As horse owners we understand the importance of a well-fitting saddle, and regularly have our horse’s back and the saddle itself checked to ensure that they’re as comfortable as they can be. However, have you ever thought about your horse’s bridle?

We asked vet Rachel Murray how bridle fit impacts on performance and how to establish whether your horse’s bridle fits properly.

There are a number of important structures in a horse’s head that aren’t always taken into account with bridle design, and can lead to the development of uncomfortable pressure points if the bridle isn’t properly fitted.

In my research into how bridle fit impacts on a horse’s performance, I’ve found that reducing the pressure and force exerted on the head by a bridle can lead to improved gait, including increased limb flexion and movement. So what should you look for when it comes to choosing a bridle?

Heads up

The equine head is extremely complex, with important structures like the mouth and tongue, as well as more complex skeletal features:

  • The bones of the hyoid apparatus — this articulates with the skull, giving biomechanical form and function to the larynx, pharynx and tongue.
  • The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) — the joint between the two jaw bones which allows for chewing.
  • The wings of the atlas — the topmost vertebra connecting the spine to the skull.

There are also a number of nerves in areas where the bridle routinely sits. These anatomical features relate to all horses, but it’s also important to realise that bridles should be fitted to each horse as an individual — just like saddles.

Awareness about specific issues relating to bridle fit — in particular nosebands and bits — is on the rise, and there are now a number of companies turning to scientific research in order to help them design bridles that avoid particularly delicate areas of the horse’s head.

Optimal bridle fitting

When fitting a bridle, horses must be assessed as individuals. The face may not be symmetrical, and proportions can vary greatly.

A horse with a short head, and a short distance between the mouth and facial crest, needs a noseband that isn’t too wide. In a stallion with a large neck crest, there may be a tendency for the headpiece to be pushed forwards, whereas a horse with short bars of the mouth requires a bit that’s not too wide.

The tightness of the noseband and the type of bit are only two elements of overall optimal bridle fit and horse welfare, however.

As I’ve said, standard ‘one size fits all’ bridles can interfere with muscle attachments. But taking the anatomical structure of the horse’s head into consideration, as well as the principles of where and how pressure is exerted by a bridle, has meant a huge improvement in bridle design in recent times.

What to look out for

  • Padding in the right places can help to raise the bridle off the head to avoid pressure points.
  • Narrow, not wide, sides to the headpiece will reduce pressure on the ears and wings of the atlas.
  • More flexible bridles — such as something with side rings or a Micklem — can articulate with your horse’s head movement.
  • Don’t forget the importance of cleaning your bridle to keep it supple and comfy for your horse.
  • A well-fitting bridle is essential for your horse to be at his best, to feel comfortable and be happy to work. Take the time to find the right fit for your horse and you will see the results in his performance.

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