Monday, May 5, 2008

Choosing a show bridle for the hunter ring

When I signed Riley up to go to hunter breed shows this summer, I knew I'd need a hunter bridle. I managed to borrowed one for our first show of the season (Riley @ his first show, left). But Devon is coming up, and I don't have a bridle. I agonized about what to do, and my husband finally just said "buy one and sell it on Ebay later." Words of equestrian wisdom from my normally frugal husband. Okay, I'll do it.

I did a lot of research -- on Web sites, COTH (of course), and other boards. I talked to vendors at Rolex. I decided what I wanted to purchase. Then, the Tuesday after Rolex I got a call from Equisearch -- I'd entered many drawings at the trade fair, and suprise! I won a Stubben hunter bridle. Great news, but doesn't it figure?

At any rate, here is some of the research I did. Hope someone finds it useful, but more importantly, please send in corrections or suggestions. I rode hunters in the 70's and 80's, but at this stage in my life I'm admittedly an outsider -- not involved in the hunter world.

Traditionalists would say the preferred color is havana--a medium to dark brown. For the hunter ring stick with darker colors for darker coats and greys/whites; chestnuts, buckskins, and palominos could go with a medium brown or dark tan. You don't want a light bridle on a dark horse -- doesn't this just look wrong? The bottom line is what color complements your horse, but err on the side of darker rather than lighter, stay conservative, and not too reddish. Some bridles have padding in a contrasting color, which can create a rich look. If you want contrasting padding, aim for subtle contrast.
Here are sample leather colors (pre-oiling), but different manufacturers' colors will vary. For these two sets of swatches, note the difference between the newmarket color on the left vs. right. To my mind, London, Newmarket, and Royal Oak in their unoiled state are colors for chestnuts and lighter. Black is rare in the hunter ring but sometimes you see it on greys. The leather should match the saddle, or come pretty close.

Leather quality
Ask the manufacturer, or the sales person, specifically where the leather comes from. Ask if it is vegetable-tanned or chrome-tanned (the former is preferable). Find out if it is treated with anti-fungal and/or antibacterial agents. The best quality leather will be British, Swiss, Italian, French, English, or German leather. Argentinian leather is popular too. Britain's Sedgewick tanneries are reknowned for their quality leather, and several U.S bridles (Ovation, Aramas) use leather from the U.S. tannery Wicket & Craig. Indian leather used to be very poor quality, but recently Indian tanneries have begun using processes similar to those in the UK. This can lead to confusion. A bridle may be stamped "English leather," which may mean it's made in the UK, or it may mean the leather was produced in India using traditional British tanning methods. A bridle's leather could come from one country, it could be assembled in another, and sold in yet another. In the end, it may be easiest to go with a bridle maker's reputation. Ebay has a helpful guide to judging leather quality.

Fancy stitching vs. plain
Contrasting stitching is very popular right now, usually white or off white but black/brown is also available. Stitches should be dainty, even, and tight. Stitching is very flattering on plain-colored horses; horses with flamboyant markings may not need the embellishment.

Padding adds to the "depth" and substance of the bridle, and it's comfortable for the horse. Some padding is made of ultra-soft calfskin. Horses with larger heads look better with a padded, "taller" browband and cavesson. Sensitive horses may insist on padded crowns, but keep in mind that some bridle companies (Vespucci, Peter Wylde) offer specially designed crownpieces that are horse-friendly. As for the nose and browband -- if your horse has a very small or delicate head, go with either a narrower leather or skip the padding. Again, go with what looks best on your horse's head.

Round-raised, square-raised, and other detailing
A matter of personal choice, or rather choices (Courbette's has examples of at least some of the options -- scroll down page to see them). Larger heads tend to look better with a more prominent bridle (padding, square-raised). Some companies offer an "ultra-raised" option.

