The best way to cope with whatever the winter throws at you is to invest in the right gear to keep you warm and dry. Layering up can help you stay comfortable, cosy and dry. Also, using a layering system means you can remove layers as we move from winter into spring making the clothing you have much more versatile.
This first layer needs to be close fitting and comfortable without being restrictive. Its job is to trap warm air close to your body, so it needs to be breathable to keep you at a comfortable temperature.
Thanks to the use of modern materials and designs many base layers can be worn on their own on warm days. You can chose from synthetic material, or natural fabrics such as merino wool or bamboo are popular choices. It’s best to avoid cotton as it soaks up moisture and draws heat away from you body, leaving you cold.
This next layer also provides warmth and insulation. It should be lightweight and breathable too. You have several different choices what you can wear as the middle layer. Fleeces are a popular choice, or you could go for a down or synthetic filled waistcoat or jacket. Whichever you choose, make sure it fits you well and doesn't restrict your movement whether you're mucking out or riding. The beauty of this layer is that you'll be able to wear it in warmer weather too.
This final layer protects you from the wind and rain. Choose a good quality jacket that’s waterproof, windproof and breathable. Like all of the layers make sure you can fit it over all your other layers comfortably. when you try the jacket on try and wear the layers so you can move about and check it doesn't restrict your movement. Also, look for practical features such as a removable hood, riding vents .
Apply the same layering system to your bottom half too and you’ll be ready to face the elements all winter long. A base layer will keep your legs warm, followed by a middle layer - we’d recommend a pair of winter breeches. Complete your outfit with a pair of waterproof over trousers.
Owning a horse that’s to be ridden requires you to have horse tack. Here we run through the key items including, the bridle, saddle and more.
Browband: The part of the bridle isn’t adjustable so it’s important that you have the right size – it should be big enough to allow the headpiece to lie comfortably behind the ears. The browband should also lie just below the base of the ears, without cutting into them - a tight browband can pull the whole bridle forward onto the sensitive area at the back of your horse’s ear. As a general rule of thumb you should be able to comfortably run a finger around the inside edge of your browband.
Cheekpieces: These play an important role – they determine the level of communication between you and your horse. Ideally, the cheekpiece should fasten half way down the strap on the headpiece, or in line with edge of your horse’s eye. So if your headpiece has 10 billet holes, you’d want the cheekpiece to fasten on hole five. If your bit is fitted correctly and the cheekpieces finish high up into the pressure zone near the browband, it’ll be more comfortable for your horse to change them to shorter ones moving the buckles away from this pressure point.
Throatlash: When it’s done up you should be able to fit the width of four fingers between the throatlash and your horse’s jawbone. If the throatlash is too tight it will put pressure on his windpipe when he flexes to the bit.
Noseband: A standard cavesson noseband needs sufficient clearance (two fingers width) below the bottom ends of your horse’s cheekbones. There are a number of arteries where the cheekbones finish, so for greater comfort, this will help you to make sure that your cavesson misses them. Flash nosebands are also popular – the flash strap fastens below the bit and prevents your horse from opening his mouth and evading the bit. The flash strap shouldn’t be fitted too tightly and should only come into play if your horse opens his mouth.
Bit: A correctly fitting bit can often be over looked and, as bitting expert Heather Hyde from Neue Schule reveals, there’s more to consider than you might have thought. Your bit is one of the lines of communication between you and your horse and so taking time to check the fit of your bit will go a long way to improving the performance of your horse. When assessing the fit of your horse’s bit, you should check it both with and without rein contact as many bits change position once you have a contact on your reins.
Did you know?
Having a symmetrical bridle is likely to make your horse more comfortable and improve his freedom of movement. So opt for a bridle where the elements fasten on both sides (not just the left) and make sure that the buckles are done up evenly on both sides.
A properly fitting girth will not only hold your saddle securely in place it should be comfortable for your horse to wear and allow him to move freely. As it’s used with your saddle, when you’re saddle fitter is out, ask him to have a look at your girth too. Girths are made out of a variety of different materials and most are shaped for greater comfort.
As well as having your saddle correctly fitted, it’s just as important to consider the fit or your numnah or saddlecloth too. The impact of a poorly fitting saddlecloth can have a big effect on your horse, potentially rubbing and causing discomfort.
- Choosing the right size and shape (dressage, jump, GP) of saddlecloth to suit your saddle will help you get a good fit. Using the wrong shape and size may result in your saddle sitting on the binding of the saddlecloth causing pressure points and rubbing.
- For comfort the saddlecloth should follow the contours of your horse’s back and sit up into the gullet of your saddle. If it’s cut in a straight line it will press down on his withers and back causing discomfort.
- Once fitted there should be approximately one inch visible around the whole of your saddle to ensure it’s not sitting on the binding causing sore points.
