Equestrians are more aware than ever that fitting your tack properly is essential for your horse’s training and for developing a trusting relationship. However, saddle fit has been such a top concern, that the importance of another essential piece of tack - the bridle - is often overlooked.
The proper fitting bridle is indeed just as important to overall riding success as the proper fitting saddle. The horse’s head is extremely sensitive with nerves, veins, and muscles thinly covered by a layer of skin. Therefore it's essential that the bridle fits properly and doesn’t cause undue pressure, discomfort or pain so we can guide and assist him to be in balance at all gaits.
With a bridle we communicate through the reins via the bit to indicate to our horse direction, bend, flexion, and speed. We can influence the overall shape of our horse’s outline with our legs, seat, and hands to encourage the horse into a rounder body shape while distributing more weight on the hind legs to be in better balance. This balanced horse can carry the rider’s weight more comfortably and creates a softer place for the rider to sit, and also increases the probability of keeping your horse sound throughout his lifetime.
While maintaining forward motion, we ask the horse to flex at the poll and give in to the pressure of the reins. The bridle causes slight pressure behind the ears that is relieved when they do indeed flex at the poll at our request. If for example, the browband is too short, the crown piece will press on the back of the ears. You might see sweat marks on the top of your crown piece right behind where the ears are located. This could cause discomfort, resulting in tension or heaven forbid, pain. This discomfort or tension can rear its ugly head with undesirable behaviors such as shortened gait, head tossing, mouth opening, or head shaking. These are all examples that should have you checking for proper bridle fit. You should be able to get your hand under the crown at the top of the head where the crown piece lies, and you should be able to get a couple of fingers under the front of the browband which should sit a couple of fingers below the ears.
Other proper fitting points to consider are the adjustments of the noseband, throat latch and cheek pieces. Whatever style of noseband you choose should allow for chewing and swallowing, encouraging your horse to be relaxed. So the old horseman’s rule of two fingers under the noseband for tightness is a practical one. A tight throat latch can also inhibit the flexion of the poll, as it can cause discomfort in the throat area when your horse does flex. You should be able to get your hand’s width under the throat latch when held sideways at the side of the cheek. The length of the cheek pieces determine how the bit fits in the horse’s mouth - which is a whole discussion in itself. However, simple guidelines are a snaffle bit should sit causing a wrinkle or two at the corners of the mouth. It's too tight if the corner of the lips are overly stretched; or too loose - the bit clanks on the teeth or allows the horse to get his tongue over the bit. Proper bit placement should be looked at very closely. Check to see that your cheek pieces’ length allow for tightening or loosening as required.
One of the innovative bridle designs in recent years is the curvature of the crown piece to allow more space for the ears. These anatomically designed crown pieces are also padded for extra comfort. So when we engage the reins, apply pressure to the poll and are asking for giving to that pressure, it’s a gentler, softer action behind the ears. Grewal Equestrian’s Munich Fancy Raised Flash Bridle, Wicker Monocrown Braided Flash Bridle, Marco Simone Bridle, and Danube Flash Clincher Bridle are examples of this nicely curved shape. There is also a crown piece design with a groove or channel in it so that the noseband piece can sit in that groove creating a sleeker, smoother crown piece that fits behind the ears easier. Many of the Grewal Equestrian’s bridles have this channel crown piece design.
And we must address the quality of the bridle leather. Poor quality leather can be rough and inflexible, while top quality leather is supple and pliable that easily contours to your horse’s head. Of course proper care with leather conditioner sustains the softness, but the flexibility must be there even when the bridle is new. All bridles manufactured and designed by Grewal Equestrian are made with top quality, buttery, highly flexible, soft leather that you can use the first day it arrives.
Bridles have evolved. They are new and improved. Visit Grewal Equestrian’s unique bridle designs to pick out a more comfortable design for your horse. Then be sure and take the time to adjust it properly for the well-being of your equine partner.
Sarah Crampton is a British Horse Society certified instructor. She has competed and trained horses and students in the hunter/jumper world, eventing and dressage.