of thumb is that the noseband/cavesson is about one to two fingers below the cheekbones.The cheek pieces and the rein ends usually attach to the bit with hook end studs but some prefer buckles. The hardware is stainless steel.
Event riders have more flexibility in their choice of jump bridles and more often opt for functionality over a traditional look. Their jump bridles can be in brown or black, with or without a flash. They may add a decorative but simple brownband such a one with a clincher. They can also be a figure eight, a Micklem and so on. Most eventers prefer buckle ends so that there is no chance of the reins or cheek pieces coming undone during the rigors of cross country. Many choose the figure eight and now the Micklem to allow for maximum air intake. Both the Micklem and figure eight are designed so that the top leather pieces are above the cheekbones.
Figure 8 Micklem
Jumpers have the same flexibility as event riders so I won’t revisit that, but dressage is another story. The bridle requirements vary depending on whether one is an upper level dressage rider or not. The upper levels must ride with a double bridle, two bits and two reins. The lower levels ride with a single bridle. However, the styles can vary greatly. There are certain bit restrictions in showing but the bridle styles may vary. They can be brown or black. They aren’t required to have a flash, although many riders prefer them. They can have a crank noseband, dropped noseband, an integrated crown, reins with markers, rubber, leather plain and so on. The leather can have stitching, contrasting/complimentary colors, crystal browbands, patent leather and wide or narrow nosebands.
Endurance and trail riders often use synthetic, convertible bridles. By convertible, I mean that they have both halter and bridle capabilities. They easily clip together and therefore, are very handy for the care and riding of the horse during those many miles. The ease of synthetic allows
the bridle to be hosed off easily when wet, muddy or sweaty. They also come in a wide variety of fun colors such as purple, blue, red, etc. The reins can be thick, rope style, (comfortable for the many miles necessary to hold them), with clips to easily attach to the bit.
How does one choose which bridle to use in one’s discipline. Most people want to match their saddle. Then, you need to determine size, whether horse, oversize, cob or pony. Next you choose the type such as figure eight, dropped, flash, removable flash or no flash that you feel will most suit your horse.
Generally speaking, if your horse has a delicate, refined head, the more attractive choice might be a bridle with a narrower noseband and a horse with a broader head might be complemented with a more substantial look. The length of the head should also be considered when choosing which style is most aesthetically pleasing.
There are so many different features and options available that I will briefly explain them. One of the newer innovations is the integrated crown. Most bridles are made so that headstall runs under the crown. When integrated, it means that it is one piece and designed to alleviate pressure on the crown. Similar to that is the headstall that runs over the crown piece through slots in the crown piece. Some crown pieces are designed with extra padding and shaped to curve away from the ears, again to alleviate any undue pressure.
The figure eight and the Micklem are quite different from the standard cavesson and flash. Both avoid pressure on certain facial bones and the Micklem in particular is designed so that sensitive facial nerves are not bothered.
The main types of common nosebands are the standard with no flash, flash and dropped. Some nosebands come with removable flash straps. The dropped noseband sits in the chin groove below the bit. There are several reasons riders prefer to use or not to use any one of these. For horses that play with the bit, like to stick their tongue over the bit, cross their jaws or prefer the bit steadied in their mouth, one of these choices may be more suitable than another. The crank noseband loops through a small dee or square under the chin and then attaches on the opposite side under the chin allowing for more adjustments. The crank is highly padded which makes it popular but it should never be used to “crank” mouth closed so tightly that it causes tension.
In all cases, the bridles should fit slightly below the cheekbone in standard styles, and slightly above in the figure eight and Micklem, and in the chin groove, just below the bit for a dropped noseband. They should never be cranked too tightly around the jaw. For those horses that fall between sizes, different pieces and parts are sometimes sold separately to get the proper fit. There is a lot of literature and many varied opinions on the benefits of any one of these choices. In my opinion, you should choose what is appropriate for what you do and what compliments your horse, always taking your horse’s particular needs, comfort and well being.
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