- Fasten the straps to your saddle to hold the saddlecloth in place.
- If you’re not sure which pad is right to use ask your saddle fitter for advice.
Have your saddlecloth to hand when your saddle fitter is checking your saddle.
He’ll be able to consider the pad you’re using when he’s checking the fit.
A correctly fitting saddle is not only more comfortable for you and your horse; it makes riding much easier too. We’d always recommend that a registered qualified saddle fitter (to find one local to you visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk) comes to check your saddle to ensure it’s fitting well at least twice a year.
Your riding hat is the most important piece of equestrian kit you’ll buy so, if yours is damaged or you’re in the market for a new one use our helpful buyer’s guide to choose the right riding helmet.
Riding hat safety standards
When you’re deciding on a new hat, first and foremost consider what activities you do with your horse. If you compete you’ll need to check the rules of each governing body (e.g. British Eventing or British Showjumping) to ensure that the hat you want to buy is allowed. In addition you must be up to date on hat standards. Here’s what’s
EN1384 1996 / BSEN 1384 1997/ BSEN1384 2012 (with or without Kitemark mark)
This range of standards can still be worn for hacking and hunting but as of 2016, most riding bodies no longer allow you to compete wearing this standard of hat.
VG1 (with or without Kitemark or IC Mark)
Developed by Vertical Group 1, who test and certify hats around Europe, this testing specification is based on the EN1384, but with additional requirements and testing procedures to bring it up to a level similar to PAS015.
PAS015: 2011 (with or without Kitemark mark or IC Mark)
This stands for Product Approval Specification (PAS) and was developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI). This standard was revised in 2011 to include testing at an increased drop height and several other amendments to improve the performance of this standard.
This standard was developed in America by the Snell Institute. It’s a higher performance standard which includes all aspects of the American Society for testing and Materials (ASTM) and PAS 015 but with the addition of testing with a sharper horseshoe anvil (to replicate a horse kick or impact with a sharp surface). It’s also been tested for higher impacts and with an additional hemispherical anvil to represent an uneven but not a sharp surface such as a fence or tree.
Ensure your riding hat fits
Comfort and fit are essential and, as different brands offer varying styles and fittings, it’s vital to use a qualified hat fitter to help you find a hat that suits your head. After all, only a properly fitted riding hat will provide you with the maximum level of protection in the event of a fall. Your hat should fit your head snugly with the front sitting no more than about 11/2in or two fingers above your eyebrows. If your hat can be easily dislodged when the chinstrap is fastened, it’s too big. It’s also important to note that there’s no guarantee a second hand hat comes damage free so always buy new.
With a huge choice of rugs available it can be pretty daunting choosing the right one for your horse. If you're struggling to know which rug to spend your hard earned cash on follow our useful guide.
The first thing to consider is your horse’s routine to establish what type of turnout or stable rugs your horse is going to need for winter. If your horse lives in a lot over the winter you’ll probably only need to buy a lightweight and medium weight stable rugs to see you through the months he’s in. If he’s turned out for part of the day, or for 24 hours a day you’ll need to invest in a several turnout rugs to use. Most horses even with a basic clip, such as a trace or blanket clip will be more than warm enough in a medium weight turnout rug with a neck.
Next, take a look at your horse’s shape – if he has a deep girth, or is round, he’ll need a rug that’s extra deep to cover his body well. If he’s more of a lightweight type, a deep cut rug may drown him.
If you clip your horse, you’ll need to compensate for the hair you’ve taken off. It’s also worth considering your horse’s breed – for example, a thoroughbred may feel the cold more than a native type, who’s evolved to live out in all weathers. This is where you’ll need to decide what weight of rug is going to work best for your and your horse.
You’ll also need to consider how hard your horse is on his rugs, or how boisterous his field mates are. If he’s likely to give his rugs a hard time, choose one with a higher denier outer material and secure fastenings so he’s less likely to damage it.
After you’ve worked your way through our checklist you should have a clearer idea of what winter horse rug will be suitable for your horse.
If you're confused and struggle to know your denier from your taped seams our easy to understand jargon buster will help you understand all those commonly used rug terms you’ll come across when you’re choosing a winter horse rug.
Rip-stop - This is the fabric’s ability to contain rips and tears. It doesn’t mean your rug wont’ rip but the thread pattern runs in two directions that helps prevent a rip from spreading once it starts.
Ballistic nylon - Similar to rip-stop, ballistic nylon fabric is very strong, durable and more resistant to tearing.
Denier - This tells you how durable the rug is likely to be. The higher the denier, the tougher and heavier the fabric. For example, 1200 denier and above is very strong. 600 denier is everyday strength.
