Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bridles Part 1: Aesthetics

I love bridles. I suspect most of you have picked up on that by now. I bridle shop enough to know just what type of bridle I like (giant, fancy, padded, monocrown, preferably with sparkles somewhere), but I also know that not every horse can wear every style. I always wished that someone would write a useful style guide for those of us who only had one horse to shop for and didn't want to just buy and return stuff constantly.

So I wrote one. You're welcome.

Here's a look at the facial types I've dressed and what looks work best for them.



Oldenburg Mare
Facial type: bold lines and features. Simple markings. Straight profile.
Dressing difficulty: easy

Izzy was well bred and a nice mover, but clinicians always called her a "handsome" mare and she was frequently mistaken for a gelding. Her face, while expressive, was plain. That allowed me to dress it up just as much as I wanted.

Here she's rocking the Nunn Finer event bridle. I chose brass highlights because I knew she could handle the extra pizzazz without being overwhelmed. It worked ok for her. There was nothing wrong with the look and it was always clean and workmanlike. That said, her face could handle something more.

Naturally, she also had a figure eight. This is a Five Star Tack piece--I don't remember which model. Again, because her face is simple, the white contrast stitching and padded monocrown worked really well for her face.

She had just enough white to set it off without so much that I was worried that the details would get swallowed up.


This was absolutely Izzy's signature bridle. It's another Five Star Tack model that has unfortunately been discontinued. It's the Magnolia bridle. She's actually wearing it in oversize because that's the only one I could find.

It's hard to see the details in this shot, but it had a 1.5" noseband with a detailed browband and white contrast stitching. I loved all the details, right down to the buckles, and it looked fabulous with the simple lines of her face. The width in the noseband helped refine her otherwise common lines and the details added visual interest. If I still had Izzy, I would still have this bridle, no question.



OTTB gelding
Facial type: complicated lines, small muzzle, very refined, lots of detail, slightly dished face
Dressing difficulty: HARD

Cuna was immensely difficult to buy tack for, which just meant that I bought a lot of it. I tried the bridle on him that was perfect for Izzy, and we were all horrified and amused. The details that made it pop on her completely overwhelmed his face and looked atrocious.

also no
Then I went in the opposite and tried understated. This is a plain raised, horse sized edge wood bridle that I picked up for cheap somewhere.


In trying to get away from the overdone look of the Five Star bridle, I screwed up and got everything wrong. Cuna needed something simple, but this was too refined for a 16.3 hand gelding. He can't do complicated, but he is too big for this to work and the unique edgewood leather pulls all the wrong colors out for a red horse.

He looks sick.

not quite
I put him in the Nunn Finer. Because it is such a basic bridle, it worked pretty well for him. That said, I bought it with brass details to set off a plain head (Izzy) and brass+chestnut is pretty much a no-go.

Between his adorable fluffy forelock and bright red color, the brass was just too much.

We compromised on this one. The bridle wasn't "bad", it just wasn't best for him. I pulled the brass browband off and we made do.

getting there
Then we tried the hunter bridle route. This was sold to me as a Hadfield bridle, but I've never found a maker's mark to prove it. It worked ok on his face.

Ok, I actually quite like this bridle on him and still have it, but the truth is that his conformation and movement style are NOTHING like a hunter, so while nice, it was a bit superfluous. Still. We were on the right track. His face is busy, so I needed something simple and elegant without being too refined.

The next attempt was the strangely nice Ovation wide noseband bridle. I dressed it up with a fancy brownband and experimented both with and without the flash.

What I really liked about this bridle was that it balanced the 1.25" plain raised cavesson with very refined cheeks and simple buckles. It really set Cuna's face off very nicely.

While it worked for his face, it never quite satiated my need for "pretty". It was workmanlike and effective and slightly prettier than the Nunn Finer. It did the job.

Then I found something new. This is a Mark Todd bridle imported from England. I actually love how the unique curves of the bridle balance the delicacy of his face with his large size.

If I'd spent more time playing around with it, I think I would probably have removed the flash just because Cuna doesn't like it or need it.

The buckles are technically brass, but they're a matte finish that is quite innocuous. Can I just say I love this bridle?

Of course, as soon as I got Cuna's bridle selection hammered out, he went and retired and I got to start over with facial type #3.

too big


OTTB Gelding
Facial Type: Long, narrow face. Lots of space to fill between jowl and mouth. Flashy white. Plain lines.
Dressage Difficulty: Medium

Courage is funny to dress. His big blaze should dictate simple lines because it takes up so much visual attention, but the lines of his face are rather uninteresting.

I started him out in the go-to Nunn Finer bridle. We put a figure eight on it because after 6 years of race training, there was a lot for him to learn about what was and was not acceptable. Unfortunately, despite being 16.1 and 8 years old, he has a tiny little face and the horse-sized piece just hung uselessly on him.

Next we went to Cuna's surprisingly nice Ovation bridle.

This worked pretty well, aesthetically. The refined cheeks didn't overwhelm his narrow head and the cavesson/flash filled up space pretty well. That said, it was a horse size bridle and he was on the last hole of pretty much everything.

