Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bridles Part 4: Brand Names and Quality

Ho boy. This is a big topic.

There are lots of different kinds of leather finished in lots of different kinds of ways. Different people prefer different things, so you really have to know what you're looking for here. I'll try to give you a basic rundown.

First things first. Whenever you hear someone say that leather is "nice for the money", read this: "It's shit, but I was expecting that." Do not put your rose colored glasses on and say, "wow, nice leather MUST BUY NOW".

Now. You can buy a new bridle for anything from $35 to $800+. You can buy a used bridle for anything from $1 (free isn't buying) to $800+. How do we differentiate what to spend and why?

Low End Bridles

Izzy models a Collegiate bridle
This is a broad category including brands like Collegiate, SS Tack, or the low end Smartpak line. There are cheaper bridles out there, but as a leather snob and a tack ho, just know it hurts me enough to talk about these and I am not going farther down the line.

These bridles are a step up from the "made in India" stuff that you see really cheap. Those usually look like plastic painted brown and they never get better. Given enough time and care, these bridles can be sort of ok. We're looking in the $70-$150 range here, really.

They won't feel nice straight out of the bag, but given enough time and care, they can be sort of ok. They make nice starter bridles for people who don't care about the tack as much as they do about the performance. You're usually looking at cheaper/thinner leather, unfinished edges, less careful stitching or dye jobs, minimal cool features, and rudimentary hardware.

They will get the job done, but they may not be your forever bridle, mostly because eventually, they will fall apart. Stitching and leather is important, people.

Mid Range Bridles

Izzy in the Bobby's
I define mid-range as $180-$280ish. These bridles tend to be made with better leather and more attention to detail, but they frequently miss the finer points of life. Recognizable brands include Bobby's, Ovation, Nunn Finer, and the Dover Circuit line.

There is a lot of variation here--Bobby's has high end and low end bridles. I dislike their low end and find their high end to be tolerable, but nothing worth going out of my way for. Ovation bridles are priced at the low end of this range, but the extra features they have--finished edges, padded monocrowns and the like--lead me to put them here.

Courage wears Nunn Finer

Nunn Finer is event world classic. It's a rough and ready look with durable, American-made leather. They hold up, but they aren't as polished and pretty as some prefer. That said, they look great on a wide range of horses are are easy to dress up with a little flare if you need something fancy.

Courage in the Circuit
I'm not in love with the Dover bridles. I know I sound like a hypocrite since C-rage rocks a Circuit figure eight that I actually quite like. Here's the thing: I paid $25 for it on consignment. The leather is nice for the money and the design works well on Courage's tiny little face. I just can't see paying almost $200 for a new one, especially since the leather isn't mind blowing, the features really aren't that cool, and the design only works on some horses.

Mid range bridles serve the incredibly useful function of not blowing the wallet out of the pocket while doing their job very well. The leather is passable to nice-ish and there are a lot of options out there. Extra details are available, but usually at a premium. The result is that many mid range bridles work for a lot of faces, which is not the case with our next type.

High Mid Range Bridles

Not his look
This is the non-sexy name for all those bridles that just aren't quite high end with a price point still makes me blink. I'd define the price range as $300ish-$400ish. Most of these brands feature nice quality, finished leather that doesn't really have the "rough" side you see on cheaper leather. The stitching is a little tighter, the extra features are a little nicer, and a little more attention has been paid to all the details.

Five Star Tack is a new-ish company that hits this range. They have cool designs and features and nice leather, but the bridles run almost $300 without reins. For the discerning rider with the right horse, they can be a great choice, but the intricate styles just don't suit every face.

Hadfield is better
Vespucci is one brand that people seem to like and I just can't get behind. Their special features seem like more of a PITA than actually useful, the leather stretches like none other, the price point is high, and the designs don't appeal to my aesthetic at all. In my mind, nothing about them is worth the price. Obviously, your mileage may vary--lots of people buy them.

This range also encompasses the Edgewood/Hadfield/other niche hunter bridles. They are nice, but pricey and you have to pick and choose what's going to work for your horse's face and your pocket book.

I'm not as sold on this range of bridles. To me, the price is too high to justify my usual buy/try/sell routine and they are just not right for every horse. If you're shopping for a specific horse and are in love with a certain model, it's not a bad option, but if I'm going to spend this much, I guess I'd rather just snag something used from our next category.