Waterproof - This refers to the outer material’s ability to stop water passing through the run and on to your horse. The outer fabric is treated to be waterproof and this will diminish with use, but with correct cleaning and re-proofing you rug will keep its waterproof properties.
Breathable - This is the rug’s ability to allow sweat to wick away, passing through the fabric to the outside, to keep your horse dry and comfortable.
Taped seams - When two pieces of material are sewn together the needle leaves holes in the fabric which allow water to seep in. Taping seams is when a waterproof tape is applied and sealed to ensure the seam is watertight.
Filling - This is usually referred to in grams. The higher the gram of fill, the warmer the rug will be.
Standard neck - The neck of the rug stops at your horse’s withers, leaving his neck uncovered.
High neck - The neck extend beyond the withers, but doesn’t cover all of your horse’s neck.
Combo style - This style of rug has an integral neck cover that cannot be removed.
Detachable neck - This rug comes with (or sometimes has to be bought separately) a neck cover that can be removed, giving you the versatility of having two rugs in one.
Turnout and stable rugs are available in different weight. Similar to a tog rating we look at when we’re buying a duvet, weight refers to the amount of filling inside a rug and how warm it’ll keep your horse. Consider how your horse copes in different temperatures to help you choose the best weight rug for him.
Lightweight rugs usually have 0-80g of filling. Stable rugs may have up to 150g. Lightweight turnout rugs (or rain sheets) keep your horse clean and dry, making them a good option for damp spring and autumn days or cool summer nights. Most horses who aren’t clipped or have a small clip will be more than warm enough in a lightweight rug.
Medium weight rugs tend to have between 100-250g of filling. For many horses this will be all they need to keep them warm and dry through the winter months.
Heavyweight rugs are just that, and contain over 300g of filling. These are suitable for very cold weather or if your horse is fully clipped.
The choice of saddles for horses is huge and it can be quite confusing too. So, before you buy a new saddle take a bit of time to consider exactly what it is you want.
Ultimately it won’t be until you actually ride in the saddle that you’ll know whether it’s the one, but here we have some useful advice that should put you on the right path towards your perfect saddle.
Before you continue we strongly recommend that you set your budget now, then stick to it - it’s so easy to get carried away in the moment and end up spending far more than you want to.
Budget decided, you then need to decide what type of saddle you’d like. Here's a run through of what's available.
General purpose saddles
General purpose are designed so you can do most disciplines in them from hacking to jumping. Most leisure riders will go for this option, you only need one saddle, but if you compete regularly you may be better looking at a discipline specific saddle to give you the support and security you need.
As the name suggests these are designed for dressage and flatwork. The saddle flap is longer and straighter encouraging you to ride with a long leg position and the seat tends to be deeper to help you maintain a correct position. There’s the option of having large fixed knee blocks through to smaller moveable blocks so you can find the most comfortable position for you. To allow you to have a closer leg contact the girth straps are long and you use a short girth to remove any bulk under your leg so there are no buckles under your leg.
These are more forward cut so you can ride with shorter stirrups. They’ll normally have knee and thigh blocks are positioned to help you stay secure and supported when you’re jumping. Often they have a flatter seat allowing you a little more freedom if you’re riding cross-country.
These are designed to complement your horse’s conformation. They tend to be straight cut and basic in design so they allow total freedom of movement and show your horse off at his best.
Leather or synthetic saddles?
The next step is to decide what material you want your saddle to be made of, leather or synthetic.
Leather saddles: These would be most people’s first choice. You can’t really beat the look, feel and smell of leather. It may take a little more looking after, but many would say it’s worth it. Traditionally most English saddles are made in Walsall - the town has long been the home of the English saddle manufacturing industry and is famous for being one of the only places in the world to have the expertise and skills to produce the very best handmade English saddles.
Synthetic saddles: These have improved massively in recent years making them much more desirable – in fact, some have become so good that they can easily be mistaken as leather. What’s more, there are a number of benefits to synthetic saddles - the biggest being the price. They are considerably cheaper than leather saddles and so if you’re on a budget they’re definitely worth a look. In addition, they tend to be lighter and much easier to clean.
Changeable gullets: A fairly new addition to some saddles is the option to alter the gullet width of your saddle, a great idea if you own a young horse as you can have your saddle altered as he matures.
Flair saddle panels: These air panels are extremely adjustable – this is a system of four air bags, which replaces flocking. There are two air bags at the front and two at the rear. You can have flair air bags that provide a soft, flexible and event bearing surface. Flair can be fitted to all conventional saddles and each individual air bag can be adjusted allowing you to add or remove air to give a customise fit for you and your horse. This is done via two valves that are fitted under the skirt of the saddle.
Flair gives your saddle a constant flexible layer of air that’s great at absorbing shock allowing your horse to move more naturally as the muscles of his back and shoulder aren’t restricted.
