As a trail rider, you know your trail bridle should be tough and durable. It's likely to become sweaty, it may get rained on, and it'll probably get splashed during water crossings. Your bridle can catch on bushes, underbrush, and tree branches. You'll be safer and have more fun on the trail if you don't have to worry about damaging your tack.
To help you choose the right headgear for your horse, we'll first describe bridle types: headstall and bit, halter-bridle combination, bosal, English hackamore, mechanical hackamore, vosal, and the patented Bitless Bridle. Then we'll discuss snaffle and curb bits (including bit materials), tell you which bits are best for trail riders, and give you bit-fit basics.
Today, you have an array of basic bridle types to choose from; here's a rundown of each one.
Headstall and bit. An ordinary headstall-and-bit type bridle has a headstall (the bridle's headgear portion), a bit, and reins. An English bridle will include a crownpiece (the top portion, which lies behind the ears) noseband (which buckles around the nose), two adjustable cheekpieces (which run from the crownpiece down either side of the face, to the bit), a browband (which attaches to the crownpiece and runs across the forehead) and a throatlatch (which runs through the crownpiece and attaches under the throat).
Western bridles are more varied; a Western headstall may have a browband or a one- or two-ear headstall (that is, a headstall with places for one or both ears to fit through). The ears may be shaped (fixed) or sliding (adjustable). Not all Western headstalls include a throatlatch, but one is recommended, as it helps keep the bridle on.
An English bridle will typically be used with a snaffle bit; a Western bridle may be used with a curb bit and curb strap/chain (which runs behind the bit, under your horse's chin), or with a snaffle. Note that a wide, soft strap is gentler than a thin, hard, textured one.
Halter-bridle combination. One popular headstall-and-bit bridle type for trail riders is the halter-bridle combination, also known as a trail bridle, halter-bridle, or combo bridle. This bridle sports a convertible headstall constructed with a loose, sturdy noseband and a pair of clip-on, snap-on, or buckle-on cheekpieces and clip-on reins, or a long single rein with clips at each end.
This bridle type allows your horse to eat and drink freely and comfortably. It also allows you to easily convert the bridle to a halter for leading and tying ease on the trail. (Note that placing a halter under a bridle creates bulk that can pull the bit uncomfortably high in your horse's mouth and hamper your rein cues, resulting in less-than-optimal communication.)
Halter-bridle combos are available in leather and manmade materials. Manmade materials include biothane, Beta biothane, Zilco, and parachute cord. Biothane is nylon webbing with a polyurethane coating; Beta biothane is a form of biothane with a vinyl coating that looks and feels more like leather; Zilco has an internal core of strong, pretreated nylon webbing encased in polymer; parachute cord or paracord features a heavy, continuous filament covering over a woven-polymer inner core.
These manmade materials come in a wide variety of bright colors, which enhance your visibility on the trail and to passing motorists. These materials are also comfortable for your horse, easy to handle, durable, and easy to clean. (To clean, simply dunk your bridle in a bucket of water, and wipe off with a clean cloth.)