We all know how important it is to have a correctly fitted saddle for our horse. Not only does it help prevent back pain, it can also improve the horses way of going. But we still don’t seem to apply this to the way our horse’s bridle fits. There has been a rise in anatomical bridles, aiming to avoid pressure points on the head and face to make the horse more comfortable. But any bridle can have a negative impact on performance if they don’t fit correctly.
Bridle Fit Does Affect Performance
Studies have shown that high pressure from the bridle can have a negative impact on a horses performance. Movement, limb flexion and stride patterns can all be a reaction to pressure points under the bridle. However, there are other, perhaps more noticeable signs that the horse might not be comfortable in their bridle. These include; head tossing, ears drooping to one side, not wanting to be tacked up, not wanting to go forwards, rub marks, white hairs, swelling or indents under where the bridle sits.
The pressure zones in the head
There isn’t many fleshy areas on the horses head. This means that joints, muscles and bony lumps have little protection from bridle pressure. The sensitive structures such as blood vessels and nerves in these areas are therefore at risk of irritation or injury. Key areas to be aware of are:
- Behind the ears
- The poll
- The end of the nasal bone
- The facial crest, their cheek bones
- The lower jaw, specifically under the mandible
- The areas around the jaw joint
There is no one size fits all
There is a rise in the number of anatomical bridles available to avoid the pressure zones in the head. But every horse has a different head conformation and these bridles might not be quite right for them. It’s all about how the bridle fits on the horse’s head. All areas of the bridle should have even contact with the horses skin. Uneven contact means some areas will have increased pressure.
Creating even contact can mean many things. It could be increasing or decreasing the padding on a noseband or headpiece. Or it could be changing the thickness of different parts of the bridle so that it fits comfortably with the horses conformation. Then there is changing the type and shape of the pieces on the bridle. They might need a different type of noseband to what you originally thought, or maybe an anatomical headpiece.
Interestingly, despite having a reputation for being a harsher noseband, research suggests that crank and drop nosebands can be better for some horses as the side rings allow the noseband to move better with the horse.
How to fit a bridle
Bridles can be difficult to fit as different types of bridle are designed to fit slightly differently. But on the whole, you can follow this simple guide for checking the fit of your bridle. If you are ever in doubt, reach out to a professional. There are usually plenty available to help, whether it is a saddler, bit consultant or your instructor, they all should be able to give you good advice.
The browband should be flat across the horse’s head. If it is pulling the headpiece into the back of the ears it is too short.
The headpiece can be difficult to fit to your horse. But simply there should be enough space for the horse’s ears. If it looks too close to the ears even with a well fitting browband, it might be too wide or the wrong shape for your horse. Ideally, all the buckles on the side of your horse’s bridle should be roughly eye level. If they are too close to the headpiece they can be sitting on a pressure point.
Cheekpieces should be flat to the face. While how tight they should be changes for the type of bit you are using, the standard advice is that you should be able to see one or two wrinkles in the crease of the mouth.
The throatlash should be loose enough to fit 4 fingers sideways under the jaw. Any tighter than this then you could affect the horse’s breathing and swallowing. Despite what many people believe, it is not there to stop the bridle coming off as it should never be tight enough to do so.
How a noseband should fit varies greatly based on the type of noseband you are using. But typically they should sit about 2cm below the cheek bones with enough space to put a thumb underneath it. For more advice on fitting bridles and nosebands there is some great advice on the Master Saddlers website.
Last Updated on 03/09/2021