Bridles and Bits For Your Horse
In addition to the saddle, the most important type of tack (equipment for a horse) is the bridle. Basically, all bridles consist of a headstall that fits around the horse's head, a bit or mouthpiece, a browband that goes in front of the ears, a throat-latch to keep the headstall in place, and reins.
Some types of Western bridles have a slit in the headstal through which the horse's ear is slipped, making the throat-latch unnecessary. Different types of noseban may be added for adornment. The bridle takes its name from the type of bit used. The use of a particular bit depends on the sensitivity of the horse's mouth, on its training, or the type work it is expected to do, and on the ability of the rider.
Western horses are taught to work on a complete loose rein and what is known as a Western curb bit. This type of bit, the most severe of all, acts on the empty areas of the horse's gums between the front teeth, or incisors, and the back teeth, which are called grinders, or molars. When the reins are used, the mouthpiece of the bit strikes the roof of the horse's mouth. The horse knows from experience that this is a severe bit. Therefore, the instant it feels that the rider is about to put pressure on the reins, it comes to a quick, sliding stop.
The Western rider does not expect to use contact on the horse's mouth to signal turns, since the horse is trained to turn quickly on its hindquarters when it feels the touch of the rein on its neck. This is called neck reining. Unlike other riders, the cowboy does not use the bridle as a constant line of communication with his mount. His purpose is to teach the horse to respect the bridle, so that the horse will stop and turn with the greatest possible speed and flexibility.
Bits used for jumping, hunting, polo, dressage, show riding, and ordinary trail and ring riding are much less severe, since in these activities the rider at all times maintains light tension on the reins.
The lightest bit is the jointed snaffle. It works on the lips of the horse. It is usually preferred for the inexperienced rider, because he cannot hurt his horse if he uses the reins to maintain his own balance. It is also commonly used as the very first type of bit to which the young horse is introduced and on horses with very sensitive mouths.
Where it is desirable to use a snaffle bit on a horse with a somewhat less sensitive mouth and a will of its own, the simple snaffle is supplemented with a running martingale, which is a strap connecting the rings of the snaffle with the girth, giving the rider greater control by exerting pressure on the horse's gums whenever it lifts its head too high.
The Pelham bridle is fitted with a bit similar to the Western curb, and it is used generally on a well-trained horse under the hands of a well-trained rider. It has two sets of reins, one pair just below the mouthpiece and the other at the ends of the shanks. The Pelham also has a curb chain that fastens to the shanks with small hooks and hangs outside the jaw, held in place by a narrow lip strap. When the curb reins are not active, the curb chain hangs loosely, but when the rider uses the curb reins, the chain presses against the horse's jaw, pinching it between the chain and the mouthpiece.
The full, or Weymouth, bridle has two bits: a simple snaffle and an English-type curb. The latter has a mouthpiece similar to that of the Pelham but with only one set of reins. For the well-trained horse and rider, the Weymouth is the preferred bridle since it gives the riders the most exact and delicate control over the movements of the horse.