High End Bridles


To those of you who saw that number and promptly freaked out, this range is not for you. That's ok. Nothing offends me more than people who drop this kind of money on a bridle, then don't like it. OMG I WOULD KILL A REASONABLE SIZED ANIMAL FOR THAT AND YOU DON'T CLEAN IT??? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???

That said.

Cuna and the Antares. I think it works.
This price range brings you the nicest stuff out there. Padding galore, intricate designs, gorgeous detail, custom options, leather to die for. Again, you must be careful that the look you're getting is right for your horse, but when the leather makes you drool and you'd sleep in the padding, well, hurray!

You're looking at brand names like Antares, CWD, Devoucoux, and the like.

There are more, but I have to stop looking at them now or I will have a meltdown and go shopping. Ahhhhhh it might be too late.

The beauty of the high end bridles is that they hold their value well and can be obtained for about the same price as the high mid range bridles if you're attentive on used tack sites. It takes a little looking, but they do come along. ;-)

This is probably enough of a monster post for any given day. I hope you've enjoyed the range of bridles I've been able to put on my horses through the years. ;-) It's hard to do brand reviews when you have a rule about all-original photography on your blog, let me tell you.

What did I miss? Who has other fun bridle experiences to share?


  1. I agree with you on the Vespucci's. When I worked at the tack shop, they were the second most returned bridle (the real cheapies being the first). They are awkward and only seem to fit a small amount of horses correctly. They do look pretty if they fit correctly though.

    I love this series! Thanks for all of the good info!

  2. Yes, I have a Vespucci and while beautiful the horse size should be renamed 'size elephant!' Also, I'm a die hard Stubben fan, nice leather, classy looks, easy to 'bling up'

  3. I love this series, even if it's occasionally hard for me to relate to the English bridles. ;) I'm obsessed with bridles. ;)

    I got my favorite bridle off of a Craigslist tack lot for about $15, that being said, I got very lucky and it came from an AQHA show where a woman had set up a booth. It's super soft, blingy, the silver is nice, perfect condition and durable enough for trails, yet nice enough if I wanted to take him to a show. (I'm a dreamer, lol.)

  4. I'm a fan of the mid priced bridle. Though, I'm cheap enough to spend lots of time and energy making a low end bridle feel as nice as a mid priced. There's a lot you can do with conditioner. Still, the stitching and details make a difference. I've been surprisingly pleased with Ovations.

    Of course, I ride in a drop noseband and a franken-bridle. What do I know? ;)

    1. I think my next bridle is going to be another Ovation. ;-)

  5. I will gladly empty out my bank account to the first person who produces QH dressage bridles. Have you ever tried fitting a double bridle to a classic QH? Torture, I swear.

  6. I don't currently own or lease a horse, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoy your series on bridles! I find your posts objective and honest, and you don't really stomp all over us with your opinions...reading your posts is really quite refreshing, and I'm learning A LOT! Thanks, keep it up :)

  7. I have both midrange (Micklem) and high mid-range (Five Star). I really like the construction/leather of the Micklem. The Five Star, however, falls a bit flat in terms of leather/quality...but the stitching is superb and it is a very pretty bridle. Not worth the money I paid (especially not the reins!) but I do get compliments on it!

  8. I have 3 cheapies from SmartPak (all 3 are from their Plymouth line). While I've had them for anywhere from 1-3 years and they've held up well, it's wild how much the leather varies from bridle to bridle. My dressage bridle has soft, pliant leather that broke in quickly and looks good. One of the plain hunter bridles took a while to break in, but looks good and is now soft. The other plain hunter bridle has cheekpieces that straight up look like plastic.

    I loved my Courbette bridle that disappeared a few years ago. :'(

    1. Was it the same plain hunter bridle model that differed or different versions of the Plymouth? I have heard so many mixed reviews.

  9. $300-400 for a bridle is not even fathomable to me. That's A MONTH OF BOARD. A CAR PAYMENT. LIKE TEN TONS OF CHOCOLATE. My Micklem was a present or I wouldn't own it. My hackamore bridle is composed of two different $40 bridles and I love it.

    You tack hos freak me the fuck out.

    1. Hahahha, ok, this made me LOL, because I totally agree. There are certain things I will pay for (tires - lives depend on them, a great vet and farrier, quality feed, wind-rated shelters, heh), but I am eminently practical and despise marketing. There are shitty expensive things and great cheap things.

