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Anatomy Of A Bridle

By Jeffrey Rolo

The bridle's importance during a horse ride cannot be overstated, yet despite this fact many horse owners place no forethought into selecting and fitting the best bridle for their horse's needs. Perhaps this would be different if everyone understood just how negatively a mismatched bridle affects a horse's comfort, gait and cooperation.

horse bridle illustration

Although the illustration above depicts a snaffle bridle, all bridles are created similarly. Some bridles may incorporate a double-bit, curb chain and other small differences (depending on the riding school incorporated), but the main pieces and how they function remain the same. They are:

The Browband

The browband is a strap that rests across the forehead of the horse, just a bit underneath the ears. Its purpose is to prevent the bridle from being pulled back over the ears and down the neck. It is important to make sure the browband does not pinch the horse; it should fit snugly without being tight.

If your horse has a wider head than normal don't worry if the browband that is currently on your selected bridle doesn't fit him properly you can purchase browbands individually and fit them to your existing bridle. Browbands are generally very cheap, so it's not worth shortchanging your horse's comfort to save a few bucks.

Some western bridles will forfeit a browband in favor of two ear loops attached to the headpiece. I personally prefer the appearance of a browband better, but ear loops serve the same function.

The Noseband

snaffle bridle
Advantage Raised Snaffle
Bridle with Reins
The noseband (also called the cavesson) is positioned above the nose, though its exact placement and function will differ depending on the style of bridle used and riding discipline. On a snaffle bridle the noseband is generally positioned a bit above the bit and is present for cosmetic purposes rather than functionality. Other bridles such as the Kineton are somewhat harsh, designed to pull the horse's head down for collection upon direct rein/bit contact.

Although nosebands designed to force a horse to drop his head may serve a needed purpose for certain riding schools or cases, I prefer cosmetic nosebands that do not apply any pressure to a horse's nose. Collection is entirely possible without the use of harsh nosebands. For example, I work with Mountain horses, a gaited breed that requires good collection, yet I use a simple snaffle bridle for most training purposes.

Only you can decide what specific noseband best suits you, but keep in mind if you use a harsher noseband and it's worn too low, a sharp yank can easily injure the fragile nasal bones or tissue. A noseband should allow at least two fingers worth of slack anything less is too tight.

The Cheekpiece

The cheekpiece plays a vital role for the bridle since it determines the level of "communication" that will exist between your reins and the bit. If a cheekpiece is fit too loosely the bit will rest low in the horse's mouth, causing the bit to hit the horse's front teeth and the tongue to be subjected to uncomfortable pressure. Naturally both results are quite jarring, if not outright painful, so if that isn't enough of a deterrent to ensure a proper fit also keep in mind it will negatively affect your horse's performance.

A cheekpiece that is too tight is little better since it will cause the bit to rest too high in the mouth and dig into the cheeks, causing a painful pinch. When this happens your horse will usually try and bite down on the bit and/or push it forward to alleviate the pain.

A properly fit cheekpiece will allow one wrinkle in the corners of the horse's mouth.


Also called a throat latch, this piece rests underneath the upper jaw near the neck. Its purpose is to hold the bridle in place and prevent the horse from rubbing the bridle off his head. Make sure the throatlash is not fit so tightly that it constricts your horse's breathing the rule of thumb for proper clearance is three fingers width. Although you don't want to fit the throatlash too loosely as a loose fit will reduce its effectiveness, it's far better for you to err on the side of too loose than too tight.

As you can see from the above, ensuring a proper bridle fit is extremely important and almost equally simple so take a few moments to test each piece's position to verify you're not inadvertently causing your equine partner any discomfort.

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