Do not buy another bridle until you have read this blog post…
…Your horse will thank you for it!
Since starting my Saddler training back in 2015, I have been consciously aware that most people have their horse in a bridle that either fits partially or not at all, and it’s not their fault.
The fault lies in the lack of knowledge (or simple ignorance), whichever it is, I hope you will find this information useful, and if it helps just ONE horse owner correct a part of, or all of their bridle, in order to make their horse more comfortable, then my job here is done!
A Mix and Match Nightmare
When I talk to horse owners the most common issues they express is usually that ‘their horse requires a full size headpiece, a cob noseband and pony cheek pieces.’
Ok, so this might be a slight exaggeration but by no means a completely false one.
The simple fact is that most horse owners cannot walk into a tack shop and buy an off-the-shelf bridle that actually fits their horse or pony 100%. It’s just not possible! They have to mix and match bridles to even get a half decent one.
Another fact is, that most off-the-shelf bridles are designed and made abroad probably by people who have probably never seen a real horse let alone sat on one and ridden it.
Doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence of a well-made bridle, does it you? (and don’t even get me started on the quality of the leather, [Face plant], that’s a story for another blog).
Anyway, I digress!
We’re all here today to learn how to fit a bridle correctly.
So, if you are not yet in the position to have a trained bridle fitter and/or qualified saddler/bridlemaker come out to you, to measure up your horse and make you a bespoke bridle or pieces of a bridle, then here are some tips on how your bridle should fit.
No Horse Should Suffer Discomfort In Their Bridle
The basic rule of bridle fitting is to ensure that the horse suffers no discomfort whilst wearing a bridle, in any circumstance.
Elwyn Hartley Edwards states in the book called ‘Saddlery’ that there are:
“…two critical points concerning the bridle parts other that the bit itself” these being “…(a) the browband…and (b) the throatlatch.”
(Hartley Edwards, E. (1997) Saddlery. J A Allen & Company. London)
However, in my opinion, I believe that ALL areas of the bridle should fit correctly and we should not just pay attention to the browband and the throatlatch. (Note – a throatlatch is commonly known in English terms as a throatlash).
When fitting a bridle (and in this explanation a cavesson bridle) the following analysis should be carried out:
The traditional headpiece, as we know it, is a single straight piece of leather approximately 1.25” (approx 3.2 cm) wide with a fixed throatlatch.
It should sit flat behind the horse’s ears with the hole (at the top of the splits) either out of view under the Browband loop or just below it. This hole should NEVER be above the browband loop or too far down below the loop.
The splits in which the cheek pieces and/or the noseband cheek strap(s) buckle onto must line up, with the middle hole (of either 5 or 7 holes in total), in line with or slightly lower than the outer corner of the horse’s eye.
I also prefer a headpiece to have a maximum of 5 or 7 holes. Of course this will depend on the length of a horse’s head.
In Today’s equestrian communities, there is demand for an anatomically shaped ‘comfort’ headpiece with various degrees of padding.
These headpieces are only as good as their fit and I’m not sure people really understand what they are trying to achieve when buying an ‘anatomical headpiece’ because some of the time these headpieces don’t fit correctly and the horses then develop other issues. The shape of these type of headpieces usually include, but not limited to, a cut out of where the base of the ears sit and sometimes a bigger or smaller poll pad. The throatlatch is very often a detachable one or in some cases in a completely different position to the ‘norm’.
If an anatomically shaped ‘comfort’ headpiece is desired then it really should be specifically made for your horse, by a professionally trained and qualified Saddler, as they will take the relevant measurements and design a headpiece to suit your horse’s head.
It is pure luck to find an off-the-shelf bridle that fits correctly in all areas explained here and I congratulate you if you have been so lucky to find one.
It is commonly thought that a throatlatch will prevent a bridle from slipping off, but in my experience, if a bridle (with a traditional fixed throatlatch), is on it’s way off then it’s coming OFF and pretty damn sharpish!
The fixed throatlatch, on a traditional headpiece, should be done up on the middle hole (of either 5 or 7 holes in total) and be fitted so that you can comfortably place 4 fingers side by side between the throatlatch and the throat.
The throatlatch on an anatomically shaped ‘comfort’ headpiece could be a fixed one, like that of a traditional headpiece, but these days it is mostly a detachable one which should still be fitted to comfortably allow 4 fingers side by side between the throatlatch and the throat.
A detachable throatlatch involves having a headpiece strap on both sides of the headpiece that then allows the detachable strap (the throatlatch) with two buckles either side to be buckled onto the headpiece straps, usually in line with or just below the outer corner of the horse’s eye.
A throatlatch is pretty much there for aesthetic purposes only and should NEVER be adjusted too tightly as it will impair the horse from breathing and swallowing and therefore create resistance and discomfort in the horse.
However, in some cases, such as a horse with small ears, it is necessary to have a throatlatch adjusted to prevent the bridle falling off the front but this is usually done with bridles that have throatlatches much lower down around the jowl area.
