Once you've purchased your saddle, probably the next piece of equipment you will want to buy for your horse is a bridle. The bridle consists of three parts: the headstall (the headgear used on the horse), reins and a bit.
There literally are thousands of types of bridles on the market, ranging in cost from $20 to $200 or more.
"They all do the same basic job; what varies is whether they are English or Western, and what type of decorative touches have been put on them," says Sue Herbes, manager of the Libertyville Saddle Shop in Libertyville, Ill. "In the long run," she says, "a $20 bridle should last you as long as a $400 bridle."
Do Your Homework
Don't just walk into a tack shop and buy a bridle on an impulse. You should do some homework first. For one thing, you need to decide whether you will be riding English or Western and how you plan to use your horse.
"Most riders have two or more bridles for different riding disciplines or purposes," says Pam Hunter, a riding instructor in Washington State. She says you may want to have a silver, more elaborate bridle for showing, and a plain, less-decorative bridle for trail riding. If you're just going to have a backyard horse for the kids you may want to skip the more fancy bridles altogether.
You also need to consider what kind of bridle has been used on the horse in the past. "If you are about to purchase a horse, ask the sellers what type of bridle the horse is used to, and then try to buy that same type of bit and headgear," Herbes suggests. Make sure you know how the bit works and how to ride the horse with that bit, she adds. "You shouldn't buy a snaffle bit if you only had riding lessons with your horse using a curb bit."
Another factor is the size of your horse. Obviously it's important to choose a bridle that fits properly. Off-the-rack bridles come in basic sizes: Pony, Cob/Arabian, full-size horse, and oversize for cold-blooded horses such as Clydesdales.
"In all those sizes, however, there are overlappings, so you could have a medium-sized pony with a relatively large head, and a full-sized horse with a relatively small head, and both of them may wear the same size bridle," says Herbes.
Your best bet is to take your horse's measurements before you head to the tack shop, and once you're there, you can look for a bridle that matches your horse's measurements. Carol Timmerman, owner of Timmerman's Ranch and Saddle Shop in Island Lake, Ill., says you should measure your horse for a bridle from one corner of the mouth, over the top of his head, behind his ears, and over to the other corner of his mouth.
"The bridle straps are usually adjustable in length, so if you get a bridle that is the correct size for your horse's head, once you adjust it, the fit will be about the same as if you have a custom-made bridle," Timmerman says.
If possible, take the bridle home and try it on your horse before making a final decision to purchase. "A lot of tack shops will allow buyers to bring the headgear home for 24 hours to try it on their horse to make sure it fits, and if not, they can take the bridle back or exchange it for another," Timmerman says. She adds that this is for the headgear only. Most tack shops will not allow bits to be returned – for health reasons – once they have been in the horse's mouth.
Last but not least, Herbes says, "You should pick out a bridle that you think matches your saddle and looks good on your horse. It's kind of like choosing a watch for yourself: You want something that works well AND looks good."