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Elements of a Snaffle Bridle

There are three principle types of English bridle but the most frequently used is the snaffle bridle. It is a popular choice because it is simple and versatile. Used for leisure riding and in most equestrian disciplines, the snaffle bridle is the first bridle that most riders will use.

The Elements of a Snaffle Bridle

A snaffle bridle consists of a single snaffle bit, a throat lash, a nose band, a cheek piece, a brow band and a head piece. The reins are then attached to the bit rings. The bridle works through the transference of pressure. As the rider pulls on the reins that pressure is transferred to the bit and through the bit to the horse’s mouth, poll and nasal bone. The noseband keeps the horse’s jaws in alignment and prevents the animal from opening its mouth wide enough to expel the bit.


Different nosebands or cavesons can be used in conjunction with a snaffle bridle including flash and figure-8 styles. Each equestrian discipline has its own rules regarding which nosebands can be used. Dressage riders may prefer a flash noseband whereas cross country riders and showjumpers would usually use a figure-8. This is because the figure-8 is designed to afford extra room for horses’ nostrils to flare whilst working.


Snaffle bridles are available in different colour leathers and synthetics. Black leather snaffle bridles are preferred for dressage as they provide a clean and understated look. Here any features designed to enhance comfort such as padding on the noseband are hidden from view. Some colour or interest could feature on a dressage bridle in the form of contrasting piping or decorative beads.

Traditional brown shades of leather are more likely to appeal to those riding in cross country events or purely for leisure. Bridles for hunter, jumper and cross country riders are generally understated and chosen to complement the particular horse. Embellishments are not permitted for hunters.

Sizing and Fit

Snaffle bridles are available in different sizes and it is important that you achieve a good fit. When you purchase a new bridle it is best to test the fit before you mark the bridle in any way as then you will be able to return it. To check the fit, therefore, put the bridle on your horse with all the buckles undone so you don’t cause any indentations in the leather. Simply push the ends of the straps through the running loops gently and without bending the straps until they crease. When the bridle is in place gently pull the straps to replicate their position if buckled using the middle hole.

The Finger Test

You should be able to fit two fingers under the browband, two under the noseband, one under the headpiece at the poll and four under the throatlash. The buckles on the cheek should line up with the horse’s eyes. The bit should lie comfortably in the horse’s mouth and create a small wrinkle at the corner of the lips. The bit shouldn't be too wide or too narrow as it could rub or pinch. The browband should be comfortable but tight enough to prevent the headband from being pulled forward.


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