Cair saddle panels: These are another type of air filled panel that are found in the range of saddles. The Cair Cushion System replaces the traditional filling in your saddle with air. There are two independently sealed air cushions within each saddle panel – the air in the panels can’t be adjusted. The concept behind this system is the air within the panels constantly adapts to your horse’s working muscles allowing your weight to be more evenly spread across the saddle, virtually eliminating pressure points so your horse is more comfortable.
Traditional saddle flocking
Traditionally saddle panels are flocked with wool and this is still the most common choice today. Your saddle is a shock absorber between you and your horse and wool is used as flocking because it’s a natural fibre that breathes and maintains its elasticity. Also, your saddler can add or take flocking out of the panels to alter the fit of your saddle if your horse changes shape. There are a number of types of wool used as flocking but a popular choice is Jacob wool - it has good recovery properties and remains soft helping to keep your horse comfortable. A flocked saddle still needs regular maintenance, over time and with use wool becomes hard and lumpy – regular checks by a qualified saddler will help to keep your saddle in good condition.
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It goes without saying that we would always recommend you use a qualified saddle fitter whether you’re buying a new or second-hand saddle or checking your current saddle fits your horse well.
Whenever you see the Society of Master Saddles (SMS) logo you can be confident that you’re going to receive a professional and knowledgeable service, whether you’re buying a new saddle or need one altering. Members of the SMS are the best in the industry, and a SMS retailer will stock at least three different English-manufactured saddles and have at least 50 saddles in stock.
What to expect when your saddle fitter arrives
When you first speak to your saddler they will ask you a series of questions – be completely honest with your answers, especially if they are coming out to you, as there are only so many saddles they can fit in their van. Questions will include what you do with your horse, his age, breed and fitness, you may also be asked what your budget is. Be honest with all your answers - these questions help them build a picture of you and your horse and to decide which saddles may be most suitable for you to try.
When the saddle fitter arrives they’ll spend some time taking templates of your horse’s withers, back and spine using a flexicurve. They’ll also take your horse’s girth measurement. Your saddle fitter will refer to these when he comes back and checks your saddle in the future. This gives your fitter valuable information about where your horse might have changed shape. These templates also help a fitter to decide what width of saddle will more than likely fit your horse.
Trying a new saddle
Then it’s time to try a few saddles – your fitter will check to see that the saddle panels sit evenly along your horse’s back, whether there is adequate clearance at the wither and that it allows the shoulder to move freely, once he’s happy with these first few checks it’s time to get you on board. The saddle fitter will want to see you ride in walk, trot and canter on both reins. While you’re riding he’ll be making assessments on how the saddle is fitting now you are on the move.
Once you’ve ridden in all the saddles it’s time to give your feedback and generally discuss the feel and fit of each saddle. When you’re completely happy it’s decision time – it may mean they can leave the saddle with you there and then, sometimes you may have to wait for your saddle to be made but your saddle fitter will be able to advise you on all of this.
Saddle fit tips
While you should always get a qualified saddle fitter to check or fit your saddle, there are a few things you can keen an eye on yourself.
In the following video SMS Qualified saddle fitter Diane Fisher shows you what checks to make to ensure your horse's bridle and saddle are as comfortable as possible, or when it's time to call your fitter.
Now find your saddle
Click the article below to take a look at a range of saddles, tried and tested by Your Horse readers.
A well-fitting rug is a must, not just for your horse's comfort, but for safety too. A rug that fits correctly should cover your horse's body well. there should be no tightness, or it will rub your horse's shoulders and withers. Also, a rug that's too may slip causing discomfort, and worst still dangerous.
If you're not sure what you should be checking follow our five simple points to ensure your horse is comfortable and safe.
Does he have freedom to move?
The rug should be roomy enough to do the front fastenings up without putting pressure on your horse's chest. Once fastened, you should be able to easily slide your hand inside the rug, down the side of his shoulder and around his chest.
Is it positioned well?
The rug should sit approximately 2in to 4in in front of your horse's withers, so it doesn't cause any pressure or rubbing. It should also reach to the top of his tail.
Is it the right depth?
Take a step back and see how deep the rug is. It should come down your horse's sides far enough so that you can't see his belly. If the rug isn't deep enough it'll look a bit like a miniskirt, exposing some of his tummy to the elements.
Do the surcingles fit?
These need to be adjusted so you can comfortable fit your hand between the strap and your horse's belly. Too loose and he could get a leg caught when he rolls, too tight and they may cause discomfort by pulling the rug down over his withers.
Does the neck cover fit?
Check the neck cover is long enough so it offers protection from the wind and rain especially when your horse has his head down while grazing. Also check the neck cover is deep enough, if it's too tight it will rub his mane.