This type of lower positioned throatlatch should still fit two fingers side by side between the throatlatch and the jowl to prevent it being too tight.
The browband should comfortably sit flat across the brow of the horse’s face, just below the ears.
If it is too short it will pull the headpiece forwards resulting in it pressing against the back of the ears. If it is too long it will sag possibly causing it to bounce about, usually during work. Both issues can cause the horse to resist and/or head-shake.
Again, today’s fashion demands a more curved or v-shaped browband and these can look very nice as long as they don’t drop too low on the forehead towards the top of the eye socket.
In my opinion, a browband shouldn’t be shaped lower than 2”-2.5” (5cm-6.4cm) below the highest part of the browband loop.
When fitting the browband it is ideally positioned approximately 1” below the base of the ears when the headpiece is threaded through it.
By using two fingers side by side, place them between the browband and the brow of the horse, to provide a suitable gauge for a correct fit.
Cheek pieces should sit along the cheek bone, not too close to the eye, with the buckles in line with or just below the outer corner of the horse’s eye.
The position of these buckles should marry with the requirement of using the middle hole on the headpiece straps, thus not having too much additional leather flapping around the eye.
The buckles of a cheek piece should NEVER be so high on the headpiece that is is interfering with the browband or being in too close a proximity to the Temporomandibular joint (or the TMJ as it is commonly known).
Buckles positioned this high on a bridle can cause irritation and discomfort resulting in resistance and head-shaking.
The cheek pieces should also be adjusted appropriately so that the bit sits comfortably in the horse’s mouth (usually on the middle hole of the headpiece straps), giving one or two creases at the corner of the mouth.
Obviously, this will vary according to the type of horse and the type of bit you are using.
If you are ever in doubt of the correct fit of your bit then you should ALWAYS consult a properly trained Bit Specialist.
For the purpose of this blog, I will only describe the correct fitting of a ‘cavesson’ noseband here as it would make it a very long blog indeed if I described them all today.
However, I will aim to write another blog soon to discuss the correct fit of other commonly used nosebands.
A noseband is mostly used for cosmetic reasons, as most horses don’t actually need one and can be ridden quite sufficiently without one.
Just look how beautiful a horse can look without a noseband on – see image above.
However, modern day fashion dictates the use of a noseband and in some cases they are being fitted and used incorrectly (think polo ponies and you will get my meaning).
A cavesson noseband should always be fitted just below the horse’s cheekbones. Usually with enough space to put two fingers side by side between the noseband and the cheekbone. If positioned too close or even rubbing on the cheekbone it can cause discomfort to the horse.
One of the main reasons for using a noseband is sometimes to partially, yet satisfactorily, close the mouth and in the case of the cavesson noseband this can be done by dropping it down a hole (or two – depending on size of horses head) and fasten it around the nose snugly.
Now, when I say ‘snugly’, I do still mean, be able to comfortably place two fingers side by side under the front of the noseband and the nose, as a horse still needs to be able to move its tongue and mouth, just like us ladies would still want to breath in a corset. This applies to ALL nosebands.
The head and cheek pieces of a cavesson noseband should sit directly under or just in front of the bit cheeks, otherwise the noseband may eventually tip down at the front.
The strap at the rear of the noseband should ideally have just 5 or 7 holes and fasten snugly on the middle hole (e.g. #3 or #4 hole). This avoids having an extra-long piece of leather flapping around and looking untidy.
A traditional noseband with a head strap and one cheek piece should buckle on the near-side of the head, alongside the cheek piece buckle, or offset by one hole lower if clearance is required.
A more modern day noseband (usually one that accompanies an anatomical headpiece) has two cheek pieces with buckles attached that are then buckled to the additional headpiece straps that are stitched in between the padding and the anatomical headpiece.
Both buckles being positioned alongside the cheek piece buckles or offset by 1 hole lower depending on the horse’s face.
So, there you have it. My explanation on how to fit a bridle correctly.
If you are not yet in the position to buy a bespoke bridle or even made-to-measure individual bridle parts then I hope that this information has helped you to become more aware of how to fit your horse’s bridle correctly, and spurred you into taking action to ensure that your horse is comfortable in their bridle.
If you find certain parts of your existing bridle not fitting correctly then there are a couple of options to choose from to rectify this situation:
1) Enlist a qualified Saddler or Bridlemaker to make you a brand new made-to-measure bridle piece;
2) Ask a qualified Saddler or Bridlemaker to alter the existing original bridle part to fit correctly;
3) You could search online forums, groups or attend equine tack sales or car boot sales to look for second-hand bridle parts in the correct size you require.
Even if this means purchasing whole bridles that are second-hand and use the parts from them to mix and match to create a perfect bridle. This has to be better than keeping your horse in an ill fitting bridle.
Getting In Touch
If you feel you need further guidance on your horse or pony’s existing bridle then feel free to CLICK HERE to drop me a message ad I will get back to you ASAP.
Alternatively, if you know you want to take further action and interested in booking a bridle fitting appointment, then message me with your details and we can book you into my diary.
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Until then, take care and #staysafe.