Western bridles come in a variety of types. A basic Western bridle consists of a headstall, bit and reins. The headstall may be one of three types: Split ear, slip ear, or conventional. Western bridles usually do not have cavessons or nosebands, and use only one bit and one set of reins. Western reins may either be open (also called split), closed (also called California), or roping style reins.
Western bridles are simple devices and be can bought according to personal like and dislikes. The horse will not particularly care what type of bridle you put on him. The bit however is more complicated and can be quite severe in the wrong hands.
The bit is the main communication device in the bridle. Bits commonly come in two types:
snaffles and curbs. Hackamores, which do not go in the horse’s mouth, are also considered to be a type of bit.
Buying a bit needs some special consideration. If you have just bought your first horse or are planning to buy one, ask the horse owner what type of bit and bridle the horse is accustomed to. This will save you and the horse from a lot of headaches and mouth pain. Don’t buy a bit because it looks cool or because your friend uses one. Always start with a bit that the horse is already comfortable with. If you don’t know anything about bits or how they work then it is recommended that you buy a good book on the subject or at the very least see our handy guide about bits.
Picture credit: heavyhorsesonline.co.uk
Western riders also use various types of curb bits and hackamores.
Bits work by exerting pressure on one or more parts of the horse’s mouth or head. Bits may put pressure on the corners of the mouth, bars, tongue, roof of the mouth, curb groove, nose, and poll.
With training, a horse is taught to respond in a certain way to pressure in these areas. In order for a horse to be trained and then respond properly, the rider must use a light hand.
Snaffle bits are very popular, and vary widely in design. No matter the type, all snaffle bits have either a jointed or straight mouthpiece with a ring on each end, which the reins are attached to. Snaffles are usually mild bits, but can be more severe depending on the thickness of the mouthpiece (thinner is more severe) and the type of mouthpiece (ranging from smooth to twisted or double twisted). When the rider pulls on the reins, a direct pressure is put on the horse’s mouth, but not on the curb groove, nose, or poll. This action makes the snaffle a “non-leverage” bit.
Curb bits also vary in design. All curb bits, however, have a shank added to the end of the mouthpiece, which creates leverage, and a curb chain or strap that puts pressure on the curb groove of the horse’s chin. Most curb bits have a straight mouthpiece. They can be quite severe depending on the thickness of the mouthpiece, length of the shank (longer is more severe), and the type of mouthpiece.