Do the leg straps need adjusting?
Not all rugs have them, some will have just a fillet string. Careful adjustment is needed so your horse can move freely, but so they're tight enough that there's no danger of him getting caught in them when he rolls. Loop one leg strap around his back leg and fasten it to the 'D' rung on the same side. Repeat on the other side, passing the second leg strap through the first so they're linked before fastening. The straps should be adjusted to allow a hands' width between your horse's thigh and the strap.
Riding hats aren’t cheap so make sure you take good care of yours and it’ll take good care of you. Here are our 7 top care tips:
- The protection your hat offers diminishes over time as the padding becomes compressed, so you should replace your hat every three to four years.
- If your hat suffers a severe impact such as a fall or is dropped onto a hard surface, even if there’s no sign of damage, you should replace it, as it might not provide the protection it should.
- Try not to leave your hat lying around at the yard where it can be easily damaged.
- Buy a padded hat bag to store your hat in and to keep it well protected. Investing in something like this is money well spent!
- Don’t expose your hat to extremes of temperature by leaving it out in the sun or in an unheated tack room in freezing conditions. This damages the materials your hat is made from so it may not protect you when you need it to.
- If your hat gets wet allow it to dry out naturally and slowly – never put your hat on a radiator to dry as this can damage the integrity of the helmet.
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Thinking of a buying your horse a lick? Licks aren’t always the best way of providing your horse with a balanced diet, but they can be useful in certain situations. Read on to find out which are best for when.
Vitamin and mineral licks
These can be very useful if you have a number of horses sharing a paddock. In this situation it may not be possible to feed them individually because of bullying or fighting, but a vitamin and mineral lick is a practical way of helping to ensure they get a balanced diet.
You'll find many different brands available in your local feed shop including Orignal Horslyx which contains vitamins, minerals and trace elelments to balance any deficieinces in your horse’s grazing and forage. When fed alongside good quality forage it can remove the need to feed hard food.
To find out more about the Horslyx range visit www.horslyx.co.uk
These can be useful for horses in hard work who need extra salt in their diet to replenish salt lost through sweating. However, one disadvantage of providing a self-help salt lick is that it’s difficult to tell how much the horse consumes each day.
However, it’s often better and easier to simply feed a suitable concentrate feed. The best feed will obviously depend on your horse’s individual needs, but there are products available to cater for every type of horse, from a very good-doer to a top class competition horse. The right feed will provide your horse with a fully balanced diet and many already contain added herbs such as garlic. It will usually contain enough salt if your horse is only in light work, but if he’s working harder you may need to add some extra salt or a specific electrolyte supplement.
Himalayan Salt Licks are a popular choice with horse owners as they're the purest form of salt you can give your horse. NAF Himalayan salt lick is as natural and pure as the day it was mined high up in the Himalayan mountains. Horses and ponies require supplementary salt on a daily basis. Research shows that salt is the one nutrient that horses will self-supplement to balance their diet. Himalayan Salt Licks hung in the stable and field allow access to the purest form of salt, without unnatural flavours that can encourage greediness!
To find out more visit www.naf-equine.eu/uk
A well fitting pair of riding gloves will fit like a second skin and allow you to have a good feel and grip on the reins. Follow our handy tips on finding the right pair for you.
Go for a material that’s breathable as it will help keep you comfortable in warmer weather. A material with some stretch will add to your overall comfort and fit.
Different materials are often used on the palm, such as leather or synthetic suede, to give better grip and feel on the reins. Try different pairs on so you can get an idea of how much feel they’ll give you.
Sited where the gloves will get more wear – usually between the rein fingers – these make the gloves more durable. They also provide protection from rubbing.
Velcro fastening around the wrist or on the back of the hand gives a good secure feeling. Others simply slip on with elastic around the wrist. Try different styles on so you can find out which suits you best.
If you are debating whether your horse requires a rug or not, follow this checklist to decide what is right for him:
1. How often you intend to ride - if only once a week and your horse isn’t clipped there is no real reason to rug him up unless he’s a poor doer. Instead you will have to get used to grooming the mud off on a Saturday morning.
2. Your horse’s lifestyle - is he out all the time or stabled? Horses and ponies wintered out may need extra protection from the driving rain and therefore may need rugging. Unclipped stabled horses may not require rugging.
3. Clipping and the type of clip will also influence your decision on rugging. Native ponies with a small bib clip may not need extra protection and warmth although a thoroughbred who is fully clipped will.
4. Horse type and breed may also influence your decision to rug. Thinner-skinned horses with lighter coats such as thoroughbreds usually feeling the cold more than a Welsh Mountain Pony or Irish Cob.
