Three Bridles

As I was setting up my stall area at Willow Draw last weekend, hanging my stall guard and saddle rack and tack hooks, then unloading all my stuff onto said racks and hooks, I had to chuckle a little at myself. Eventing is already a sport that involves a lot of CRAP. It’s 3 different sports, after all, rolled into one. You need stuff for dressage, stuff for stadium, and stuff for cross country. And if you’re a little… um.. extra… like me, you might take it to the extreme sometimes. Do I need different helmets and saddle pads for the different jumping phases? Prolly not.

Stuff. I have stuff.

I would also dare say that most people showjump and run XC in the same bridle. That certainly makes things easier, having only 2 bridles to deal with, and not having to worry about a quick change between phases if you have stadium and XC back to back. Of course, I showjump and run XC in very different bridles, both of which are also different from my dressage bridle, which necessitates me bringing a bridle for every phase and changing said bridle between each one. But it’s taken me a long time to arrive at the setups that Henry goes in now, and for where he’s at in his training, and where I’m at in my riding, I feel like each one fills a need.


My dressage bridle is, unsurprisingly, the most straightforward. It’s a monocrown flash bridle with a KK french link loose ring – really standard for dressage. Getting to that setup has still been an evolution over the years, though. Henry was so nervous about contact when I got him that after trying a few different bits, I took them away completely, and spent 6 months just riding him bitless in a side pull. Once he got used to being ridden more from seat and leg, I put him in a copper loose ring, and we started his reeducation on contact from there.

A dentist once recommend that I try a thinner bit, since he’s got a big tongue and low palate, which Henry protested to GREATLY. Eventually I tried a thicker KK on a whim, and that’s been his dressage bit ever since. For a while I couldn’t ride him in a flash, though, because he was so offended by it that he wouldn’t relax into the bit. These days I can ride him with or without, although I have a slight preference for with. I like all the padding that a crank noseband offers, but I have mine adjusted quite loose (2 fingers, inserted stacked, on the bridge of the nose), as is the flash. He does NOT like a tight noseband, and neither do I. He’s still a little bit tricky to ride into the contact sometimes, but he gets better and better, really really slowly, over time.


Finding something that works for him in stadium has been a lot trickier. He’s a horse that needs to be supported a lot (downhill problems), but he’s also a horse that doesn’t like contact to the fences. For a long time I just showjumped him in the copper loose ring, and experimented with different nosebands. In that bit he got a little heavy in a regular noseband, but I felt like he backed off my hand a little too much in a flash or figure 8. (Have I ever mentioned he’s really sensitive?) Henry is a little bit harder to ride in stadium, just because he gets behind the leg REALLY easily. The natural forward that he has on XC isn’t present, you have to manufacture it. In his early days I showed him in the jumpers in a side pull, and then a regular mechanical hackamore. The side pull wasn’t enough, but the mechanical hackamore was too much. There was too much leverage, and I had to set the chain REALLY loose or he got quite offended.

Last winter I started experimenting with his stadium bit/bridle again and decided to try the PS of Sweden hackamore. It appealed to me mostly because of the design – I love their crownpiece, but also the unique shape of their shank makes it have considerably less leverage than your regular mechanical hackamore. The arms are swept back quite a bit, and the slots that the noseband, chin strap, and reins sit in are a bit “open”, allowing the metal arm to slide more before it actually causes any action on the straps. It’s also got a nice leather curb strap – no chain. It took me a few days of playing with the adjustments on this to get it where I liked the feel… and everything is quite loose. Like a stacked 2 fingers under the noseband and the chin strap. As it’s set up now, the thing is a glorified halter, with a smidge of leverage. Turns out this is exactly what we needed, though, the perfect middle ground between a side pull and a regular mechanical hackamore. I can push him up into the contact, and he goes there happily, looking for some support, which makes it a hell of a lot easier to balance him and ride him up into the hand without him wanting to back off the contact and get behind the leg. It does make quick adjustments and steering slightly more difficult, but with correct use of seat and leg (which, uh, sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t…) it’s not an issue. For now, this setup is golden for us.


Cross country has actually been the easy part. He’s easiest to ride in this phase, mostly because he’s so freaking happy to do it that all of his typical over-sensitivity kind of falls to the wayside. He started out doing XC in the copper loose ring with a flash, but as soon as he decided that XC was the bestest thing ever and he was the greatest at it that ever lived, I needed a little more whoa. My trainer suggested a Dr Bristol full cheek (Dr Bristol to discourage him from pulling on me, and full cheek to stabilize/keep the Dr Bristol’s plate in the right position and to aid in steering). It’s worked great for him from Day 1 – enough whoa to get his attention, but not so much that he’s backed off the bit.

We’ve experimented a little with a running martingale and different nosebands. I used the flash for a while, but as the speeds have gotten higher and the distances longer, I moved him to a figure 8. It might not make a difference, but then again the horse already has respiratory issues, so if it helps liberate those airways even a tiny bit, it’s worth it. I didn’t feel like the running martingale ever actually came into play or was needed, so we ditched that a while ago.


