Horse Tack: Bridles- Purpose, Costs, and Best Types


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I’m always happy to help readers understand and find the best gear for horses. I had one recently message me about horse bridles which gave me the idea to write this comprehensive article on the topic.

A bridle is an essential piece of riding tack used to communicate with and control your horse. A bridle consists of three major parts, the headgear, reins, and bit. Each component must fit your horse correctly to be comfortable and effective.

The type of bridle you use is an integral part of horse riding, so it’s best to know something about them. This article examines different types and styles of bridles for horses in both Western and English disciplines.

Some things to consider when choosing a bridle are how much control you need over the horse, your riding discipline, what type of rider you are (beginner vs expert), your budget, and your personal style preferences.

Picture of a woman putting a bridle on her horse.

What is a Bridle?

The word ‘bridle’ comes from the Old English Word – ‘bridel,’ which means ‘to rein, curb, or restrain.’ That is precisely what a bridle does; it reins in and restrains the horse so that the rider can have better control over it.

A bridle is essential for any equestrian. Riders use a bridle to communicate with their horses through reins and bits that enable them to control their steeds’ mouths to direct their movement.

Bridles come in various styles for different equestrian disciplines, and you can use some across multiple riding styles. You can determine what bridle you need based on the needs of your horse.

You can also choose between English and Western bridles. (I will be recommending which one to buy in each category later in this guide.)

Size

The best bridles for horses are adjustable and fit most standard-sized animals. For ponies or larger breeds of horses, you may want to invest in a specialized bridle made by the manufacturers specifically for those types of animals.

Part of a horse bridle

  • Headstall – This is the part of the bridle that goes over the horse’s ears and connects to the bit.
  • Reins – These are the leather straps attached to the bit which the rider holds in their hands.
  • Bit – This is the piece of metal that goes inside the horse’s mouth. You buy this separately which give you the option of choosing the type of bit to fit your horse.
  • Buckles– Bridles come with buckles so you can adjust them according to your horse’s head size.
Picture of my granddaughters headstall for a western bridle.
Headstall for my granddaughter’s horse.

The differences between English and Western bridles

English tack is typically different from Western riding tack and this is true for bridles. English bridles, for example, are most often used by those participating in English riding events like dressage and showjumping, while Western Bridles are staples of typical western riding competitions, trail rides, and ranch settings.

The next significant difference between them is their browbands and nosebands; Western bridles are considerably different from English bridles because they lack nosebands and occasionally have no browbands.

Western riders use loose reins and neck reining to communicate to their horses, allowing the rider to ride a horse with less direct rein pressure on the bit; This leads to a much less need for nosebands as the bit remains stable without influence their hands.

Types of Bridles

English Bridles

Hunt-seat

Hunt-seat bridles use a standard snaffle bridle and snaffle bit. It has a headstall strap as well as a browband that goes across the forehead. Hunt-seat bridles also have throat latches that attach under the horse’s jowl.  It also has a noseband that goes across the nose and under the jaw.

Dressage

The dressage bridle has certain restrictions since dressage events do not allow certain types of bits and nosebands. If you plan to participate in dressage, don’t hesitate to contact the organizers to find out the latest rules.

Snaffle bridle

A snaffle bridle is typically made up of a headpiece, two cheekpieces, a browband, throatlash, bit, reins, and a noseband. You can use a different kind of noseband to put on the bridle. Snaffle bridles will work for most horses in almost any discipline. (Note: a snaffle bridle does not mean it has a snaffle bit.)

Saddle-seat bridle

This type is similar to a snaffle bridle but has an additional cheek piece to hold an additional bit.

Western bridles

Traditional-western bridles

A common style in the traditional western bridle is the split-ear bridle that has a piece of leather at the top of the headstall attached for the horse’s ear to fit through.  

Some other traditional western style bridles consist of browbands, while still others have neither brow-band nor split-ear design and simply rest behind the horse’s ears. Most people assemble western bridles using the headstall, bit, and reins that fit their purpose and horse best.

