If you own a horse that you plan to ride, a bridle will be a core item of your tack. There are different styles made from a range of materials to choose from, depending on what suits your horse best. Horse bridles tend to be sold in pony, cob and full sizes, with many horses being between sizes, so don’t be surprised to find yourself buying two and using a mix of straps from both to create the best one for your horse.

What are the parts of a horse bridle?

Headband (or headpiece)

The headband is the top strap of a bridle. It sits behind your horse’s ears and splits into two straps at either end. The wider of these two straps connects to the cheekpiece on both sides, while the thinner strap, which should sit at the back of the bridle (ie the one furthest away from the horse’s eye), is the throatlash.


The browband isn’t adjustable so it’s important that you have the right size for your horse. 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, but not so low that it is close to the horse’s eyes.


The cheekpieces play an important role in a bridle, because they determine the level of communication between you and your horse. A properly fitted cheekpiece will allow the bit to just wrinkle the corners of their mouth. It’s also worth checking your horse’s bit is the right size: it should stick out about a quarter of an inch at each side of the mouth.

Cheekpieces that are too loose will position the bit too low in the horse’s mouth, causing the bit to hit their front teeth and put uncomfortable pressure on their tongue. Cheekpieces that are tight place the bit too high in his mouth, digging into the cheeks, causing pinching.

I remember when I was a young rider, around 10 or 11, tacking up my usually very placid pony and going for a ride, wondering why she was bucking. It was totally out of character for her. When I got home, my Grandmother noticed that I had put the wrong bridle on and it was far too long for my poor pony, so every time I loosened the rein contact the bit would drop in her mouth, which must have been so horrible for her. A good telling off and a quick lesson about how to check bridle fit later, I didn’t make the same mistake again — and I never have since.


When the throatlash is 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 the horse’s windpipe when they flex to the bit. If it’s too loose, it will move around too much and won’t be able to do it’s job, which is keeping the bridle on your horse’s head.

When you take your bridle apart to clean it, you need to make sure you make sure the throatlash is the correct way around when you put it back together. Remember what I said above, that the throatlash should be at the back of the bridle. Also remember that it should do up on your horse’s near (left) side, so the shorter strap for the throatlash should be on the left, with the long throatlash strap (this is the one with the buckle on) on the other side.


In many bridles, the noseband is its own strap that threads underneath the headpiece, but other styles have a third strap on the headpiece which connects to the noseband. There are multiple styles of nosebands to choose from, all of which work in a slightly different way and so suit some horses better than others:

  • A cavesson noseband is the simplest noseband: it is a single band that goes around your horse’s head. It should lie about two fingers’ width below your horse’s cheekbone, which is the hard bone that juts out on the side of his face. When fastened you should be able to insert two fingers between the noseband and your horse. Cavesson nosebands are really used for cosmetic rather than functional purposes.
  • A flash noseband has a thinner ‘flash’ strap attached to the middle of the noseband, which fastens below the bit and helps to prevent a horse from opening their mouth and evading the bit. The flash strap shouldn’t be fitted too tightly, though, and should only come into play if your horse opens their mouth. Flash nosebands are a common sight. However, they shouldn’t be used as a quick fix: make sure there isn’t another reason for your horse opening their mouth first, such as rider error or mouth pain, for example.
  • A drop noseband is rarely seen these days, but it’s still a good idea to be able to identify one. A drop noseband sits lower on the horse’s nose (although should still be well clear of the nostrils so that it doesn’t affect breathing) and does up below the bit. It is thought to provide stability to the bit and lower jaw. It shouldn’t be too tight, as its use is not to prevent the mouth opening. When the horse relaxes in the contact, any pressure from the drop noseband is released and so it acts more like a cavesson noseband.
  • You may hear a grackle noseband called a ‘figure of eight’ or ‘crossed’ noseband, because that is the shape they make when you look at a horse from the front. A grackle noseband is often used on horses who can be strong but don’t open their mouths, as it helps prevent them putting their tongue over the bit or crossing their jaw. Where the grackle straps cross over at the front of the horse’s head, there is often a piece of fabric or wool there for comfort and to prevent rubbing.

Why have a noseband on a horse bridle?

A correctly fitting noseband will allow you to communicate more effectively with your horse.

“But often it is over-tightened or ill-fitted, and an over- tightened noseband can cause discomfort and pain, compromising the horse’s welfare,” says Frances Roche, a Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) Master Saddler and Qualified Bridle Fitter from Windsor and Henley Bridles. “Also, because the tongue and jaw of the horse are linked to the chest, shoulder, trunk and hind limbs via various muscular connections, a tight noseband can influence the way the horse uses himself.

“For your horse to be able to relax through his neck and body, it is vital that he is comfortable in his mouth and jaw. It is also worth remembering that a noseband that is very loose can be annoying for the horse.”

Occasionally, a horse or pony may have a very cresty neck or small ears, which causes the bridle to tip forward or even come off.

“In these instances, a noseband will help to secure the bridle in position (a low-set throatlatch can be useful in this situation, too),” adds Frances. “Nosebands can also help to secure a bridle if a horse has melanomas and can’t wear a browband. In short, it is perfectly fine not to use a noseband — many horses don’t need them at all, and some don’t like them. However, for dressage competitions it is compulsory to use one.”

Some horses seem happier without a noseband on, but research has shown that an articulated noseband helps to stabilise the bridle, particularly during fast work, such as racing and cross-country. It ensures that the bridle moves with the horse, not against them, thus reducing pressure and increasing comfort.

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