5. The weather - horses and ponies cope very well in the cold but wet and windy conditions are more challenging so consider the weather on a daily basis and remember there’s no need to put on the heavyweight if it is 12°C and sunny!
6. Along with the decision on whether to rug or not is what type and thickness of rug to use. If you’re trying to keep your horse clean over the winter, opt for a lightweight rug. For poor doers that really feel the cold go for thicker rugs and remember what your Mum told you about layers!
The design of double bridles can vary and it's important to recognise the different features and fixtures they can have. Different designs can have a huge effect on the way each bridle works. Here are some key features explained:
The shank of the curb can be fixed or sliding and of varying lengths. A sliding shank allows the curb to move slightly as the bit is tipped when the rider takes up the contact. This is less precise than a fixed shank but a much milder action. Shanks that are shorter in length also have a milder action.
The curb and port
The action of the curb asks the horse to flex, while the thickness of the mouthpiece varies from bit to bit, as does the port in the centre. A forward-slanting port can provide more room for the two bits to sit together nicely in the mouth, be comfier on the tounge (especially in a more fleshy mouth) and should not touch the roof of the mouth. Ultimately the type of curb you need depends entirely on the make-up of your horse. Generally, the thicker the curb mouthpiece the milder the bit, and a high port makes the bit more devere, but it really depends on your horse. A smaller mouth may require a thinner curb and smaller port, while a larger mouth may benefit from a thicker mouthpiece and a wider port.
The snaffle or bridoon
The bridoon is a smaller version of a snaffle bit and its action asks the horse to lift his head. Commonly a single-jointed, loose-ring snaffle is used, but an eggbutt version can also be used. A double-jointed bit with a lozenge will sit neatly in the port of the curb for a more comfortable fit
The curb chain should lie flat in the chin groove and a padded chain cover can be used for extra comfort. Curb chains can have forward- or backward-facing hooks, but Claire advises that forward-facing hooks are a better choice, as backward-facing hooks can become caught in the horse's lip when putting the bridle on.
1. Start by holding the bridle up against the side of your horse's head to see whether it's roughly the right size.
2. It's important to treat the double bridle as a single bridle, and the two bits as one, as you put it on. Put the reins over your horse’s neck and undo the curb chain. Hold the two bits in your hand, as you normally would, ensuring that the snaffle sits behind the curb. If you don't do this, the snaffle can sit in the wrong place or twist.
3. It's also essential that the curb chain is secured at the right length as it controls the severity of the curb bit. If it's too loose and would allow the curb to rotate too far in the horse's mouth, causing a lot of pressure on the tongue as the bit rotates forwards.
4. The curb chain should be fitted so that it acts when the lower cheek of the curb rotates to 45 degrees. If the curb chain is too short, the action of the curb bit is very severe and puts great pressure on the poll and the lower jar - a rough rider may even break the jaw bone.
HOLDING THE REINS
A double bridle will only work if used correctly. Holding the reins incorrectly will mean you're likely to cause your horse to overbend, or you'll feel some strong resistance to the contact.
To use a double bridle most effectively, you must hold the snaffle rein as you would normally between your third and little finger. The curb rein should sit between your second and third finger, while your thumbs should sit on top of both reins, keeping them secure.
To begin with, ride your horse on a 20m circle in walk, but ensure that the curb rein is slack so that you can first get used to the feeling of holding two reins. When you do take up the curb rein and walk on the circle, your seat bones should follow the movement, as normal. You don't follow the movement of your horse with your hands, you follow it with your hips.
When you’re ready to shorten the curb rein remember that your seat and legs will continue to work your horse into an outline, your hands are to feel with the rein, not fiddle. Remind yourself that the double bridle is only for fine tuning, it's a very subtle action.
- Hold the snaffle rein between your third and little finger
- Hold the curb rein between your second and third finger
- Keep your thumbs on top
Top Tip - before you ride in a double bridle for the first time, it's a good idea to have a play with the action of the two bits from the ground - this gives you the opportunity to check that the horse is OK with this feeling.
Bits work on seven areas of communication
1 The corners of the lips
2 The bars of the mouth
3 The roof of the mouth
4 The tongue
5 The poll
6 The nose
7 The curb or chin groove
This has much more movement than a fixed cheek or eggbutt, and can discourage the horse from fixing and leaning and encourages mouthing
This keeps everything stiller in the mouth – it can encourage horses to stretch into the contact
When you take a contact, it causes poll pressure and reduces pressure in the mouth – particularly useful for sensitive mouths as well as having a head lowering action.
This reinforces the turning aids and stops the bit sliding over the tongue and bars of the mouth – if you use bit keepers to fix the upper cheek of the bit, this stabilises the bit and will cause some poll pressure.
