|so many bridles!|
I am the one who took a horse to a clinic with an O'Connor-approved, very tack conscious clinician with my horse in a figure eight. When the clinician asked me what the figure eight did, I explained that it helps keep the horse's mouth closed and keeps them from crossing their jaw.
"But I didn't think your horse did any of those things," the clinician said.
"She doesn't. I think it looks cute and since it will have no action, it doesn't hurt anything."
So there you go. That's me in a nutshell.
THAT SAID. Look at the last part of the statement. I'm all for dressing your horse in pretty tack as long as the tack doesn't interfere with the way the horse goes. Let's look at some basic bridle designs and talk about why they're used and when they are or are not appropriate.
|As modeled by Cuna|
Plain cavessons:This is about as basic as it gets. Some people get all nutty about never using a cavesson because they don't need one. I think that's silly if you're attempting to ride and show in an english discipline. They are required to show (most of the time) and they complete the look.
They are also super useful if you're out riding and a cheek piece breaks (been there) and they allow you to employ aids like a standing martingale or a flash.
The proper adjustment is to place the cavesson just below the cheek bone so that it doesn't rub, but is well clear of the airways. The picture has it just a hair high.
This is the correct design to use with a pelham or double bridle. A figure eight or flash can interfere with the action of the curb chain. As such, doubles don't come with flashes. It is trendy in the Eq ring to use a pelham with a figure eight, but it's also trendy to be an anorexic 17 year old there, so I wouldn't just blindly follow their lead.
|plain cavesson with curb chain|
1) your horse hasn't demonstrated a need for anything else
2) your horse has a delicate face that would be overwhelmed by too many straps
3) you ride hunters and/or use a standing martingale
4) they are easy to find
5) you use a bit with a curb chain of any sort
Reasons not to use a plain cavesson:
1) your horse needs (or looks better in) something else
Interesting notes: If the cavesson has it's own hanger (as is standard on english bridles), we call it a cavesson. If the cavesson is on the same strap as the bit hang/cheek piece, we call it a noseband. This is more commonly seen on in-hand bridles for breed showing. Having it separate gives us a much greater ability to adjust it, while a noseband would be a cleaner look for a standard-size face. Trade offs.
|Courage models the crank|
Crank with a flashThe "crank" style is differentiated from the plain cavesson the strap under the jaw. Instead of a simple buckle, it's a long strap that's doubled back, allowing the horse's mouth to be "cranked" shut. This design is most commonly seen on dressage bridles, but it's showing up in other places as well.
Many people are opposed to cranks because they don't believe in forcing a horse to shut his mouth. However, like any tool, they are only as cruel as the hands that use them. A loosely-adjusted crank is no different than a loosely adjusted cavesson. A snug crank can support the jaw of a horse taking contact, just as the flash helps keep the bit stable in the horse's mouth.
A frequent misconception is that the flash serves to close the horse's mouth. Given the biomechanics of the horse's face, all the flash does is support the bit and keep the lips shut. Any closing action is done by the cavesson, which is much closer to the jaw.
A crank is frequently bigger and thicker than a cavesson. This isn't just styling--many cranks have a flash noseband attached. In order to work properly, the crank needs to be stable on the face so the flash doesn't pull it downward and allow it to interfere with the horse's breathing.
|Courage in the flash--note his nostrils are unimpinged|
Reasons to use a crank/flash
1) your horse opens his mouth/plays with his lips and you want him to go through the phase without making it a training issue
2) you ride dressage and want "the look"
3) your horse has a plain face that needs some dressing up
4) you like buckles. lots and lots of buckles.
5) your trainer requested it
Reasons not to use a crank/flash
1) they are a PITA with a standing martingale
2) you ride hunters
3) your internet horse friends think it's mean and you're tired of explaining yourself
The Figure Eight
This style is primary seen on eventers and jumpers, but it's legal for all FEI disciplines including dressage (Sorry hunters. You guys have no fun.)
Much like the crank/flash combo, it can close the mouth while supporting the bit. Given the location that it acts on the horse's head, it is a little more effective than the crank flash. It's also a lot more distracting to look at.
Dressage riders prefer the crank/flash. Riding at speed usually calls for the most effective thing possible, hence the figure eight. Noted: Jimmy Wofford is known for saying that a flash is just an inefficient figure eight.
The design of the figure eight takes pressure off the side of the horse's face but still serves to hold the mouth shut and doesn't interfere with their breathing. If you've ever been run away with by a horse with it's mouth gaped open and it's head up in the air, you'll understand why this is a good idea. Noted: I absolutely agree that the mouth-gaping-run is a training problem. Jimmy Wofford will also point out that you have to live through the present in order to prove his point that every horse can be ridden in a cavesson with a snaffle.
|30% crazier on Cuna|
The proper adjustment of a figure eight is to have the ring ABOVE the cheek bone, but far enough below the eye that it doesn't interfere. This should allow the top of the figure eight to run over the facial bones without rubbing the cheek bones... if that makes any sense.
Reasons to use a figure eight:
1) you participate in a sport that requires quick reflexes or your horse isn't perfectly soft and on the bit all the time
2) your horse needs a little busyness to dress up a somewhat plain face
3) your trainer requested you use one
4) it's what you have available
Reasons not to use a figure eight:
1) your horse is for sale and you don't want him to look crazy
2) your horse has a busy face and needs less going on
3) you use a bit with a curb chain
4) you ride hunters
The Micklem Bridle
This funny piece showed up in the past couple of decades. It purports to be kinder to the horse by integrating the design of the horse's head and relieving pressure in common places.
A close look indicates that the pressure points are quite similar to a standard, well-fitted figure eight.
For some horses, this bridle works really, really well. It offers excellent bit stability and works well on certain faces. I've spent a bit of time with these bridles--it made no difference to my mare, but Courage was noticeably quieter in the contact with it than with his previous bridles. Coincidence? Maybe. It was enough of a difference to convince me to keep it around.
Fitting a micklem is a bit of a crap shoot. It's easy if your horse's head works well for the bridle. It's hard if it doesn't. Ultimately, you want the airways clear and the facial bones free of pressure. There are some youtube videos that are helpful, but horses' heads have a lot of variation and this bridle doesn't. Perhaps future models will address this? We'll see.
Reasons to use a micklem
1) your horse is very expressive with his face/itchy during/after riding or fussy about contact
2) you want to know what all the hype is about and they really aren't that expensive
3) you like being a little different (or a lot the same, depending on your barn)
4) you always want to try new things
Reasons not to use a Micklem
1) they are ugly as sin
2) the leather is nothing to write home about
3) your horse is fine in a normal bridle
4) you ride hunters
There's a basic rundown. I hope I've clarified the types of cavessons and bridles available and gone over their pros and cons in a way that makes sense to the average horse owner. This falls in to one of those things where if you're unsure and you ride in any sort of program, ask your trainer. They frequently have preferences and they generally have a very solid logic behind those preferences.
If you're a free wheeling ammy like me, then pick what's prettiest and have a ball!!
Please keep on emailing me your horse head/bridle photos to hakunamatata at gmail dot com! The reader input post will be lots of fun.