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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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$500+
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???
|Cuna and the Antares. I think it works.|
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?