Traditionally, bridles are made of leather but there are increasingly large numbers of synthetic nylon and leather-look styles available, which can be cheaper and easier to care for. It’s always worth bearing in mind when buying a new bridle that synthetic tack has a much higher breaking point than leather.
Another consideration is the shape and type of headyour horse has. A chunky, cob-type horse tends to have a large, broad head, which is best suited to a bridle with wide straps and noseband. Similarly, a fine Arab or show horse’s head will look better in a more delicate bridle with thinner, more detailed leather.
Leather tack needs to be regularly cleaned and oiled to keep it supple, while synthetic nylon tack should be routinely washed to prevent deterioration of the material. There are a wide range of products available to care for your tack, from convenient wipes that are great for day-to-day cleaning, to saddle soaps and tackconditioners for a more thorough clean. Specialistsynthetic tack cleaners are also available for leather-look tack.
Designed with the horse’s comfort in mind, the Elevator Bridle was created by Lorraine Green of Horsesense Saddlers after her talented horse wasn’t performing as well as she hoped. The Elevator Bridle relieves pressure to the horse’s sensitive poll area. Nerves and blood vessels that feed the brain are located in this area. It’s also where meridian lines run – one of the areas to which they connect is the kidney area, exactly where the saddle and rider sit.
Horsesense has produced a bridle that features a cushioned underpad on the headpiece and a shaped headpiece to allow room for your horse’s ears to move freely. To reduce pressure on the poll area the headpiece has crew holes either side to allow a thinner noseband strap to thread through and over the top of the poll.
There was a time when leather was the only material all tack was made from, but webbingheadcollars are now considered normal and it wasn’t too long before synthetic bridles appeared on the market. Some traditionalists won’t entertain using a synthetic bridle on their horses but there is definitely a place for them whether they’re made from webbing or a leather-look material.
Libbys makes synthetic tack - the concept was to produce a range of washable, easy-care, English tack. One of the benefits of using webbing is that regular washing can reduce the risk of skin diseases and infection. Libbys makes a full range of products in a variety of different styles to suit all sizes and types from Shetlands to Shires. High quality webbing is used, which is hard wearing and good value for money. Its most popular product is the Standard bridle, which is fully adjustable with a cavesson noseband.
Wintec produces a leather-look bridle made from Equileather, which is lightweight, durable and waterproof. The Wintec Flash bridle has a nylon webbing core for extra strength and is made from a non-stretch material that simply needs wiping clean. It’s available in pony, cob and full size.
Another relatively new concept is using magnets in the headpiece of your bridle. Magnets are used on other areas of the body and known for their benefits of relaxing and calming as well as boosting circulation. Barnsby makes a Magnetic headpiece, which you can quickly and easily attach to your bridle or headcollar, held securely in place by two Velcro straps. Many riders who use them and say their horses are calmer and more relaxed.
Barnsby also makes a Calming Bridle – the magnetic crownpiece of the Barnsby FTS Calming Bridle incorporates a series of magnets into the leatherwork, which then sits on your horse’s poll and directly affects the axis vertebrae at the top of the spine. This allows the crownpiece to positively affect the whole horse, helping him to relax and work in a calmer, softer way.
Even though the English summer isn't quite as sunny as we'd hoped, it is starting to hot up! If you're looking to find yourself a new pair of summer breeches, take a look at our advice on what you should be looking out for.
A lightweight, breathable and stretchy material is very important when choosing summer breeches. You need maximum movement and to be able to stay as cool as possible while riding – and of course, you want them to look as flattering as possible. Cotton and Lycra/elastane mixes are great, particularly for slightly bigger thighs as the fabric skims straight over. The modern stretch 100% polyester fabrics are great technical breeches but they tend to show every lump and bump!
• High-waisted breeches are ideal for a curvy shape or anyone with a larger waist, as they tend to hold you in a little more.
• Hipster styles are good for those with a boyish figure or those with a longer body.
• Pleated front breeches (although quite hard to get hold of these days) can hide a multitude of sins.
• Jeans-style are now available from lots of brands in stretch denim. These look great and can also be worn as a fashion look away from horses as well.
What about colours and patterns?
When it comes to patterns, if you want to look slimmer, small patterns like checks are great.
Go for a darker colour with a darker coloured full seat. The full seat in a dark shade cuts away the inner thigh and makes your legs look slimmer and your bottom look smaller, like a miracle diet – hurrah we hear you cry!
Rather than bright or pale colours, go for strong colours if you want to brighten up your wardrobe – strong tan, green, blue, purple and cerise can all look really stylish and flattering on any age as long as you tone in another piece of your clothing.
Wash advice – keep your breeches brighter for longer
When you wash bright colours, remember to turn them inside out to stop the colour from running and wash them on a cool wash. If you get marks or stains, put neat fabric wash on them and leave it to soak for a few hours rather than washing them on a hot wash straight away.
