Sometimes we wish we could combine our bridle with our halter. We know riders sometimes leave the halter in place and then stack the bridle over it, but that’s cumbersome and, frankly, tacky. Halter-bridle combinations, also called field trial or packer bridles, are an efficient, aesthetically pleasing means of combining the two.
Combo halters fit better than average halters because usually they are less bulky. The efficient use of a minimum of straps gives these innovations their appeal.
Halter-bridles appeal to many riders:
• Trail riders find that it’s nice to be able to slip the bit out at rest stops without totally removing the bridle, and there’s no need to carry a halter along.
• Mounted police use them to give their horses a break while on patrol.
• Trainers have different bits attached to different sets of cheek pieces so they can easily change bits during training sessions.
• Instructors appreciate the ease of removing the bit between lessons.
• Students may be safer removing the bit than removing the bridle and trying to put on the halter (although we hope they’ll eventually learn to do both).
But if you’re looking for a rough, tough, drag-in-the-dirt, tie-up-anything halter, you’ll find these items generally too lightweight. It’s not what they are made for. They are great for riding and leading — exactly what they are designed for.
Indeed, most short cuts involve a trade-off, and halter-bridle combinations are no exception. We found some halters that we would not trust to tie our horse, particularly in a strange place.
Maybe you don’t plan to tie your horse while away from home, or you are using the halter-bridle for training, so you don’t think it matters. But we’d bet that some day a friend or assistant will see the horse wearing a “halter” and tie him with it, and then it will matter.
Some halter-bridles come with reins; the leather reins we tested are too nice to risk re-connecting and tying, and the nylon ones either won’t stay tied or won’t loosen enough to be untied easily. Instead, we’re going to bypass the reins and simply use a regular lead rope to tie our horse. If you don’t want to carry a lead rope, we suggest you choose your halter-bridle carefully. Some reins easily unattach from the bit and reattach to the halter ring, but others are much too cumbersome. Those that unattach easily can be joined at the bight and give you a longer lead.
Choosing a halter-bridle involves the same considerations as with any other piece of tack. We want:
• Quality materials and workmanship
• Comfortable materials and design
• A good fit
• Function (adequate strength to tie our horse and ease of bit removal)
• A reasonable price for the product.
All the halter-bridles we tested have browbands that fit well. All the bit cheekpieces are adjustable in length and attach to the halter with snaps. All but the Weaver #35-0890 have adjustable throat latches and nosebands, which we find may give a better fit and neater profile. Overall, workmanship is excellent in the halter-bridles we tested.
We tested the halter-bridles with snaffles and curbs. The cheek piece length requirement varies somewhat from bit to bit, but it is not necessarily consistently different between snaffle and curb bits. We were disappointed to find that some of the halter-bridle cheek pieces were significantly too long for any horse that the halter would fit.
Big Horn 5407 $38.98
We tested standard horse size; it’s also available in the smaller “mare size” #5408. However, we found the standard size too small (particularly halter cheek length and noseband size) for any horse that the bit cheeks fit.
We could only get a good fit for the halter on a petite Arabian, and this required burning a new hole at the absolute highest position on the bit cheek pieces. With a larger-ring snaffle bit, even this highest position would be too long. In other words, the bit cheeks are made too long for the rest of the halter. Same problem occurs with the throat latch: too long.
When we discussed this with the manufacturer representative, he said many riders prefer a tight noseband, which may be why many #5407s are sold. However, he said our feedback may prompt some changes.
Hamilton H2 $23.95
This halter-bridle fit well in all adjustments and was versatile enough to fit a variety of head sizes. The nylon is comfortable and soft; it is light weight yet strong. It is attractively narrow to complement an attractive head. Reins are not included, but we don’t mind since we’d rather use our own. Most of the halter-bridle is doubled and stitched nylon. A thoughtful design detail is that the bit end of the cheeks are slimmed down to a single layer of nylon over the post of the conway buckle. While this makes bit attachment to the cheek pieces easier, we still had difficulty maneuvering the nylon into the conway buckle.