Hackamores

These are western bridles that do not use a bit. Instead, they use a metal nosepiece called a hackamore that enables the rider to control the horse without the bit. Hackamores are either of bosal or mechanical types. 

Bosal training hackamore is used for training young horses.  The mechanical hackamore consists of a metal device that lets the rider control the horse by putting pressure on its nose, chin, and poll.

Picture of a woman bridling her horse

What is the Best Bridle for a Horse?

With horses, the best bridle is one that fits their needs. Bridles come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate different types of horses, but you need to find your ideal fit before purchasing so they work with whichever discipline you may participate in. If you’re not sure what kind to buy for your horse, it’s best to consult the experts.

What is the most comfortable bridle?

The first thing to consider when purchasing a bridle is its comfort level. If you are looking for a comfortable bridle, you should consider one that has a padded browband and noseband.

You will also want to look for padding on the cheeks as well. The best way to check whether or not your horse is comfortable with their current bridles is by watching how they act while wearing them.

If they are acting uncomfortable in any way, it may be time to buy new ones! The second thing to consider is the fit. You want your horse’s bridle to be a close and comfortable fit so it doesn’t slip off their head or rub against any areas of skin that may irritate them.

You will also want your bridles to have an adjustable feature, which allows them to grow with your horse as they change size due to growth spurts or weight gain/loss. This way, you won’t need another expensive purchase in just a few months!

Lastly, this article will discuss what different types of materials are used for padding on bridles and how each one affects comfort level: leather versus fleece (or wool), synthetic material versus genuine sheepskin lining, cotton webbing versus nylon webbing.

Anatomical horse bridles are designed for comfort.

An anatomical design provides many benefits that traditional styles do not offer. If you have a horse constantly struggling with discomfort, it may be time to invest in an anatomic bridle.

These modern bridles are hard not to love; they avoid sensitive pressure points and nerves to allowing better blood circulation. Anatomical horse bridles evenly distribute pressure across all three pressure points while avoiding sensitive areas.

Anatomical bridles are also designed to be more forgiving and less likely to cause injury. Some anatomical designs like the PS of Sweden bridle use elastic to hold the bit suspended to give it a softer feel in the horse’s mouth. They also put less pressure on horses’ teeth.

Traditional style bridles are often made too tight or too big, which is uncomfortable for both animals and humans alike; however, an anatomical design provides more comfort because it moves with your animal instead of against them.

With so many different options for styles out there today – all of which will improve your horse’s performance (and hopefully their mood), you should try one on your horse.

Pony horse western bridle

5 Top-Rated Bridles

Bridles can cost anywhere between $20 and $500. English bridles typically cost between $50 and $500, while the high-quality leather western bridles start from $100. Used tack can be slightly cheaper.

Top-rated bridles are made of leather and suitable for everyday riding and competitions. Here are my recommendations for the best bridles in different categories:

1.  Flexible Fit Equestrian Black Leather Snaffle Horse Bridle

This bridle is made with high-quality English leather to create one of the best bridles on the market. The mono crown features an anatomical design with a cutback and soft padded crown to give your horse additional comfort.

The browband has crystals in an attractive wave shape and is attached to a flash that can be attached to either side of the cavesson noseband for extra convenience. There are reins available as well, which are comfortable padded leather reins with hidden stoppers.

Pros

  • Anatomical design
  • Improved performance
  • Attractive for show horses

Cons

  • No guards

Price

Less than $200

2.   Weatherbeeta, Collegiate Comfitec Crystal Bridle

Weatherbeeta, Collegiate Comfitec is a premium quality European leather bridle that has been designed with the horse’s comfort and safety in mind.

This snaffle bridle features anatomical shaping over the poll, double padding on the noseband and cheeks, and padding around the ears. The ergonomic design alleviates pressure from facial nerves and molar teeth. The browband is flashy.

Pros

  • Genuine, soft, and supple leather
  • Fit a wide range of horses
  • Anatomical design

Cons

  • Browband decoration is a little cheesy looking.