Width of straps
If a bridle is listed as 3/4" in size, the measurement seems to refer to the cheekpieces. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Several Web sources indicate that the standard noseband is 7/8"; cheekpieces are 1/2" to 5/8"; browbands 1/2 to 3/4". Some companies offer extra-wide straps for large heads, or extra-narrow straps for smaller heads. For example, Aramas and KL Select each have a thicker bridle with a a noseband 1" or wider. The Arc de Triomphe offers a bridle for smaller heads (Elegance), and Bobby makes a triple-stiched bridle and an extra-thin bridle with a noseband of only 1/2" (see English tack section of

The best bridles will have brass or stainless steel hardware -- not nickel plated. Herm Springer makes buckles for many of the better quality bridles. If you're considering a modestly priced bridle, check the buckles and the stud closures to make sure they will hold up.

Before ordering, always check to see if reins are included. Reins are usually 5/8" laced. Some have raised sections near the horse's head, often with fancy stitching. You can buy calfskin reins reinforced with nylon -- think Arc de Triomphe makes them.

Quality of craftsmanship
When examining the quality of mid-range to higher end bridles, I noticed these differences. The keepers were often fit better (not too loose or tight); edges were more finished/bevelled on better bridles; Stitching was more attractive and even. Generally the attention to detail was greater, with leather shielding to protect the horse from buckles and metal that might contact their skin; the leather was more rich-looking, supple, and let's face it, more expensive-looking. Evaluating a bridle is a sensory experience. Examine it closely, touch it, bend it, smell it. You don't want the leather to be too soft, you can run into problems with stretching. Unless they've already been oiled, leather should feel slightly stiffer when new. However, a really stiff bridle doesn't conform to the horse's contours--very unflattering to the horse.

Conservative vs. Trendy
In the hunter world, fashions change, but in very subtle ways. Fancy stitching on the noseband and browband is accepted. Blingy rhinestones, not so much. The Antares bridle has a silver button, and decorative stitching on the crown -- a bit of a departure from the classic hunter bridle. The USHJA bridle available through Dover won praise from George Morris (reports a COTH member whose horse was complimented). This is a sure sign that the USHJA bridle is a classic, and incidentally, it was the bridle I'd selected to purchase before I won the Stubben.

Disclaimer: Prices are estimates based on casual perusal while Web-shopping.
Some bridles listed may not be strictly hunter style.


Fit Leather Price Comments

Runs small. Pony-O/S
Manuf. in India, with English-like leather


The higher the number, the better the quality; owners claim they're indistinguishable for top shelf bridles; Many choices, including extra thin, triple-stitched, heavy duty, and braided. Lower-end bridles may bleed.

Nunn Finer Runs small. Pony-OS Made in PA
Lancaster Co.

$150-200 w/reins
Popular among eventers, but they offer hunter styles too. Considered a very good bridle and a
good value

Runs big.


English or American leather Around $200 or less, w/reins Ex. $150 Fancy stitched snaffle; A good solid bridle by all accounts.

Harmohn KraftOffers pony, arab, quarter, horse, O/SIndia, English-tanned leather Around $100 or less Some owners report that they bleed; leather quality fairly good, considering price; Americana line is popular

Herve Godignon Pony-O/S
$300-$400 w/o reins Great quality; Paris is popular hunter style; see Athena for an example of great detailing
Peter Wylde Cob, full, O/S

French leather $300 w/reins Sold exclusively from Dover; fine (1/2" cheek pieces); external noseband strap to relieve pressure on the horse’s poll
Runs small. Pony-O/S
British $350 w/o reins Conservative design; exceptional handcrafted quality; holds up well.

1 (cob), 2 (horse), 3 (O/S)

French designed, headquarters in MD$500 w/reinsRather showy by hunter standards, with buckles rather than stud, a silver button on side, and detailing on the crown. See picture for examples
Beval Bridles Pony-O/SU.S. based; leather unknown$300-$500 w/reinsCompany has great reputation, a variety of styles; Many hunter style options, includ. wide cavesson.
Edgewood Runs big & it stretches. Pony-O/SMade in New Mexico; Vegetable tanned leather $200-300 w/o reins Leather stretches; do not over-oil; many size/style alternatives

Arc de Triomphe Pony-O/SFrench with Herm Springer stainless steel$300-400 w/reins Super quality; variety of hunter bridles, including a calfskin bridle for sensitive horses and riders. Options are well-described on Web site.



$250ish Wellington
$150ish Circuit

Saratoga is most popular; Westport is good for finer heads;
G. Morris likes the $300 USHJA bridle (not sure if it's Dover)

Pony-O/SAmerican leather$200-300 range w/reins
Fairly good quality for price; some say price is not competitive.

