I decided to write this quick guide because I have been severely disappointed in most people’s bridle adjustments. In particular, I don’t like where most riders position the bit in their horse’s mouth. When I get a new horse in training I almost always adjust the bridle before I even mount for the first time. So here is my guide on how to fit a bridle so that your horse can work to his max potential.
I know that when reading this most people will tell me I am fitting my bits too low and nosebands too loose. That is fine. You are entitled to your own opinion. However, I would challenge anyone who feels this way to try following my method for fitting the bridle, give the horse about 10-15 minutes to adjust to the change, and then ride. On almost every horse I have done this with I have noticed an immediate improvement in contact and carriage of the bit.
So without further ado, here is my method broken down into easy to follow steps.
Fitting the Bit
The first, and arguable most important, step to fitting the bridle is to adjust the cheek pieces so that the bit is laying in the correct position in the horse’s mouth. To do this you will need to place the bridle on the horse’s head. If you have trouble getting the horse’s ears under the headstall then lower the cheek pieces and try again. It should be easy to slip the bridle on.
Next, stand in front of the horse and grab both of the bit rings. Gently pull on the bit rings to make the bit straight.
Now, double check that you have the correct size bit in the horse’s mouth. There should be an eighth to a quarter of an inch on each side of the bit between the horse’s lips and the bit ring. If you are using a loose ring snaffle you want closer to a quarter of an inch to allow room for the ring to move without pinching the horse.
Once you have the correct size bit on the bridle, you need to check the length of the cheek pieces. Again hold the bit rings out to the side to make the bit straight. Then, look at the corner of the horse’s mouth. If you see wrinkles the bit is too high. You should have the bit barely touching the horse’s lip or a small gap between the lips and the mouthpiece of the bit when it is pulled straight and at the end of the cheek pieces. Since most bridles don’t offer a ton of adjustment, select the holes that minimize the gap between the horse’s lips and the mouthpiece of the bit as much as possible without causing any wrinkling in the corners of the mouth.
Now you have successfully fit the bit in your bridle.
Fitting the Browband
Browbands are often not considered when looking at correct bridle fit. Since they are not adjustable many people assume they are a one size fits all. However, this is far from the truth. When you fit your bridle you should always check the browband to make sure it isn’t pulling the cheek pieces up into the horse’s eyes or pressing into the horse’s forehead. There should be a gap big enough to fit a few fingers between the band and the horse’s forehead.
Fitting the Noseband
If you have a noseband on your bridle you will need to adjust that as well. I choose not to ride with nosebands because they constrict the horse’s jaw and prevent yawning, relaxation, and expression of the horse’s acceptance (or lack thereof) or the bit. If you would like to ride without the noseband you can simply unbuckle it from the headstall and lay it aside. Otherwise, you will have to make sure it is properly fitted.
The first step to fitting the noseband is to make sure it is hanging at the correct height. You should have about two fingers’ width between the horse’s cheek bone and noseband.
Next, fasten the noseband with room for at least 3 fingers between the noseband and the horse’s jaw. I personally like to fit them a bit looser than this if I have to have a noseband so that there is room for my whole hand between the noseband and the horse’s jaw. A looser noseband allows more mobility of the horse’s jaw and better feel of when the horse is accepting the bit versus evading it. A tight noseband forces the bit to stay still and you lose the feedback on acceptance.
The throatlatch is the most important component to the bridle. This strap keeps the bridle from coming up over the horse’s ears and slipping off if the horse shakes his head or scratches his face on anything.
It should be fit loosely so as not to constrict the horse’s throat. On horse’s with large throatlatches or large undersides of their necks I will normally fit this on the looser side. You should be able to fit a fist between the horse’s cheek and the throatlatch. To test, make a fist with one of your hands and place the bottom of your fist against the horse’s cheek with your thumb pointing away from the horse. The throatlatch should rest gently on your fist without tugging on the horse’s throat.
Once the bridle is correctly fitted and on your horse go through and make sure all the keepers are correctly holding the extra material and there are no cracks or tears in the straps. A secure bridle is a safe bridle for both you and your horse.
Also keep in mind that these are just guidelines. I will normally try riding with the bit on several different holes and see where the horse likes it best. Some horses like the bit a bit lower than others. I will also normally play around with the noseband tightness. Some horses would like the noseband as loose as possible so that you can fit a whole fist into it. Others dislike the noseband wiggling and flapping on their nose and would rather it be a bit snugger to prevent excessive movement. By trying different adjustments you can determine what the horse’s preference is so that you can make the most out of your ride.