What's the best bridle ? and bit ? to use on the trail? The options are legion. Do you want a halter-bridle combo that allows you to tie up without carrying an extra halter? Do you prefer tried-and-true leather, or easy-to-clean synthetic materials? Does your horse seem to go best with a classic bit, but are you looking for a more innovative approach?
Here's a roundup of trail-ready bits and bridles to help you choose the ones that work best for you and your horse.
Made with the same mouthpiece and ring weight as the company's engraved show bits, the Plain Twisted Snaffle bit communicates via pressure on the lips, and hinge motion on the roof of the mouth and tongue; the twisted mouthpiece is intended to keep your horse light in the mouth, and is more severe than a smooth snaffle. Mouthpiece is five inches wide. Contact: Les Vogt, (877) LES-VOGT [537-8648]; www.lesvogt.com.
Four-Point Pressure Bit
The Mikmar Feather Bit with jointed mouthpiece, with its accompanying noseband and chinstrap, offers four points of pressure to encourage proper head carriage, collection, control, and relaxation. The shanks provide mild leverage, while the jointed mouthpiece gives you a lateral connection. According to the manufacturer, the bit is popular with gaited-horse owners. Available in widths of 5 1/4 and 5 1/2 inches. Contact: Mikmar Bit Company, (866) MIKMAR7 [645-6277]; www.mikmar.com.
With a medium port and 6 1/2-inch shanks, the Metalab Black Satin Grazing Bit with Medium Port Mouth features leverage that creates a medium-to-strong effect and is intended for intermediate to experienced horses, according to the manufacturer. The curb bit's mouthpiece measures five inches. The shanks' backward sweep was originally intended to facilitate grazing. Comes in Black Satin. Contact: Partrade Trading Co., LLC, (800) 223-2102; www.partrade.net.
The Bob Avila Mechanical Hackamore works largely by applying leveraged pressure across the bridge of your horse's nose. The curb-chain hangers angle out to prevent pinching. The 8 1/2-inch shank provides substantial leverage. Available with decorative shank embellishment. Contact: Professional's Choice Sports Medicine Products, Inc., (800) 331-9421; www.profchoice.com.
Designed to decrease discomfort at the corners of your horse's mouth by eliminating pinching, the seven-sixteenth-inch Smooth Sweet Iron Snaffle features extra three-inch rings that float independently to disperse pressure across your horse's lip and cheek. Reins attach to the floating D-rings outside the cheek rings. Sweet iron encourages salivation. Contact: Reinsman Equestrian Products, (800) 548-2487; www.reinsman.com.
Comfortable Trail Bit
The mild Myler HBT Shank MB 33 bit is designed for comfort. The design and curved mouthpiece allow your horse to swallow properly, while the short (five-inch) shanks further permit grazing while you're on the trail. The polished, sweet-iron mouthpiece with copper inlay features a ported barrel and promotes salivation. Contact: Toklat Originals Inc./Myler Bits, (888) 486-5528; www.toklat.com.
Tom Balding Bits & Spurs makes custom-made bits with the mouthpiece/shank combination that works best for you and your horse. This option features a Billy Allen mouthpiece that's hinged to allow independent lateral control; tongue pressure encourages responsive stops. Sweet iron with a copper roller encourages salivation. Edge pieces minimize bit "traveling," reducing excessive pressure on your horse's outside bars. The short shank measures 6 3/4 inches. Satin finish. Contact: Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, (800) 672-8459; www.tombalding.com.
Bit Training System
Does your horse fight or evade his bit? Whether your horse is a beginner or a veteran, Julie Goodnight's Bitting System is designed to help you teach him to respond better to the bit and to carry himself easily. The 105-minute instructional DVD teaches you how to use the system ? a long leather cord that you use in conjunction with your tack ? and takes you through the training process. The Bit Basics DVD also discusses different bits and how they're used. Contact: Julie Goodnight Horsemanship Training, (800) 225-8827; www.juliegoodnight.com.
Australian Halter Bridle
Classic Australian style of a classic trail bridle, this leather Halter Bridle makes for easy, safe tying on the trail. Your bit buckles on to the bridle's connector straps; a lead line snaps to the ring under the jaw. Three rings on the reinforced cheek piece allow for alternate strap placement, and you can choose an easy snap connector or silent buckle connector. An extended crownpiece sits four inches behind your horse's crown to help secure the bridle. Available in full or cob sizes, in light brown, dark brown, and black. Comes with solid-leather buckle-in-hand reins. Contact: Australian Stock Saddle Company, (818) 889-6988; www.aussiesaddle.com.