      I have a Collegiate plain raised hunter bridle that came *gasp* free when I received my jump saddle as a gift (all of my current saddles were gift or I would not have them). It was Solo's only bridle for several years, it was his eventing jumping bridle and now it's Encore's, about 7 years later. And I don't baby my tack -- ya know what, it still cleans up like new and not a stitch out of place. *shrug*

      The Micklem I only have b/c of a gift card but shockingly, it actually made a big difference to Encore. The leather broke in very nicely and he loves. it. But I would NEVER pay $200+ for a bridle -- to me, it is a strap that keeps the bit in the horse's mouth. That $600? It's going towards an inevitable vet bill instead. Or my entire winter's worth of hay.

      If folks have the money to indulge in tack vanity ;P, hey, it's your money! And yes, I totally admit that I ride in two $2500+ dressage saddles -- but both were gifts and both sit on very difficult to fit horses b/c I have a talent for finding those!

    2. See, and the idea of paying that much to do dressage is mind blowing to me.

      Uhm. Don't ask about my dream jump saddle though.

  10. Love this series although I hold my hand up and admit that the most I've paid for a bridle is €60 and that was with reins and a martingale.
    I'm afraid I balk at the high end price range but can deff see the appeal and admire the determined bargain hunter who can find them at better prices. We need these second hand tack sites in Europe! ;-)

    1. I went tack shopping in Germany some years ago (just on a whim, I was broke and 15!), I thought the quality was much higher there for the price. I didn't see much of the "painted India crap" there, and it was all pretty reasonable. I even brought one bridle home, it was my favorite for the longest time. Best quality leather I owned, outside my quality second hand saddles.

  11. I think Red Barn is an exceptional mid-range bridle, and they last forever. I would not pay more than $200-$250 for a bridle right now, period.

    1. I forgot about Red Barn! I had one of those and was actually quite impressed.

  12. I have a Stubben bridle that I scored for $180 at Equine Affaire many years ago. I went with $200 in hand to find the best deal I could and probably got 50% off. So even if you've identified a high end bridle as your dream goal, you can find great deals if you're a little patient.

    I also scored a Circuit Figure 8 for $30 in the basement, and it's done surprisingly well overall.

  13. Stubben, Dion, are also high end, lovely bridles. Pessoa are pricey but crappy leather, Kieffer as well.

    I have a Vespucci I got on sale ($120) and I love it! It's really beautiful and soft leather. It is a show bridle though, I don't use is every day.

  14. Wowza. Now I know how much I DON'T know about bridles. Both of mine are stamped "Americana" and I have a feeling they're in the low end, maybe mid, category. Ever head of that brand?

  15. Lol, that's a long answer to a question I posed on my blog, perfect timing! Sigh. I just can't pay a board payment for a bridle, even if it would last me forever, I'm just too cheap...

  16. I have the Smartpak Nantucket which I guess falls into Mid-High. Reviews said that it was comparable to the Edgewood but actually came with reins- a plus I think!
    I really love it- the leather broke in easily, stitching is nice, looks great. I couldn't get myself quite over the hump into the high end stuff and admittedly breathed a sigh of relief when the new horse was able to fit into it! Two for the price of one!

  17. I have a Vespucci that actually fits Loki super well. My biggest complaint is that it bleeds glue when it gets really hot in the summer. But, I only paid $50 for it so I can't complain too much. And I agree that I really like Stubben bridles.

  18. I have a KL Select and an Otto Schumacher. The KL Select is buttery soft and seems to be well-made, I suspect that it will last a long time. The Schumacher on the other hand is okay, I would probably not purchase another one though.

    I love this series!

  19. I just learned a TON. Lex has a Harwich bridle and I like it just fine. I dream of Antares, but that will have to wait until real employment. When I have a tack-shopping budget, I'm calling you. Also, we are going to have to remember that Rocket is going to need a bridle in two years, and her head is going to be DIFFICULT to work with. Lex looks good in everything. I could make a bridle out of bailing twine and she'd look cute in it. Rocket... will be a challenge, aesthetically speaking.

  20. I really like my Smartpak bridles... They aren't $500 bridles but they are well made and have lasted. The leather is great on the harwich and their customer service can't be beat!


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