Price

Less than $200

3.  Henri de Rivel Dressage Bridle with Web Reins

The Henri de Rivel Dressage Bridle is a high-quality, affordable bridle that will fit your horse perfectly. This bridle features a padded browband and noseband for extra comfort and control. The cheekpieces are available in cob size, horse size, and oversized.

The reins are made of web material and feature stainless steel hardware to ensure that they last you for years to come. Available in black leather with silver buckles or brown leather with brass buckles, this bridle is sure to give you the look you want.

Pros

  • Quality leather
  • Durable hardware
  • Easy to adjust.

Cons

  • Challenging to assemble out of the box.

Price

  • Under $88.65

4.  Challenger Horse English Bridle

Challenger’s leather padded bridle is perfect for everyday riding. It comes with a soft, flexible, and padded crown, noseband, and browband that is very comfortable for the horse.

Pros

  • Has matching nylon reins
  • Features rust-resistant metal parts.
  • Looks great
  • Well-made

Cons

  • Needs conditioning to soften the cheek pieces and throat latch.

Price

Approx $ 55.

5.  HORZE Genuine Leather Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

The HORZE Genuine Leather Cross-Under Bitless Bridle is an excellent alternative to using a bit. The bridle is made with soft, supple leather that provides exceptional comfort to your horse. It includes web reins with hand stops for easy control over your horse while riding without any pressure on his mouth.

Pros

  • Bitless, great for horses with sensitive mouths or dental issues
  • Attractive and comfortable;
  • Easy on-off convenience
  • Good quality

Cons

  • Stitching is weak in some spots.

What is the Purpose of a Horse Bridle?

The bridles’ purpose is to control the horse’s head so a rider can direct its movement. Horse riders may use different types of bridles depending on their riding discipline and preference.

A Western-style bitless bridle, for example, reduces the risk of injury by eliminating any direct contact between rider and horse’s mouth. At the same time, you can use a snaffle bit or curb bit in more advanced disciplines like dressage or eventing.

Can You Ride a Horse Without a Bridle?

A bridle is designed to hold the bit inside the horse’s mouth. Depending on their type, some bridles complement the action of the bridle, some supplement it, and some even replace the bit. All of them provide the rider with the ability to control their horse.

People can a do ride horses without bridles, but they are experienced riders on well-trained horses. Before you head out into the world of bridle-less riding, it’s important to know how your horse behaves with and without one.

Also, you must at least use a neck rope and train yourself (and your horse) to understand that the neck rope functions just like the bridle.

Can a Horse Eat with a Bridle On?

A horse can eat well if it only has a snaffle in its mouth. In the case of European bridles, riders simply unbuckle the bit on one side of the mouth during feeding.

An anecdote comes to mind here: In the olden days, soldiers would not let their horses remain bridle-less even for feeding and at night because the enemy could come unexpectedly, and they wanted a quick getaway.

Bottom-line: a horse can graze while the bridle is on. However, please do not encourage this as it is known to lead to behavioral issues and could even injure or harm your horse.

Key Takeaways – Horse Bridles

The bridle is an essential part of horse tack. Every rider must train with a horse equipped with its bridle. Once the rider gains more experience, they could ride bridle-less. Always remove the bridle when the horse feeds.

Horse bridles are either Western-type or English-type. There are other variants in each type too.

The price range of bridles is between $20 and upwards of $500. Always invest in high-quality bridles as you get what you pay for.

FAQs on Horse Bridles

Are horse bridles cruel?

Horse bridles aren’t cruel when used correctly. However, some experts believe that the bit (the part of the bridle inside the horse’s mouth) is cruel and recommend bitless bridles.

Can horses drink with a bit?

Horses can drink water wearing a bit and it’s often necessary, but it isn’t recommended. It is best to remove the bit when the horse feeds or drinks to prevent injuries and behavioral issues.

Are bitless bridles better?

Most equestrians agree that bitless bridles are better because they do not hurt the horse. They also exert uniform pressure and promote better communication between you and your horse, resulting in a great partnership.

Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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