What Is A Horse Bridle? Purpose & Function

Everything You Need to Know About Horse Bridles

You’re not alone if you don’t know the difference between a bridle, a halter, and any number of other tack terms that you learn as you start riding horses. The Bridle may just be the most important piece of tack there is, and understanding how it works is necessary if you’re planning on getting in the saddle.

What is a horse bridle? The bridle is a piece of riding equipment that fits onto the horse’s head. The bridle is where the reins and the bit are attached and is one of the main ways that you control the horse when riding. Bridles can be sold as an all-in-one piece of equipment, or you can create a custom bridle by purchasing the different components individually. Almost all bridles contain:

  • headpiece
  • browband
  • throat latch
  • cheek pieces
  • noseband
  • bit
  • reins


If you’ve ridden a horse, you’ve almost certainly used a bridle, whether you knew the term at the time or not. To learn more about bridles and how they are used to direct the horse, keep reading for all of the information you need!

Parts of a Horse Bridle

A bridle consists of several pieces that work together to create a connection between your horse’s head and your hands, allowing you to cue your horse with the attached reins. Bridles can be very simple, or they can be quite intricate. Here are the basic components of a bridle:

The Headpiece

The headpiece is the bridle part that fits behind the horse’s ears. When you place the bridle on your horse, the headpiece will be the strap that you lift up and over your horse’s ears before resting it on the head. The headpiece can be as basic as a nylon strap or can be thick, padded leather.

The Browband

The browband is the strap that sits across the horse’s forehead in front of the ears. It is used with the headpiece to fit the bridle to the horse’s head securely. The length of the browband is not adjustable, so measuring your horse’s head and purchasing the right fit is especially important.

The Cheek Pieces

The cheek pieces are what connect the headpiece and the browband to the lower half of the bridle. The cheek pieces are extensions of the headpiece, continuing beyond the browband and attaching to the bit.

Cheek pieces are adjustable by length, allowing the right fit for both comfort and control. Attention should be given to the cheek pieces when securing the bridle onto the horse, as they can bother the horse’s eyes if not properly applied. I’m always very gentle when lifting the headpiece over my horse’s ears and adjusting the browband fluidly so that the cheek pieces rest comfortably below the eyes.

The Throat Latch

The throat latch is a thin and adjustable strap that runs from one side of the headpiece, under the throat, and to the other side of the headpiece. It connects at the points where the browband meets the headpiece. Care should be taken when fitting the throat latch – unlike the rest of the adjustable pieces of the bridle, the throat latch should be loose enough to fit the width of three to four of your fingers between the strap and the horse’s throat. This is so that you don’t unnaturally restrict the movement of your horse’s head. 

The Noseband

The noseband is the strap that goes around your horse’s nose, attaching to the bridle by another thin strap of leather that fits through the browband and around the horse’s ears with the headpiece. When used with a bit, the main purpose of the noseband is to keep the bridle securely on the horse; however, in many Western disciplines, you will see bridles used that do not have nosebands.

The Bit

Bits are usually bought separately from a bridle and can be replaced if need be to fit the specific horse. The bit fits into the horse’s mouth, over the tongue, and is what directs the horse, delivering the cues from your hands to the horse. The bit will have a ring on each side – these rings will attach to both the cheek pieces and to the reins. There are many different bit designs, and it is important to find the style and the size that fits your individual horse. While most riders use bits on their horses, there are also bitless bridles.

The Reins

The reins will either be two long straps or one continuous leather strap that loops around the horse’s neck and connects to the bridle, acting as the direction connection between the horse and rider. There are many different styles of reins, from simple leather straps to rubber reins and braided reins. How you hold your reins and direct your hands is one of the main points of communication you will have with your horse when riding.

How to Use a Horse Bridle

As you learn to ride, your bridle will be one of the main ways you will learn to control your horse as you ride. You will use your reins to communicate with your horse the basics of steering, halting, backing up, and moving forward. There are also more advanced things the bridle is used to communicate, but I’ll leave that for another day.

While there are other riding queues you need to learn in order to do basically anything on a horse, in this article, I’m covering just the aspects that apply to the bridle. So, how do you use a horse bridle?

Steering With a Horse Bridle

Luckily, going left and right on a horse is pretty straightforward. To use a bridle to steer your horse from in the saddle, simply bring your hand out in the direction you want to go. If you want to go left, bring your left hand out, opening that left rein away from the horse. The horse will tip its nose toward the left and move in that direction.

Halting With a Horse Bridle

To stop a horse, pull back slightly on both reins. Be sure to pull back evenly with both hands to communicate exactly what you want. This will tell the horse to stop.

Backing Up With a Horse Bridle

To make a horse back up using a bridle, pull back slightly with both hands as if asking your horse to stop, except raise your hands slightly higher as you apply the pressure. 

Moving Forward With a Horse Bridle

Regarding moving forward, what you do with your reins could confuse your horse. When asking your horse to move forward, ensure you are not pulling back on the reins; instead, you can put your hands slightly forward to relax the rein and encourage the horse forward.

To learn about the other ways you may communicate with your horse as you ride, visit my article, Horse Commands: Top Horse Training & Riding Commands.

What Is A Hackamore Bridle?

A hackamore is a bridle that utilizes pressure on the noseband instead of a bit and is commonly seen in Western riding. Most mechanical hackamores have a shank on each side that attaches to the cheek pieces, the browband, and the reins. The part of the shank that attaches to the reins can be up to eight inches long. The longer the shank, the more pressure is applied to the horse’s nose – the nose is very sensitive, and it would be a mistake to assume that a hackamore is gentler for a horse simply because it lacks a bit.

I do have one hackamore bridle, and I use very short “s-shaped” shanks. I once had a horse that was used to being ridden in a long-shanked hackamore. When I started riding him, I replaced his old bridle with the S hackamore, and the difference in his comfort was significant enough that he seemed startled the first time I cued him with the reins. After a few minutes, he became uncharacteristically excited but quickly calmed down and started paying attention to me again. This was a well-trained, push-button horse who did not need much pressure. 

Can You Ride a Horse Without A Bridle?

Though riding with a bridle is the norm, there are many riders who are training their horses to ride completely bridle-free. Riding without a bridle is not something you can jump into without a solid foundation. You will need the knowledge and experience in communicating with your horse with your other aids. These include:

  • leg aids
  • seat aids
  • vocal aids

Likewise, your horse will need to be trained and responsive to these other aids to where they can be controlled using only your leg, seat, and voice. This is an adjustment for most horses and riders, but I highly recommend that this be a goal for every rider to accomplish! Having an understanding and a reliance on these alternative aids will make you a better horse person overall.

Bridle Options

Because there are so many components to a horse bridle, the options are just about endless. This is an advantage, considering every rider and every horse has individual builds, preferences, and needs. “All-in-one” bridles can be purchased, or the individual components can be purchased to create a completely custom bridle. Budget bridles made from rope or synthetic leather can be purchased, or you can splurge on a high-end leather piece of tack.

I’ve found that while I have a favorite, it is also nice to have more than one bridle to use for different purposes and to use in case your primary bridle malfunctions. Even if you are planning to train your horse to ride without a bridle, the bridle is an essential piece of tack, one that must be in every equestrian’s tack room.

If you need to know how to put a bridle on a horse, check out my YouTube video down below:


For written instructions, check out my article How to Put a Bridle on a Horse (Easy Methods.)

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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