How bridles look and work can be different within the English riding disciplines.
Nevertheless, there are three main types of English bridles :
- Snaffle bridle
- Weymouth bridle (double or full bridle)
- Bitless bridle
Let’s have a closer look at these different types :
The snaffle bridle is the one that is being used most because it is a very versatile and functional bridle.
It is often used with young horses, trail riding and in all of the sport horse disciplines (jumping, hunting, dressage and eventing).
A snaffle bridle consists of one of the many types of single snaffle bits, like loose ring, eggbutt, or D-ring, a single set of reins attached to that bit, and any of a number of types of noseband or caveson.
These can be:
- Standard Caveson
- Flash Noseband
- Crank Noseband
- Drop Noseband
- Figure-8 or Grackle
A snaffle bridle works with pressure. This pressure comes from the bit as it applies to the bars and corners of the horse’s mouth, lips, tongue and palate, and also with pressure from the bridle as it applies to the horse’s poll and nasal bone.
In an English snaffle bridle, the noseband keeps the horse’s jaws aligned and prevents the horse from opening its mouth wide enough to avoid the bit and rein aids.
When adjusted properly— not too tightly or too loosely —the noseband also transfers some of the bit pressure from the bars of the horse’s mouth to the nasal bone. A noseband also provides a place for a standing martingale to attach when used.
The type of noseband or caveson that is allowed and designed to be used as part of a snaffle bridle varies slightly according to the English riding discipline.
The type of bit and the type of noseband impact the bridle’s functionality.
Also a horse’s particular needs may vary depending on its activity. For this reason, some riders have a snaffle bridle and bit combination for ring work, and then another snaffle bridle and bit for riding a cross country course.
Styling on snaffle bridles begins with the color of the leather. Black remains the current trend for dressage riders. Comfort features, such as soft padding on the noseband, browband and crownpiece, are usually hidden from view. Some color or sparkle is occasionally added to a dressage bridle through the use of contrasting padding or piping on the noseband and browband, or through the use of a browband embellished with crystals, simple metal insets, or beads.
Traditional shades of brown leather appeal to those riding in the hunter or jumper rings or cross country. These bridles are classically styled and understated as well, and innovations designed for the ultimate comfort of the horse are usually tastefully discreet.
Hunter, jumper and cross country riders are in general free to choose styling of their bridle based on how to best flatter his or her horse’s appearance. However, browbands that are embellished with crystals are not allowed for use in the hunters or hunt seat equitation division.
Snaffle bridles are available in rich brown colors to coordinate with the many colors of brown saddles, and in plain leather, with raised panels or fancy stitching.
The Weymouth bridle is also called a double bridle or a full bridle. The Weymouth bridle can be seen on horses training in the upper levels of dressage.
The double bridle has two bits— a Weymouth or curb bit, and a bradoon —and two sets of reins.
A curb bit has a non-jointed mouthpiece, usually with a port that allows room for the horse’s tongue, a curb chain that exerts pressure under the chin, and shanks that allow a leverage action.
A narrow curb rein is connected to a ring at the lower end of the shank. When a rein aid is used, the leverage on the shank of the bit travels up to the horse’s poll.
A bradoon is a type of snaffle bit that is thinner in diameter than a standard snaffle bit and has smaller rings to prevent interference with the shanks of the curb bit. To assist the rider in identifying the reins by feel, the snaffle rein, which attaches to the rings of the bradoon, is usually wider or of a different style than the curb rein. The bradoon bit is also one size smaller than the weymouth bit. So when you use a weymouth bit of 13.5 be sure to use a bradoon bit of 12.5.
Styling of the Weymouth bridle for the dressage ring typically includes black leather to coordinate with black dressage saddles. The noseband of a full bridle, to allow room for the curb bit to function, does not have a flash. However, a crank closure is often used today. As with the snaffle bridle for dressage, this type of bridle is understated and classic in appearance, with any subtle embellishment included only on the browband and occasionally the noseband through subtle piping or padding. Comfort features are discreet.
A bitless bridle works with pressure on the key areas of the horse’s head without the use of a bit in the horse’s mouth.
A rider or trainer may choose to use a bitless bridle on a horse for many reasons. It might be used temporarily for the retraining of a horse that has been ridden by a heavy-handed rider or has suffered a mouth injury. It might be used because a horse has dental issues or difficulties tolerating a bit to such an extent that behavioral issues developed. Other riders choose to use a bitless bridle for the overall comfort of the horse.
Bitless bridles are developed and offered as a complete unit. Some hackamores can be attached to the cheek pieces of a snaffle bridle to replace both the noseband and bit to create a bitless bridle.