With its emphasis on pain-free steering and stopping, the Bitless Bridle uses gentle pressure on wide areas of your horse's head to complement the cues you provide with your body weight, balance, and breathing, eliminating bit-avoidance issues. Works with direct or neck reining. Available in synthetic, leather-like Beta, nylon, Western-style leather, and English-style leather; reins sold separately. Contact: The Bitless Bridle Inc., (866) 235-0938; www.bitlessbridle.com.
Leather Halter Bridle
With the classic beauty of leather, the Trail Halter/Headstall features bit holders with snaps on either end, making it easy to change or remove the bit. Available in walnut, regular oil, black, and dark-oil antique colors, with brass or chrome hardware. Reins sold separately. Contact: Circle Y of Yoakum, Inc., (866) 235-0938; www.circley.com.
Heavy-Duty Aussie Halter Bridle
The leather Aussie-style Kimberley Halter Bridle with Reins allows you to convert your bridle to a halter in seconds when you take a break on the trail. Heavy-duty construction allows for durability, while the bridle's brass trim catches the eye. Available in brown or black. Contact: Down Under Saddle Supply, (800) 395-8225; www.downunderweb.com.
Halter Bridle with Double Buckle
Made from synthetic Beta material, the Deluxe Add-On (with double buckle option) headstall converts from halter to bridle by snapping the bridle browband around the halter's crown. Pinned rings are light, but strong, and reduce rubbing. The halter's second buckle creates a separate, easy-to-replace crownpiece. Available in a variety of colors and accents, including reflective options, with solid-brass or stainless-steel hardware. Contact: Hought Endurance Tack, (800) 839-1164; www.hought.com.
Designed for distance riders, the Evolution is a refinement on the company's popular Freedom Bridle: in essence, a headstall with long reins that can be configured in various ways to address your communication needs at any particular time. Attach the reins to the headstall in one particular way for a bitless bridle that applies pressure to the nose, cheek, jowl, and poll; another configuration creates a sidepull-type bridle. Or, attach a bit. Made from synthetic Beta, in multiple color options and custom decorative touches. Contact: Moss Rock Endurance, (719) 439-2472; www.mossrockendurance.com.
Tough, Easy-Care Bridle
The DuraTough Trail Bridle's coated-nylon material repels water and makes for easy maintenance. Designed for the trails, the bridle stays soft and pliable in all weather conditions.? Available in black, brown, and hunter green, with solid brass hardware. Matching DuraTough reins sold separately. Contact: National Bridle Shop, Inc., (800) 251-3474; www.nationalbridleshop.com.
The bit attaches directly to the separate, adjustable crown strap of the Halter Bridle with Separate Crown Bit Hanger, allowing you to easily slip it over the accompanying halter on the trail; the reins (with snap ends) double as a lead rope. The halter-bridle's soft, leather-like synthetic Beta material provides strength and ease of care; all hardware is rustproof. Comes in brown or chestnut black; trim overlays by special order. Caveat: Not recommended for horses that rub their bridles. Contact: Parry Harness & Tack, (407) 230-7370; www.parrytack.com.
Walking Horse Bridle
Designed for (surprise) the Walking Horse, the Walking Horse Bridle measures 43 inches from bit end to bit end (set at its longest hole), with a 16-inch browband. The crown and cheekpieces feature a roller buckle for easy adjustment. Available in black, brown, and golden, with brass or chrome hardware. Reins not included. Contact: Tucker Trail Saddles, (800) 882-5375; www.tuckersaddles.com.
Made from doubled and stitched bridle leather to stand up to tough use, the Heavy-Duty Browband Halter Bridle features a 1 5/8-inch-wide crownpiece. Long bit attachments snap onto the headstall. The bridle comes with buckled-center reins and a curb strap; curb bit isn't included. Available in mahogany with solid-brass hardware. Contact: Weaver Leather, (800) 932-8371; www.ridethebrand.com.
The Overlay Bridle/Halter employs synthetic Beta material for the look and feel of leather, but the ease of care of vinyl, while a decorative overlay adds panache. Your horse's bit attaches to bit hangers that snap on and off the headstall's cheekpieces for quick conversion between bridle and halter. Available in a variety of both neutral and bright base colors with several decorative overlay options. Contact: Wind Rider Tack, (800) 546-2740; www.windridertack.com.
Laurel Berger O'Connor, a Pennsylvania horsewoman, is The Trail Rider's products editor.