Maybe someday we will need more, or less, or different. Horses and their training are a constant evolution, just like riders and their skill sets. It makes sense that the equipment might change a bit over time. For now though, we lug around three bridles.

Bitting and equipment are always super fascinating to me… so many options, so many different wants and needs depending on horse and rider. What do you ride your horse in, and why? Has it evolved over time?

23 thoughts on “Three Bridles

  1. I know you are crazy with all your equipment (Been there saw all that LOL) but if it all works for Henry I can see why you do it. Why mess with him if he likes things this way.I do think your stadium has gotten so much better with the hackamore….so that is great. I think Henry goes great in all three bridles so kudos for you figuring that sensitive snowflake out 🙂

    I have one bridle. ONE. With the same bit (Tho i do have another bit I swap out when Remus is strong…ha ha ha yeah once in a blue moon)….and since the bridle i have is because of you twisting my arm, yeah its your fault 😉

    I actually thought of buying a second bridle and keeping my Eponia in the house. TN is not kind to leather. AT ALL…same with the saddle. But I cant buy another saddle 🙂


  2. Most of mine have been easy and happily go in a French link D ring. Coco, however, has not been easy. I tried every kind of D ring snaffle and French link in my collection before finding the unicorn in an Herm Sprenger Duo. She has a petite head so a small mouth and she was nervous and overly sensitive in everything with a broken mouthpiece. The plain rubber Mullen was way too large, but the duo seems to be just right. Hopefully she stays soft in the mouth!


  3. If you think eventing has a lot of ‘stuff’, you should try combined driving. Same three phases, but now you add a whole bunch of straps and a carriage(s), The transportation of said stuff alone is daunting.


  4. Amber has a fat tongue and low palette and she’s the opposite of Henry lol. She did not like fat bits at all, and the only mouthpiece she’s gone perfect in is the Myler level 1 bit. Thank you horse for expensive bits lol. Interestingly enough the lighter weight loose-ring snaffle she’s a bit more backed off in, and the heavier eggbutt I’d bought her made her more confident to push into the contact. The mouthpiece size/construction isn’t any different, but hey whatever works right? lol Whisper has a ton of space between her tongue and palette, but her bit has changed over time. She used to ride in a ported shank bit which was enough to communicate without really using contact because she got very offended at even the idea of you taking contact on her mouth. For the past 3 years tho I threw her in a loose ring snaffle and a super mild 1/2″ ported shank so that I could start un-offending her at light contact lol, and since then she’s come leaps and bounds. She actually gets worked up now in her old ported bits, and is much happier and more responsive with her very mild bit. It’s always a relief when you finally find what works!


  5. I love reading about equipment, and it’s really interesting that you’ve found different setups work for Henry in each phase.

    We restarted my young TB in a rope halter, and rode in that exclusively for about 15 months. We just reintroduced him to a bridle about a month ago, and the only bit we’ve tried is a single-jointed, D-ring snaffle. He is quiet and soft in it, so we’ll probably stick with that for now, and plan to make any needed changes as they come up!


  6. This was such an interesting post!
    Duke goes in a loose-ring single-jointed snaffle for dressage, in a monocrown bridle, no flash. He goes quite well in it. For jumping, he’d been in a single-jointed full-cheek snaffle up until recently. (And he still goes in that when anyone else rides him but me or his owner who is also my trainer). I had no ‘whoa’ while jumping – either stadium or XC. I could not balance him, and to do a simple lead change (he doesn’t have a flying one) I was absolutely having to haul on his mouth. He would not listen to seat/legs. So now I jump him in a Pelham with a bit converter. I like it because he respects it – so I don’t actually have to use it. He listens to my seat and legs much better now. I can be much, much softer in my hands. It’s just overall better. I’m of the mindset that a bit is only as kind as the rider’s hands, and that full cheek snaffle was not kind. Letting a beginner ride him in the Pelham would not be kind, either. A different bit for different situations!


  7. I have different set-ups but unfortunately because I’m doing 3-phases where you have 45 minutes to walk your course and get ready for stadium after dressage and then go straight to XC, it’s hard to swap around which I guess it’s good because it saves me money.


  8. I think I have had more than one trainer that thinks I am nuts when it comes to bitting and such. May likes to react the opposite of how she is supposed to with just about any bit. Right now, I like jumping her in a myler level 1 D ring with hooks…. but as she gets fit again… we might go back down to the loose ring over fences. She seems to like the thinner mouthpiece and fixed sides with her fleshy lips and all that. Who knows, but I am always down for experimenting! They tend to tell you pretty quick how they feel.


    1. No, they’re not. I’ve never quite understood the purpose of the BOT exercise-wear. I spend most of the time trying to keep my horse’s legs cool while he’s working, not warm them up with ceramics!


      1. One of the two lesson horses I ride goes in full BOT boots in front. They are very sweaty when they come off and I always think about your boot philosophy. Not sure how I feel about them, but he doesn’t belong to me so I do as directed… Horse wears four shoes with full pads in front and definitely has arthritis so owner and/or trainer feels this is the best for him.

