Ill-fitted bridles can have disastrous consequences for a horse. The proper fitting of the bridle deserves exactly the same attention as does the correct fitting of the saddle, about which there is already plentiful information.
In and around the head, which is the centre of control of the whole body, is a vast amount of nerve sensitivity. Horses are normally safer and more comfortable with a carefully and properly adjusted bridle.
The noseband runs above a horse’s nostrils and goes all around its nose. It goes over the cheeks and is in indirect contact with the teeth. The noseband goes across many important blood vessels supplying the face and mouth areas. It is on the trigeminal path, the nerve that supplies the face and lips.
A properly fitted noseband allows the horse to chew and breathe freely. If a tight and painful noseband restricts these things, the horse will experience increased stress levels. A study “The effect of Noseband tightening on Horse’s behaviour, Eye temperature, and cardiac responses” (K Fenner, S Yoon, P White, M Starling, P McGreevy) has shown that horses that started to wear tight nosebands had an increased heart rate and eye temperature, both signs of stress.
Compression of the trigeminal nerve and blood vessels can create irritation and pain over the whole face or conversely a loss of sensitivity.
When a noseband is too tight, pain can also be experienced if the cheek rubs against the teeth.
The bit is the part of the bridle that sits in the horse’s mouth. This (usually) metallic part is in direct contact with the lips, gums, tongue and cheeks. Two important cranial nerves are also in this area: the trigeminal nerve which is situated under the bars of the mouth and the palatine nerve which is just in between the skin and the bone of the palate.
A heavy hand or a tight bit can cut the horse’s lips, gums and tongue and can wear down its teeth. Compression of the trigeminal and/ or palatine nerve can create pain. This will be possibly manifested by a headshaking type reaction.
Worthy of emphasis is the fact that the point of contact between the mouth and the bit is small enough that the force sent through the rider’s hand will be magnified considerably at the point of contact in the mouth.
The browband, usually made of leather, sits across the horse’s forehead passing over the suture of the frontal and the parietal bones. Sutures are tiny joints between each of the bones of the skull. This allows the primary respiratory mechanism: an expanding and retracting, breathing-like movement.
This ‘breathing’ has an active role in the movement of the cerebro-spinal fluid which nourishes the spinal cord and all the nerves that supply the body.
A tight browband can disrupt the primary respiratory mechanism and therefore affect the whole body.
An ill-fitted bridle can potentially impact on and effect, directly or indirectly, the whole of a horse’s body. A well-fitted bridle, on the other hand, that avoids rubbing or pressure, is of great benefit to horse and rider. If a horse is in pain or uncomfortable, this stress may lead to behavioural changes. As with the saddle, professional advice on the fitting of the bridle will give the best possible outcome.