black and white horse wearing a bridle, parts of the bridle, bridle

Horse Tack Explained: The Bridle

When it comes to learning the  parts of horse tack, the bridle may be one of the trickiest. There are a lot of small pieces that look very similar, as they’re all essentially leather straps. Despite this, it is one of the most important pieces of tack to learn about. When used incorrectly, the bridle can cause significant harm. For example, if the noseband or throatlatch is done too tightly, you could have a big impact on the horse’s ability to breathe.

Take the next step on your path to becoming a great horseman. Keep reading to learn the parts of the bridle and how they work. 

What Are the Parts of the Bridle?

Defining what the different parts are and how they work will help you understand how you can communicate seamlessly with your horse. Review the parts listed on the image below. 

parts of the bridle, parts of horse tack, bridle

Let’s start from the top. The crown piece sits directly behind the horse’s ears and keeps all the pieces of the bridle together. The browband, noseband, cheek pieces, and throatlatch all connect to the crown piece. The browband goes over the horse’s forehead and prevents the bridle from sliding backwards, away from the ears and up the horse’s neck. 

Just below the browband are the throatlatch and cheek pieces. The cheek pieces connect to both the bit and the crown piece and keep the bit in the proper position in the horse’s mouth. Ensuring the bit is well-located in the horse’s mouth is a difficult task and varies from horse to horse. It’s best to ask your trainer, bridle fitter, or veterinarian if your bit fits your horse nicely. 

The throatlatch goes behind the horse’s jaw and around the throat, just as the name suggests. When tightening the throatlatch, it’s important not to make the fit overly snug. You should be able to place a fist between the bottom of the throatlatch and the horse’s throat. 

The noseband goes behind the bit and wraps around the horse’s nose and jaw. It prevents the horse from dislodging the bit and keeps their jaw in alignment. Perhaps its most important purpose is to prevent the horse from moving their tongue over the bit, which can cause injury. A noseband should fit snugly, but not tightly. You should be able to fit two fingers between the front of the horse’s nose and the leather. 

Last but not least, the reins connect to the bit and loop behind the horse’s neck. Think of the reins as a telephone. The connection to the bit is the horse’s end of the phone. When the rider picks up the reins, it’s like they’re picking up the phone and saying hello. 

What’s the Difference Between the Bridle and the Halter?

When you first start riding it’s easy to get the bridle and the halter confused. After all, they’re both worn on the horse's face and are used to guide the horse. Look closely. Halters do not have a bit– the metal mouthpiece worn while the horse is ridden. Bits are for precise communication only, and should never be connected to cross ties or used to tie the horse. 

One of the biggest distinctions between the bridle and the halter is when they are used. The bridle is used when the horse is being ridden or is being led to or from the riding arena. The halter is used to lead the horse from the pasture or stall and is worn while the horse is being groomed and tacked. 

What Type of Bridle Do You Need?

There are many different types of bridles for different disciplines and situations. If you’re a beginner rider, it can be difficult to figure out when you should be using which bridle. Is one better than another? In short, no one bridle is better than others, but certain bridles are designed for specific situations. For example, there are dressage bridles for the dressage ring and hunt bridles for fox hunters. What type of bridle should you choose? Let’s take a look at some of the most common types. 

chestnut horse wearing a brown bridle, parts of the bridle

Bridles like the  Henri de Rivel Mono Crown Fancy Stitched Bridle are most commonly seen in the world of hunters and equitation, particularly in the show ring. This bridle is best described as minimalist. It doesn’t have a flash, drop noseband, or anatomical design. Instead, its purpose is to show off the horse’s head and allow the rider to control the horse with as few “gadgets” as possible. If you’re a beginner rider, most of your lesson horses will have a bridle like this one. 

buckskin horse wearing anatomical bridle in black

Then you have the  Henri de Rivel Anatomical Bridle. This bridle is not discipline specific, but you normally won’t see it in the competition ring, particularly in hunters and dressage. The unique shape of the noseband is designed to better accommodate the clusters of nerves and delicate facial bones on the horse’s face. The padded crown piece is shaped around the ears to allow for full rotation and mobility. Use a bridle like this one for particularly sensitive horses who don't like traditional bridles, or if you have a horse with a unique head shape. 

bay horse wearing black dressage bridle, parts of the bridle

Dressage queens would typically wear a bridle like the  Henri de Rivel Diamonte Dressage Bridle during day-to-day schooling practice and in the competition ring. There are three key characteristics that make this bridle a good fit for the dressage ring. A curved crystal browband will catch the light and highlight the beautiful lines of the horse’s face. A flash comes off the front of the noseband and wraps around the horse’s mouth, just in front of the bit. And lastly, the noseband features a “crank” style closure that ensures a snug fit. 

This next bridle may, at first glance, look similar to the dressage bridle as it also has a flash-type noseband that closes in front of the bit, but it’s actually most commonly used in the jumper ring. The  Henri de Rivel Kushy Figure Eight Bridle features a combination flash and throat latch that gives the appearance of a figure eight crossing over the horse’s face. This design keeps the horse’s jaw aligned while preventing restriction of the horse’s breathing. The padded, anatomically contoured mono crown piece removes pressure points across the poll.

dark bay horse wearing dark brown hunt bridle, parts of the bridle

Are you going fox hunting in the near future? The  Henri de Rivel Advantage Hunt Bridle is a favorite of fox hunters everywhere.

The flat leather and simple stitching is very traditional. Thick leather and wide straps come together to create a durable and rugged bridle that’s ideal for holding back an excited horse while galloping through the countryside.  

gray horse wearing a bitless bridle, parts of the bridle

Finally, there are bitless bridles, like the  Horze Bitless Bridle. Bitless bridles forego the bit and work off of sidepull style reins that connect directly to the sides of the noseband and put pressure directly on the nose of the horse, instead of the mouth.

This style of bridle is typically not allowed in most competition settings, but is ideal for horses who have had an injury to their mouth or jaw that prevents them from wearing a bit, or who simply have an aversion to the bit altogether. Your Source for High-Quality Bridles has bridles for every discipline, from polo to hunters to dressage. When you’re looking for high-quality bridles or replacement parts, our online tack store is just one click away.  Click here to shop for a bridle that fits your needs.

Looking to learn more about bridles?  Click here to learn how to clean your bridle. 

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