The hardware is nickel-plated zinc die-cast which, the manufacturer reports, is rust-resistant and stronger than brass. Regardless, we are comfortable enough with the hardware to tie a well-trained horse.
Our only disappointment with this halter-bridle is the choice of the snaps for attachment of bit cheeks to halter. Although the trigger-snap ends make changing from bit to halter easy, we believe they could poke the horse or you. If he rubbed on your student or client, torn clothing or bruising could result. The manufacturer pointed out that the snaps tend to lie flat on the cheek straps, which we found to be true.
Tory 422 $53.95
This Tory product has attractive, high-quality leather. We found the bit cheeks too long for any horse the halter would fit, but the design allows us to trim the strap ends and punch more holes for the conway buckles. If you are going to change bits often, this is the halter-bridle for you as the bit attaches with spring snaps, which are sewn on so that they face out. We prefer that they face in, fearing they could catch on something. Since the attachment of bit cheek to halter is a swivel snap, we would sacrifice the good looks of uniform grain-side leather and snap them the opposite direction. The manufacturer reports that they carefully considered the safest snap direction during the design process and, because the halter-bridle is leather and would break under heavy pressure, decided on the current configuration.
The rings for the attachment of bit cheeks to halter are quite close to the halter buckle (they are sewn into the same leather loop). This gave us a challenge when attaching the bit cheeks.
Weaver Leather 10-0137 $141.99
The Weaver leather is dark and heavy, and we find it attractive and high quality. The halter fit our bigger-headed horses, but the halter cheek pieces lack the additional length for more holes if you have a horse with a very large head. In order to shorten the cheek pieces to their top hole, we needed to remove the round brass pieces at the browband-crownpiece connection.
These pieces serve as spacers, but the tack functions fine without them. They are easily removed if you prefer a plainer look. The rings for attachment of the bit cheeks to the halter are close to the halter buckle (they are sewn into the same leather loop), but the ring is bigger so it is less challenging to fasten the bit cheeks.
Weaver representatives said they believe this design is stronger because stitching makes holes and therefore weakens leather. Weaver minimizes stitching, using the same leather loop for both ring and buckle. We found the bit cheek pieces, again, too long for any horse that the halter would fit, but the design allowed the leather to be repunched and thus shortened. We would tie a horse with this halter.
Weaver 35-0890 $47.50
The Weaver 35-0890 is the only halter-bridle we tested that is a traditional halter. It is of medium size and has one traditional adjustment on the left side of the crown piece. There is a good range of adjustment on the bit cheeks, and the nylon and buckles are easy to maneuver. The spring snaps at the top of the bit cheek pieces face out (we prefer in). You could turn the whole cheek piece around, but it would be harder to adjust and might rub the horse. We were also disappointed in the light nickel-plated hardware.
This halter-bridle, and Weaver’s 35-2090, both come with a bit we don’t recommend as we feel it is likely to pinch the horse’s lip. Since it’s not an expensive bit, it’s not a big deal. Stick with your favorite bit. Weaver realizes it is not a bit most horse people would use, but it helps in tack-shop displays.
Weaver 35-2090 $49.99
The Weaver 35-2090 has adjustments on the noseband, throat latch and both cheek pieces. It fit our medium-sized horses well, but at maximum length adjustment.
The bit cheek pieces have a good range of adjustment. The trigger snap to the halter cheek piece is easy to use and the ring is easily accessible. Again, skip using the bit that comes with this halter-bridle and light nickel-plated hardware.
It’s no surprise that the Weaver 10-0137 is the most impressive halter-bridle, since it comes in at nearly three times the price of the other products. High-quality leather is expensive, but it is always a good investment as it will remain functional and beautiful for many years with the right care and it is traditional. For those who can afford it, and don’t mind its slightly bulky appearance, it is a quality choice.
For those on a budget or looking for something more lightweight but strong, we suggest the soft and attractive Hamilton H2. While we had a few problems with its cheek-piece snap, we find it a quality product at an excellent price. This product earns our Best Buy and overall favorite.