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Pictures of bridles on this page are reproduced with permission from the Shires online catelogue

Putting a bridle on a horse was the first time that man could have some element of control over his mount.  A bridle to a horse is like a steering wheel to a car.  Without it, it is hard to steer or to control speed or brake.   The bridle was the first step to man domesticating the horse.

History of the Bridle

A bit about the history of the bridle:  Compared with the bridle the saddle is a very recent invention.  There are cave drawings of horses which include bridle like lines dating more than 30,000 years ago. 
Engravings of horses with bridles
Engravings made of bone or antler have been carbon dated to circa. 14,000 to 10,000 B.C
And even more so this bit from the Polden Hill Hoard dated AD 1 - 100
Bridle bit from Polden Hill Hoard
Making this depiction of a soldierfrom the Bayeux Tapestry look relatively modern! 
Bayeaux Tapestry showing horse wearing bridle
Ancient Chinese Bronze Bit
This is an ancient Chinese bronze bit which looks very much like our snaffle bits today! 

Modern Bridles

Bridles are the mount for other accessories, such as the bit, the noseband and reins.  Changing the bit or the noseband can have an effect on the way the horse goes. 
Parts of the horse's bridle
Parts of the bridle
Snaffle bridle
A Snaffle Bridle
double bridle
A Double Bridle

Double Bridle

The snaffle bridle and double bridle are quite similar, but the extra bridoon (small ring snaffle) allows other bits to be used at the same time with two sets of reins.  The combination of two bits and two reins allows precise control over the horse's way of going.  It is not a bridle for the novice.  A cavesson noseband is always used with a double bridle.

Snaffle Bridle

The Snaffle Bridle is probably the bridle used most often.  It can be used for many types of riding.   It does not need to have a noseband, which in some cases is just added to be decorative.  Different types of noseband however give the rider most control over the horse, as do different bits.  There are a number of different single bits that can be used with a snaffle, and which are discussed under that section.

A snaffle bridle consists of cheekpieces to which the bit is attached, a headpiece, browband, throatlatch (which prevents the bridle slipping forward over the ears),  a single pair of reins and optional noseband.
nylon bridle
Nylon Bridle

What are Bridles made of?

Most bridles are made of leather, but nowadays nylon bridles have come onto the market.  These bridles are cheap and easy to wash.

There are two price ranges for leather bridles, and beware of getting one in the lower range.  These are not as strong or as well made as a proper English leather bridle.  You do not want your reins to snap when you are galloping across a stubble field as you'll have no brakes! 
Other pages on Tack

  Bits and Bitting
  History of the Saddle