Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tack 'Em Up! Bridling a Horse


When riding a horse, you have your aids, which include your seat, hands, and legs. Even though the bridle is a piece of equipment, I consider it to be an extension of an aid. This is because, first and foremost, you should be able to move your horse around your body. The extra equipment may help, but as is, they are just aids to help you stay on the horse and exercise your communication.

A bridle is the headgear used to control a horse when in the saddle, consisting of buckled straps to which a bit and reins are attached, according to Dictionary.com. It may not be as crucial a piece as the halter and lead rope, but it has its benefits. As an extension aid, the bridle allows the rider to command and communicate cues while in the saddle. Bridles are usually leather, but can come in nylon, pvc, or any combination of those. I myself prefer the leather bridles, as they seem to look better on the horses.There are many different sizes of bridles and choosing the wrong size can be a detriment to the safety of the handler, horse, and pretty much everyone else in the vicinity. The standard sizes are as follows:

Mini: obviously made to fit miniature horsesPony: made to fit ponies
Small, Arab or Cob: full sized horse with a smaller head such as the Arabians or CobsHorse, Average or Medium: full sized horse with an average head such as the Quarter HorseLarge Horse or Warmblood: full sized horse with a large head such as the WarmbloodDraft or Extra Large

If at all possible, have a horse knowledgable friend, horse professional, or store associate help you with sizing if you are still not sure on what size you should buy.

There are also many different types of bridles, each a part of what ever event you and your horse are going to be a part of. Usually, the english bridles are a bit more complicated than the western bridles, as they have more straps and things to buckle.

1. Before even beginning to bridle the horse, look over the bridle. Make sure that there aren't any tears, ripping/ripped seams, or broken pieces. Do the same for the reins. You will want the entire bridle including reins in good working order before ever putting it on your horse.

2. When you are looking over the bridle, you will notice that it is a little different from the halter and lead rope.
  • For one, the bridle will most likely have a bit. That silver thing hanging down near the bottom. Now, if you look in a horse's mouth, you will notice a space between the front teeth and the back teeth. This space is called the interdental space, and all horses have it. This space is where the bit is going to go. Right smack dab in the center of that space. If the bit is too loose, it will knock the teeth in the front, but if too tight it will provide discomfort on the back teeth. Either scenario will result in an unhappy horse. 
  • Secondly, the bridle has a browband (except for some western bridles). The band that goes across the horse's "forehead".

3. After you have looked over the entire bridle, and have affirmed that it is good, slip the lead rope around the horse's neck and unbuckle the crown piece of the halter. After unbuckling the crown piece, slide the halter off the horse, while still keeping the lead rope around the neck. Once the halter is completely off, attach just the crown piece around the horse's neck, and remove the lead rope. 

Safety comes first, so if at all possible, have a horse knowledgable friend or horse professional there until you become confident in doing this task yourself.

4. So now the halter is just around the horse's neck and you are 
holding onto the lead rope. Now comes the fun part!! Take your bridle and with your right hand hold the bridle up and over the horse's nose, making sure that the bit is parallel to the horse's mouth. Using your left hand, hold the bit in your hand, across the palm. Bring the bit up to the horse's mouth, inserting your thumb and forefinger into the sides of the mouth behind the teeth. If the horse is a bit resistant, he may jerk his head up, or not want to open his mouth. Once your fingers are in and the bit is at his lips, wiggle your fingers in his mouth in order to get him to open his mouth. When he does open it, DO NOT jerk the bit into his mouth. Gently move the bridle up his face, moving the bit further in his mouth. 

5. Once the bit is in the horse's mouth and the bridle is near the horse's ears, switch hands. Take the bridle in your left hand and bring your right hand from underneath the horse's throatlatch to its ears. Using your right hand, gently bend the horse's right ear forward in order to slip it under the crown of the bridle. Do the same for the left ear.

6. Once the bridle is over the ears, and the bit is in the horse's mouth, buckle the throatlatch piece, if the bridle has it. Make sure that the throatlatch is neither too tight or too loose. I prefer to have 4 fingers between the horse's throatlatch and the strap.

7. If you are using an english bridle, it may include a noseband or a flash noseband. The regular noseband just has the one piece to buckle underneath the chin groove, while the flash has a piece to buckle underneath the chin groove and and another to buckle in front of the bit. When buckling these areas, it is good to understand how tight the horse usually has it. Rule of thumb for horses new to the noseband is fitting 2 fingers in between the strap and the chin groove. Horses that are used to having their mouths clamped shut can have the strap tighter.

6. You are almost there! Once you have your bridle on and buckled, check the hardware again for tears, rips, or broken hardware. You do not want to be riding in the arena or out on a trail and have your reins or halter break. Believe me, it is not fun. After re-checking your tack, check the bit in the mouth. Look at the placement, making sure that the bit is in the center of the interdental space. Another good rule of thumb for this is looking at the wrinkles at the side of the horse's mouth. There should be approximately 2 wrinkles. The bit should also fit the horse's mouth. It should not be pinching the sides of the mouth, nor should it have extra "bar space" on either side of the bit when the bit is pulled on both sides.

This is what the english bridle (The western bridle is above) should look like when you are done...

Chicks Saddlery

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