KL Select

Slightly generous cut; Pony-O/S

English leather
$250 range Red barn bridles very popular

Vespucci Pony-O/SItalian leather, but made in India? $300-350 level with reins Take a look at the hunter series. Nice single padded crownpiece.


$300 no reins; over $400 w/reins

Great quality from a fairly new company. See the removable flash



French company, but their bridles
are made in England of Sedgwicks leather
$300 range, w/o reins, or $500 w/reins High quality. Rich dark brown, described as similar to Jimmy's

Dyon Bridle cob, fullBritish-made, some neorpene in anatomical design$400 w/ reinsAnatomical design (some neoprene) or regular

Jimmy's 21st century bridle

Pony- O/S

Made in Nevada

$799 with reins

Very expensive, see picture. Designed/manuf. by Jimmy Wiebe, former pro rider.


cob, full

U.S.A based

$200 range with reins

Many options for hunter bridles; good bridle, good reputation

New Cavalry

Cob, full


$300-$400 range

Wow! which is not to say "Buy!" for the hunter ring; Web site lacking info



American leather, chestnut

$200-$250 w/o reins

Very good quality, reasonably priced; usually chestnut colored , with options such as ultra-raised" and extra wide.

Evaluating a horse bridle from

What makes two bridles look so different? from Charlotte's Saddlery

How to fit a bridle from Frances Kelly Bridles

Bridle Guide from Renaissance on COTH and TOC

Show ring fashion from Horse Channel

Jeffries bridle sizing


  1. We've always opted for the very traditional bridles. I think they look the classiest.Bridles with too much going on take away from the beauty of the horses head.

  2. I'm glad I'm so out of it that I just buy bridles that fit and that I can afford. You did a wonderful job of research -- no doubt that's why you won! Congrats!

    May your luck continue in the show ring.

  3. Thanks -- in our first little breed show at Mile View Farm, we got third out of three. The two others were quite nice and Riley is still a bit immature looking. But his manners were impeccable and he behaved where others were very, very naughty :-). So I'm thrilled!

  4. Thanks for another well-informed post. I read your blog religiously and I really appreciate your honest curiosity and open-mindedness––the fact that you actually know what you're talking about is a bonus.
    I've just started my own blog, and I'd love it if you'd include a link to my site:

    All the best!

  5. I love the name already! Will take a look...

  6. great post and very informative. i'll have to come back more often!

    i'm a bit old-fashioned when it comes to hunter ring tack, and i prefer a slightly more polished version of a flat hunting bridle for showing. i ride mostly warmblood types, and their large heads are really flattered by a substantial, plain (not stitching) flat bridle with a good, extra wide cavesson (i'm talking 1" or more) and extra wide reins (also flat when possible) which flatter a warmblood's thicker neck.

    we've tried the 'pad and stack' theory raised bridles that are popular on the circuit these days, but they seem to just make a horse look a bit like a rhinoceros in profile...

    having said all of that, i don't really show hunters any more because the 'trends' have become so absurd i can't bring myself to try to conform, so i'm probably not the best one to give advice ;-)

    (i still think working hunters should go in full bridles, and field boots should be brown and worn with tweed coats. :-\ that's not the sort of thing that judges appreciate these days...)

  7. If you can believe it, I used to foxhunt as a teen, with the Romwell Foxhounds. Modern show hunters are beautiful but they seem so far removed from that experience.

  8. Congrats again, the bridle looks great! Good luck at Devon.

  9. Thank you for writing this very informative and useful page! I appreciate your eye for detail and thoughtfulness.

  10. Wow, thank you for all of the great information. This is a fantastic resource. Based on your information, I did some research and decided to go with the Bobby's. I ended up buying the English Leather Bobby's bridle and was very pleased with it. I have had a few other bridles and have paid quite a bit of money for them. The Bobby's I found to have great quality leather and beautiful stitching. I have been using it for about a year now and it still looks beautiful. I would say that it easily compares to any of the other top brands like Arc de Triumph or so. The Bobby's now comes with Padded Crowns which is a super nice feature.

    All the best!


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.