It wasn't going to be our long term solution.

Our next step was the micklem bridle. For those who have aesthetic complaints about the design, I don't disagree. It's different. I find them a bit distracting when I'm looking through event pictures, but if they stick around, I think that will be overcome. Let's face it: they're not as ugly as (god help us all) drops. Ew. Hate those. (And yes, some horses go well in them. Life goes on.)

Regardless. Because of his facial structure, the micklem actually worked surprisingly well. It's very busy between the jowl and the chin and that is PERFECT for Courage who has a lot of space there without a lot going on. I've used both the bedazzled browband and plain, and they both work with his face.

This bridle is actually cob sized and fits him quite well. That said, it's unconventional looking and no horse of mine can have just one bridle, can they? The horror!

We borrowed a flat hunt bridle in cob size from our barn owner.

I have to say, I'm glad I didn't buy it. Although it fit well, the bridle was all kinds of wrong for this face. It just emphasized how narrow his head was without showing off his character well at all.

I tried it on twice and the results were the same. Although he is a super cute horse, this bridle isn't aesthetically the best choice for him.

Here's my favorite so far. It's the cob sized Dover Circuit bridle. It's very similar leather to the edgewood that totally didn't work for Cuna, but Courage is a totally different color and the slightly red tone looks LOVELY on him. (Note: I would never, ever put this on a black or black bay. HATE that combo.)

The figure eight fills up space nicely and the contrast stitching on the plain raised section is just enough detail without trying to overrun his big blaze.

I will say that I also stuck a d ring bit on it because I knew it would look cute. That's not a concern for under saddle work, but I was dressing him for a photo shoot and cute was at a premium.

And that's not even all the bridles I've ever owned. Please, no one go through and total up the cost for that list for me, haha. Not every bridle works for every horse. This post is just about the aesthetics of the bridles I used. I'm planning another one on function and quality, because hey, I love bridles, and Courage is on Christmas vacation at least until all this nasty ice melts.

Anyone have a picture of a bridle on their horse that is just stunning? Maybe one that is less than stunning? Email it to me. ( I want to do a set with reader photos too. Please include the bridle make/model (if know) and any relevant details about the horse. Headshots are easiest to look at bridles.


  1. I've never put much thought into bridles until I got Fiction and realized that none of the bridles I had left over from my last horse, Jet, would work for Fiction. Jet was a lot like Izzy - big, black (not flashy at all though - no white) with a chunky head. He worked best in thicker black bridles with white stitching/padding. Fiction's a big boy but way more refined and does well in very little flash/thin pieces that show off his face. Fiction doesn't have a lot of chrome, but his face has so much expression in it that I try to keep to simple bridles so I don't take away from just how adorable he is :)

    I absolutely freaking love that Magnolia bridle from Five Star Tack. Jet would have looked amazing in it - I wish it, and he, were still around.

  2. This is really interesting. I struggle with bridle shopping for Missy mostly do to color. Black is the dressage "norm" but she's a white and chestnut pinto and her face is BUSY (there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the white on her face...color genetics for the win). I don't think she looks bad in black, per say, but it just adds a whole extra color to an already multi-colored pallet. Plus, dressage bridles tend to want to be thick and very padded and such designs swallow her small, feminine head. Sigh. I struggle.

    But great post!:)

  3. Since beggars can't be choosers, I ride Skye in a fairly ugly bridle. I can send pictures.

  4. If only hunters had as many options! We pretty much have: flat, raised, fancy stitch and wide noseband ... and that's it!!

    1. And you can vary leather color, crown type, and strap width. Its a surprising array of options. I do so love hunter bridles.

  5. Are you selling any of your bridles? I desperately need a new one for ponykins, I'll also email you some pictures also just because she has a weird face and its been hard to find one that works

    1. Haha. I'm always somewhere on the spectrum of buying, selling, or shopping. Let's chat.

  6. I agree that not every bridle looks good on every horse. I love the western show bridles and barrel headstalls with all their bling and "pizzazz" (love that word). English bridles are definitely hard to fit. Luckily I had an excuse to buy a new one for B seeing as he is like a horse/oversize and my OTTB was a cob... Go figure. Oddly enough though, my favorite 50% off Stubben headstall FITS! Weird...

  7. I'll e-mail you pictures of Lex in her bridle if you want. But I'd also like your honest evaluation of her head and the bridle she has, because you have a better eye than I do. I need to find a better bridle for my girlfriend's horse, too. As soon as I can get some pics I'll send those to you also.

  8. I emailed you a photo of the Guinea Pig in his Frankenstein bridle. It's form after function, if I've ever seen it. :)

    1. I haven't seen your email yet. Looking forward to it!

  9. Oh, please do a column on what you would put on the Fancy Pony!! Shall I email you a nice, naked-head shot? ;)

  10. Wow, I have never thought that much about bridles in my entire life. Combined. Tell us how you really feel! ROFLMAO! I hearby crown thee the Tyra Banks of bridles!

