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Bridle Fit for a Happy, Comfortable Horse

Updated: Nov 19, 2022

The importance of a correctly fitting saddle is widely understood but it’s only recently that the same principle is being applied to bridle fit. Just like a poorly fitting saddle, a badly fitting bridle can have huge implications on your horse.

gillian higgins horses inside out bridle fit horse in bridle

Thankfully, there is a lot more focus being placed on bridle design and fit. So much so that the market is flooded with anatomical bridles with padded headpieces and other design features that claim to make the bridle more comfortable for your horse.

These are welcome changes to bridle design – anything that is going to improve comfort for your horse has to be a positive thing, but it’s also crucial to have an understanding of the anatomy of your horse’s head. Learning about both the external, visible features and the more delicate internal structures of your horse’s head highlight why it’s so important to handle your horse’s head with sensitivity and respect.

With this knowledge you’ll be better able to fit a bridle and headcollar correctly and with your horse’s comfort in mind. You’ll also appreciate the effect you have on the delicate structures of the head when you’re riding and recognise the importance of still, quiet hands and a consistent, even and gentle contact.

Head First

Understanding the external structures of the head is important for bridle fit and how you handle your horse.

gillian higgins horses inside out bridle fit horse head poll

The Poll Area

This is the highest point of the skull and there are many muscles and tendon that attach into the poll. The influential and important nuchal ligament originates here. The poll is extremely sensitive to pressure and is the area that the headpiece of the bridle or headcollar sits and comes into contact with the skull. Even applying light pressure to the bridle or headcollar can significantly influence your horse.

The Nose

Careful consideration of the bones in this area of the head need to be considered when fitting a noseband. It should be fitted below the rostral end of the facial crest and infraorbital foramen, which is the exit point for the facial nerves. A tight noseband can cause pain and may push the cheek against the teeth causing abrasions. It can also restrict tongue and jaw movement leading to muscle tension throughout the flexor and extensor muscle chains.

To delve a little deeper into this fascinating subject you need to watch our Head Anatomy recorded webinar. Using her signature paintings on horses, intricate anatomy models and dissection photographs as well as videos, Gillian helps you understand what lies under your horse’s skin so you see your horse's head from a new perspective. This in-depth webinar, perfect for riders, coaches, horse owners, therapists and bridle fitters, demonstrates palpation and therapy techniques you can do with your hose and how understanding more about the anatomy of the head enables us to fit a bridle and handle the head more sensitively with the comfort and performance of the horse in mind.

This webinar also marked the launch of Gillian's book Illustrated Head Anatomy.

A big influence

The head has an enormous influence on the rest of your horse’s body. It’s also quite heavy, accounting for around 4% of his total weight - add the neck and it accounts for 10%.

Thinking about your horse's comfort - well fitting tack as well as your riding ability will influence your horse's head and neck position. The position of the head and neck:

  • Influences the back

  • Affects the intake of air and breathing

  • Alters balance

  • Changes his vision

  • Enhances or restricts fore and hindlimb movement

What Lies Beneath

As well as studying the external structures of the horse’s head it’s also important to learn about the inner head structures. There are many complex structures to look at and in this blog we look at two of them.

gillian higgins horses inside out bridle fit hyoid apparatus model

The Hyoid Apparatus

This is sometimes referred to as the tongue bone. It’s made up of five bones which are located at the base of the skull between the mandible and the larynx. It provides attachment for the tongue and some muscles, tendons and ligaments of the pharynx, neck, sternum and even the forelimb.

Although this part of your horse’s anatomy isn’t physically touched by the bit, because the tongue attaches directly into it, tongue restriction can affect breathing, neck position, posture, mobility and protraction of the forelimb.

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

The TMJ connects the lower and upper jaw through the articulation of the temporal bones, the mandible and surrounding tendons, ligaments and muscles.

gillian higgins horses inside out bridle fit painted horse head teeth jaw skull

Primary functions include:

  • Mastication

  • Movement of the jaw

  • Alignment of the teeth

Through the temporal bone, there’s a close relationship between the TMJ and the ear – similar to humans, it’s the centre of balance.

This affects equilibrium, proprioception, and posture. All locomotion is dependent on the relationship between the axial and appendicular skeleton of which, through the muscle chains the TMJ is key.

TMJ pain is something many horses suffer from and can be result of issues with the teeth, instability and imbalance in the joint itself, stress or pain.

Pain in this area can have a negative affect on:

  • Balance

  • Behaviour

  • Performance

If you want to learn more, we would recommend reading the following:

If you want to watch the recorded version of the webinar Head Anatomy - related to health preformance, bridle fit and design you can access it from our academy page.

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