Description: The German-made Amber Head Stall 2-in-1, from Barefoot Saddles, is a versatile sidepull combining a leather headstall and chin strap with a hand-braided browband, noseband, and throatlatch. Remove the noseband to add a bit. Available in brown/black and cognac/orange. Matching round-braided reins, sold separately, are available in Western and English styles.
The test: Jessica Jahiel, PhD (www.jessicajahiel.com), international clinician, and award-winning author of books on horses, riding, and training, tested the Amber 2-in-1 bridle.
"I wanted to explore this bridle's usefulness for schooling, hacking, and trail rides - and I hoped it would be an appropriate item for my Horse and Rider Comfort clinics," she says.
Dr. Jahiel's test bridle included English reins, which were long enough for even a tall, long-necked horse. She tested the bridle on three horses of different sizes and builds. "Adjustments are easy, and there are many points of adjustment," she says. "This bridle fit all the horses comfortably."
The Amber Head Stall looks like a conventional sidepull, but there are some key differences, says Dr. Jahiel. "Many sidepulls have cheekpieces placed so high that they're dangerously close to the horse's eyes, but that wasn't a problem with this headstall," she says.
The headstall adjusts on both sides. The throatlatch, a separate piece of thin cord, passes through the browband, rests behind the crownpiece, and can be tied at the rider's preferred length. A small, braided keeper on each side of the headstall keeps the browband in place.
"Even a big-headed horse with a wide forehead wore this browband comfortably," says Dr. Jahiel. "It was slightly loose on the smallest horse, a 15-hand-high Thoroughbred cross, but that's not a problem - a loose browband is always better than a too-tight one."
On the other horses - a 16.2-hand Thoroughbred and a 16-hand Andalusian cross - the browband was easily shifted for a comfortable fit. "Horses often suffer because crownpieces and/or browbands rub the base of their ears, but this bridle allows plenty of room," says Dr. Jahiel.
"The quality and details of the Amber Head Stall are impressive," she continues. "The braiding is attractive and uniform." She notes the bridle features a narrow, round braid for the throatlatch, a wider round braid over a core for the noseband, and a wider, flat braid for the browband.
"The Brazilian leather is substantial, flexible, and exceptionally well-made," she continues. "Each piece is carefully finished, with no sharp edges. The stitches are regular, even, and small - another sign of quality. The leather keepers and holders are stitched, not stapled or glued.
"The holes are round, uniform, placed at precise intervals, and punched all the way through. (If you've ever purchased a cheap, badly made bridle, you'll know why this matters.) The buckles are wide, rounded, and easy to use, with shaped, tapered tongues that fit easily through the holes. When your fingers are sweaty in summer or cold in winter, these details matter in a very practical way.
"My only caveat: Chicago screws are notorious for coming loose. Although you can apply a drop of clear nail polish before tightening them, this could make it more difficult to switch between noseband and bit. I'd suggest choosing the option you prefer, then securely fastening the Chicago screws. And do please check them before each ride!"
Our tester's overall impression: "This is an attractive, well-made bridle that would suit a wide variety of horses and riders."
Cost: $85 (headstall); $50 (reins).
Contact: Barefoot Saddles, (910) 489-8031; www.barefootsaddles.net/accessories.htm