        My personal experience with BOT is using their back brace. Even though I definitely got sweaty underneath, that thing helped me a ton when I was rehabbing from fractures. I still get it out sometimes when I know I’ll be on my feet for many hours.


  9. It’s funny how similar Henny and Francis are in many ways (beefy bay badass etc) and how completely different they are in others. Frankie has never protested any bit except the one he currently goes in, because it’s the only one we’ve put him in that he can’t park comfortably on your hand. That expectation of self-carriage is a real bitch in his book. I’ve done pretty much everything with him in a plain full-cheek snaffle, which was fine until the fences went up and I needed a little more quick communication with my VERY un-sensitive steed. With the french-link elevator, I feel like I can ride him so much more accurately off my seat and just focus on guiding more with my hands, instead of him just tuning me out and bearing down on the bit.


    1. I don’t think Henry would tune me out and bear down on a bit ever lol. XC is the closest he ever gets to that, and even then the Dr B is more than enough. I have the opposite problem in that he just wants to get behind everything and curl up into a ball of blah. Getting him up in the poll and in front of my leg is the challenge.

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  10. Hey, if three bridles is what works, three bridles it is!
    Rio always had a really soft mouth BUT he liked contact. If you dropped the contact he’d stop cantering. Even if you were headed to a 4′ oxer. I did him in the jumpers in just a fat loose ring. Once he became a hunter, I actually needed a touch more bit, so we went with a REALLY SLOW twist D ring. As in, it had only one twist in it.
    Jamp went best for me in a three ring with just a bottom rein. He didn’t have an especially hard mouth, but he did like to run away with me sometimes. He also sometimes would just lean down and act like he had no mouth at all… He was a tricky horse. My one trainer didn’t like the 3 ring on him, so he had me try a full cheek gag. It helped a lot with steering, but Jamp still liked to lean on that if he got excited. When he became an eq horse, I went with a sharp slow twist D. It wasn’t ideal, but the options are pretty limited in that ring.
    I have no idea yet what to ride Eros in. He’s so easy on the flat he can go in pretty much anything. Probably even the snackamore! But over fences he gets a little strong. I tried a 2-ring on him, but it was actually too much. Plus, he can’t wear that in the hunters. I just ordered a few different options to try. Centaur has some rubber bits that have normal width mouth pieces (so not fat like your usual rubber) and I’m thinking that might be the way to go with him. He doesn’t seem to like metal in his mouth very much. I ordered one with one joint and one with two to see which he prefers. I know research says they should prefer the two joints, Badger much preferred a single joint. You just never know with horses…


  11. I have 2 bridles, both with the same bit (loose ring french link). The dressage one is the Paladin Bridle from PS Of Sweden and Moose loves it, I had to make a couple new holes to tighten the flash, he was not happy when it was super loose and for showjumping and cross country we use the Micklem bridle and he goes really well in it. We don’t need anything too extreme because he’s a lazy boy who would rather be sleeping than doing the running, but he’s definitely happiest in cross country!


  12. If Henny needs 3 bridles then Henny gets 3 bridles HA! Gem had 2 bridles: her endurance/trail side pull with bit attachments should she need a bit and her black dressage bridle with her baucher bit that she loved. She liked the stability it had in her mouth against my newbie not always the most quiet hands. H’Appy hated the fat double jointed eggbutt I tried him in at first and rooted against my hands something fierce. He is much happier in the (of course expensive) level 1 myler comfort snaffle. He has the PS of Sweden bridle I bought off Michele and will likely remain in that until I’m doing more than w/t/c and 18″ jumps.


  13. I’ve been pretty lucky that my past horses have all gone around in a pretty plain set up with minimal change between SJ, XC and dressage.

    The 1* horse went in a french link snaffle and plain cavesson with a flash for all phases, and this is something I carried forward with Des and Snitzel too, but they didn’t reach high enough levels to worry how that would change things.

    B is doing all phases in a cavesson, no flash and single joint full cheek. I tried him in an anatomical bridle but it wasn’t for him, so back to the cavesson we go. I would like to get a double joint full cheek OR try him in my Sprenger because I don’t usually like single joints but I will settle for riding again.

    That being said, the more we XC school, the more I feel I will be looking at bit upgrades in the future. Nothing severe but perhaps something to make sure I have the woah I need.


  14. Dassah has two bridles for eventing. Her dressage one is a Harwich snaffle with the flash removed from SmartPak that I got off ETT with a double-jointed eggbutt, her xc and stadium bridle is a basic no-frills, hard-wearing leather snaffle from Horseware (which I think Smith and Worthington actually made) with a slow twist full-cheek. 3/4 through this season we finally upgraded to the slow-twist because homegirl needed to get off her forehand a bit and I needed to chill-out on the shoulder muscles I was building trying to slow the Little Red Corvette down. I do want to improve her xc/stadium bridle to something a little nicer someday when I have energy to figure out what I want and the $$$ to pay for it!


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