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If you thought saddles were complicated, you haven’t yet met the bridle.

As with saddles, bridles can be a contentious issue so I will again leave the definition to the Oxford English Dictionary, which describes them as “the head gear used to control a horse, consisting of buckled straps to which a bit and reins are attached.” Of course, once you have read on, you will understand why it’s not quite as simple as all that.

There are many different types and styles of bridle and which one you choose will largely depend on your favoured discipline or activity, as well as preferred style. However, here are some of the more common variations.


The Snaffle Bridle

Also known as a single bridle, a snaffle bridle consists of a noseband, browband, reins, and a bit. This is the most common form of bridle there is as it’s fairly user-friendly and extremely versatile making it popular with riders at all levels. A snaffle bridle tends to have a cavesson nose band with or without a flash strap.  And yes, there are variations on the theme of nosebands too:

  • The cavesson (with or without flash)

  • The grackle

  • The drop

A cavesson sits about two fingers beneath the cheekbones and it can differ in style slightly, according to the discipline. Show jumpers lean towards thinner leather to give more direct pressure while dressage riders tend to opt for the padded version that gives more equal pressure.

Important: if a noseband is fitted too high it can put pressure on the arteries at the end of the cheekbone, causing discomfort and potential damage to your horse. Similarly, if you have it too low, it sits on the most sensitive part of the horse’s nose, causing discomfort. Also, don’t over-tighten the noseband. You should be able to fit two fingers between the noseband and your horse’s face.

Many cavesson bridles are designed to go with a flash, which is a thin strap attached at the centre of the cavesson and secured under the horse’s chin. It is used to stabilise the bit and prevent your horse crossing the jaw or putting the tongue over the bit.

The grackle noseband, sometime known as ‘the Mexican’ or ‘figure eight noseband,’ consists of two leather straps that cross on the front of the horse's nose, which is protected by leather or sheepskin padding, and then fastened under the chin. The grackle tends to be used on horses that cross the jaw to evade contact with the bit, and because it frees up the nostrils and nose, allowing the horse to breathe unrestricted, it is also popular with cross country riders. 

The drop noseband does what it says on the tin – it sits low on the nose, below the bit and at a point parallel to the horse’s chin groove, yet still resting on the nasal bone. Worn properly, the noseband is another method of preventing a horse from crossing the jaw. It’s also a popular aid in the training of young horses who are learning to accept the bit.

The Double Bridle

The double bridle, also called a full bridle or a Weymouth bridle, consists of two bits: the bradoon/bridoon (snaffle) and the curb.

The curb was originally invented so that knights and cavalrymen could control their horses one-handedly. It was later brought back into usage by the French riding masters who found that rather than a tool of force it could be used in combination with a cavesson to enable riders to reach a higher level of communication with their horse, as well as increased collection.

The bradoon is said to elevate and bend the horse while the curb causes the horse to give the neck and bring the head towards the vertical. Though double bridles are mandatory at Grand Prix level dressage, there is increasing debate about the curb in relation to horse welfare.

The Bitless Bridle

A bitless bridle controls the horse’s movement by putting pressure on the head instead of the mouth. Although generally viewed as a milder form of control, bitless bridles will still be harsh in the wrong hands. And, if you haven’t yet guessed, there are variations on the theme. Here are the most common:

  • Cross-under. Designed with two straps crossing under the jaw, the cross-under works by applying pressure on the opposite side of the head as the rein aid, causing the horse to move away from the pressure.

  • Hackamore. This bridle works by applying pressure to the nose, poll and chin groove.

  • Bosal. By applying pressure to the horse’s nose and jaw, the bosal encourages movement away from the pressure.

  • Side-pull. This bridle gives stronger direct lateral commands, and is more novice-rider-friendly.

There are many reasons why people decide to go bitless. Sometimes it’s to address physical issues in the mouth following broken jaws, melanomas or tongue damage. Sometimes it’s to address ridden behaviours such as head shaking, spookiness, bucking and bolting. However, like any equestrian art, riding bitless requires training, both for you and your horse. For more information check out the website of the World Bitless Association (



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