Your horse’s mouth conformation is important in finding the right bit for him, says Heather Hyde of Neue Schule Bits.
By taking time to have a look at your horse’s mouth conformation, it can give you clues to which bit may suit him.
First, gently part your horse’s lips at the side and see if his tongue is bulging through his teeth. If it is, this indicates he has a large tongue. Heather believes big tongues are the most common form of mouth discomfort if they are not accommodated with the correct mouthpiece. The outer edges of the tongue are much more sensitive than the middle and these sensitive edges are going to be subjected to increased pressure with certain bits.
Check what room your horse has between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. Do this without a bit and then have another look when he has a bit in his mouth, at rest, and with a contact on the reins so you can see the areas of the mouth the bit puts pressure on.
Mouth conformation varies according to breed
Thoroughbreds generally have ‘easy’ mouth conformation – the tongue tends to lie neatly on the floor of the mouth with plenty of room between the tongue and the roof. A thin tongue results in more bar pressure from the bit. Choosing a slightly thicker mouthpiece will give more weight-bearing surface and be kinder.
The Irish Draught cross and Dutch warmblood are renowned for having a large tongue – not much room for a bit.
Arabs and Connemaras also have little room for a bit – the tongue is not always large but the roof of the mouth is generally lower, even if they don’t have a particularly dished face.
Trakehners can prove tricky to bit, they tend to have very sensitive skin in their mouths and the shape of their heads means there is less room for the bit.
Shires and Clydesdales generally have very fleshy lips and careful bitting is needed to avoid pinching of this sensitive area.
Well fitting tack will improve communication between you and horse, as well as keeping him happy and comfortable.
In the following videos SMS Qualified saddle fitter Diane Fisher shows you what checks to make to ensure your horse's bridle and saddle are as comfortable as possible, or when it's time to call your fitter out.
Plus, there's a short video on fitting brushing boots.
The Hilary Vernon bit range, Informed Designs, is made up of English bits designed and carefully constructed to complement the conformation of the horse’s mouth to improve comfort and communication. The range is inspired by the theory that a comfortable horse will be a more relaxed horse and therefore a less resistant horse. The range includes snaffles, pelhams, doubles, daleheads, Liverpools and butterflys. A variety of cheeks on these mouthpieces ensures you have a choice to ensure effective bitting for individual horses and ponies.
Abbey Bits are made in the UK and specialise in traditional and unusual bits. With more than 200 different bit patterns in stock, Abbey are also able to capture and follow bit trends, supplying specialist bits in a wide variety of sizes. The vast range includes snaffles, gags, pelhams, double bridles, driving bits, and hackamores. Bits are available in various materials including copper, stainless steel, sweet iron, rubber and vulcanite. Abbey’s made-to-measure bits can easily be customised from existing parts for comfort and quality.
Nathe bits - These bits are made in Germany from a patented plastic material, and claim to offer a higher degree of comfort and control for all horses. The secret of their effectiveness and flexibility is a unique mouthpiece, protected by a worldwide patent. Each bit has a stainless steel safety wire running through the mouthpiece for total security. They encourage salivation and are kind to the tongue, so are ideal for training young horses.
Neue Schule Bits - Most Neue Schule bits are made from Salox. They produce a range of innovative dressage and competition bits all designed with the shape of the horse’s mouth in mind and the use of their Tranz lozenge for comfort and communication gives even pressure over the tongue and away from the outer edges where the horse is more sensitive.
Myler Bits - Designed by the Myler brothers, this range of bits claims to create a kinder, more of effective way of communication with your horse. The bits have a forward-curve shape. This gives the horse more tongue room to allow for swallowing. The bits have a no-pinch action and each side moves independently to make your aids clearer.
Some of the bits come with slots in the cheeks. The top slots work in a similar way to a full cheek bit with keepers holding the mouthpiece off the tongue and steady – until the rider uses the reins. The bit returns to its original position once the rein aid is relaxed making the reward much clearer to your horse. Using the slots also gives some poll pressure encouraging your horse to flex from the withers.
The range of Myler bits is split into three levels depending on your horse’s level of training. Level one is designed for young horses at the beginning of their training. Level two is for horses with a basic training and level three is designed for more finished horses.
Sprenger Bits - These bits are made from Aurigan - an alloy of copper, silicon, and zinc - specially developed for using in horses' mouths. The manufacturers claim that using Aurigan helps your horse become more attentive and relaxed, improving the connection between horse and rider. The range of Sprenger KK bits were developed with the conformation of the horse’s mouth in mind. Research found the volume of the inside of the mouth was less than previously thought, leaving much less room for the bit. Sprenger used this information to develop their KK range of bits.