Bridle and Bit Fitting Advice from Experts in the Field
Written by Catherine Baker and Frances Roche, SMS Qualified Bridle Fitters and Bridle Fitting Lecturers.
Looking for advice on bridle and bit fitting? Confused by recent changes in equipment shape and want to know more? Here, SMS-qualified bridle fitters and lecturers, Catherine Baker and Frances Roche iron out some issues riders are having surrounding bridle and bit fitting.
There is an increasing amount of chatter about bits, bridles and the correct fit of both. Riders are becoming more aware that a well-fitting bit and bridle directly impact their horse’s welfare and performance. It is a vast topic and it can get somewhat confusing for riders so here are a few key points.
The headpiece should sit comfortably over the poll and behind the bulbs of the ears.
It is good practice to just slide your hand under the crown of the headpiece to make sure it is comfortable.
The idea of the anatomical bridle is that it is better shaped around the ears and other facial features with an aim to reduce peak pressures, and therefore should be more comfortable. However, they do need to be fitted to each individual horse. We very often see the shaping on these bridles situated in the wrong position, causing more pressure rather than less. This does not mean the bridle is a poor design but possibly poor sizing or incorrectly fitted. See images 1 and 2.
It is worth mentioning that it is often implied that an anatomical bridle doesn’t touch the back or bulbs of the ears, but this is not true. The anatomy of the head and neck, along with the use of a bit, means that the headpiece (with the exception of one or two makes) will always want to sit against the ears but, if the headpiece is the correct shape and fit, there will be less pressure.
The browband should not be so short so that it is pulling the headpiece forward against the bulbs of the ears, nor should it be so long that it gapes at the front.
Shaped browbands are very much in vogue nowadays but, whichever style is selected it is key to make sure that they do not apply pressure around the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). See image 3.
The noseband needs to be fitted at the correct height for its purpose.
A cavesson or crank noseband should be fitted with two fingers space below the facial crest and with any noseband that sits below the bit, the front should not sit so low that it impedes the soft part of the nostril. Horses are ‘obligate nasal breathers’ – they can only breathe through their nose. If you impede the nostril, you restrict the breathing and affect the horses ability to perform.
The cheek straps should not cross the facial crest, and any buckles should be clear of the lips or the bony area under the jaw.
Crucially, any type of noseband should be fitted so it is not ‘keeping the horses mouth closed’ and you should be able to get at least two adult fingers (or the ISES tape gauge) under the noseband on the front of the nasal bone regardless of which style of noseband is being used. See image 4.
Research has led to the redesign of the drop noseband with curved shaping or two ring styles being more humane. See images 5 and 6.
The cheeks should run parallel with the facial crest and the buckles should sit roughly level with the corner of the eye holding the bit or bits in the correct.
The most common error by far is cheek pieces too long. This can mean that buckles are crowded up underneath the browband, forcing it onto the ears creating pressure against the TMJ. This can cause discomfort, behavioural and performance issues. See images 7 and 8.
The bit should be the correct width and height. Larger bit rings may mean you need shorter cheeks.
There are so many different types of bit available now that selecting one which is appropriate for the discipline and fitting it correctly can be tricky. Really simply, bits can be split into two camps – fixed cheek and loose cheek. A fixed cheek should sit snug to the side of the horse’s lips whilst there should be ¼” gap between the lip and the cheek of a loose ring or shank. A common myth to assessing the height of the bit is the two-wrinkle rule and although this is a good guide, the correct height cannot be determined without looking at where the bit sits in the horse’s mouth.
Fortunately, there are many trained and experienced bit fitters to help riders and it is recommended that they choose a bit fitter who carries plenty of stock to try, and one who will follow up with a good after sales service. See image 9.
Sizing of bridles is often a sticking point with horse owners and we often hear ‘my horse is a cob sized nose and a full sized headpiece’.
This is largely down to the change in the type of horse we ride today and the unchanged sizing used by many manufacturers.
The simple answer to this is to buy from companies who offer a good choice of mix and match parts, or to get a good, Society of Master Saddlers Qualified or Master Bridle maker to make a bespoke bridle. This way you will gain a good fit and have exactly the colour and style you need or want. Bespoke may not be as costly as you expect, especially when you consider the price of the anatomical bridles and the chance that you may need to buy more than one to achieve the correct sized parts. See images 10 and 11.