    Since three out of my four bridles were free, that was pretty much my criteria: "Oh! It's free and it fits my horse!"

    The fourth is the Micklem, which I wanted to try and ended up with a gift certificate. It made my horse happier. So I kept it.

    That's pretty much all I care about. What can I say? I pretty much hate fashion, ROFL. Aside from "as long as it's dark brown or black;" I will never ever buy light coloured leather, I personally find it heinous on just about anything.

    1. HAhahaha!
      While I have thought about it *almost* that much, I never seriously considered anything beyond a regular noseband until the last year!
      Flashes and figure eights and such aren't allowed in Arabian Hunter Pleasure. ;)
      Lucky for me, I have been thoroughly wooed by eventing! =D

    2. If i win the lotto (which i don't play), I am buying you bridles. You have been warned.

    3. BAHAHAHAHA! Ok, I will brace myself. I just beg -- dark colours and no sparkles, oh please oh please.

      Does it make you feel a little better if I tell you that one of the free bridles is a beautiful Stubben dressage bridle and the other is a very workmanlike Courbette I found molding to death and revived? The third is a plain brown Collegiate that came with my jump saddle.

      I did sell my $10 (oh yes, that was the new price) eBay bridle, although Solo wore it for several years and it was fine. I kinda wish I'd kept it just so I could send it to you, hahahah!

  11. You have a good eye! Wilbur went in a Smartpak Harwich- which I thought was fine. Then I purchased the Smartpak Nantucket for shows (I too have more than one bridle) and found that the fit was much better for him! So even in Hunterland the brand/ fit makes a big difference!

  12. Maybe I am lucky but Henry has looked good in all the bridles I've put on him or bought (because I like they way they look, not b/c I am buying them for his face ha!)... but we ride in a traditional hunter bridle, nothing fancy :)

  13. I like the Nunn finer on Cuna, and obviously, Micklems rule. I however prefer function over fashion - and use mostly drop noseband bridles that I have assembled. Definitely wouldn't be welcomed in the hunter ring.

    1. This is why I love T! Drops were actually quite common when I was a kid. I didn't understand functions then, they were just...there. That was before dressage world was taken over by the flash, which I despise and cut off.

    2. Ohmygod YES, WHYYYY do they not make a dressage bridle w/out the flash? Do you know you have to buy a DOUBLE to get one without that stupid flash loop? ARRRGH! And yes I know you can cut them off, but seriously? I just want a normal noseband, kthxbye.

    3. I love my drop, I find it's amazing for communicating with the picky-mouthed thoroughbred. :)

      Jenj, you can buy crank nosebands instead of a flash. But, just a delicate sized plain noseband is nearly impossible!

  14. I would love you to critique Hemie's bridles for his face! I'll find photos and send them - would love to get your honest feedback and suggestions since I'm really not good at this kind of thing!

  15. I also hate drop nosebands, and of course my horse loves his. Of course. I adore your blog. I just started mine to chronicle this amazing year of the horse - check it out if you like!

  16. Great post! I was going to email you a few pictures, but I might turn it into a blog post instead.. feel free to borrow any of them for your future critiquing post!

  17. This post is so true. I have a QH with the big broad cheekbones and the handsome manly face. When I rode him Western, he could pull off any of the headstall styles. When I decided to buy him an English bridle, I got all excited and dropped a lot of money on a bridle that doesn't fit his big cheeks at all, and frankly, does not look so nice on him. It doesn't seem to be a sizing issue as much as it is a build issue. Bridle shopping is hard when you can't just bring them all home to try on

  18. Love this post, I too am obsessed with bridles! I may have to send you some pictures... Jetta's face is very similar to Courage's. Very long and narrow. She looks best in a wider noseband, but nothing flat or too chunky. She looks best in a figure 8 but I also like her hunter bridle on her and the Micklem is acceptable.

  19. At one stage, I had three bridles and eight horses. *ducks bullets and runs* Forgive me! Only half of them were old enough to ride!
    At least now all my mules have their own bridles, but most of them are cheap and made of spare parts. There is one, however, which I absolutely adore. It came with the OTTB when I bought him, so I only know the make and not the model, but I'm sending you an email. I'd like to know what you think about the look on his face - he is supposed to be my show horse, after all. Thanks for the great post - mail coming your way! :-)

  20. Great post!! I haven't tried a ton of bridles on Wiz, but that's because he has the TINIEST LITTLE PONY FACE (he literally takes a 4 3/4 bit!) so I just went for delicate/refined. His dressage bridle has the tiniest of flash in the browband, and it's just enough. I don't think he'd look well in anything big or bulky or with non-traditional lines. He's a bit like a shorter-headed version of Cuna :) But, I still enjoy bridle shopping...!

  21. You have just filled a niche that I didn't even know the equine world needed! You should become a bridle consultant. I'd pay you to recommend colors and styles that would look good on Connor via photo/the Internet, rather than buying and selling a million times. There is a value proposition there.

  22. Hey lady - just wanted to let you know I linked to this page in my latest post (about how Dassah needs a better looking bridle).


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