What bridle accessories are there?

A bridle is not complete without bridle accessories. Some accessories, such as reins and browband, are part of the basic equipment of a bridle and should definitely be purchased. Each additional part can be useful for different purposes or just serves as a little extra. You should always keep the requirements and needs of your horse in mind, because every accessory can be a hindrance and counterproductive. Here we introduce you to bridle accessories – from browbands to auxiliary reins and breastplates to poll and nose sleeves.

Several bridles hanging on a wall

No bridle without reins

It goes without saying that reins are an integral part of a bridle. There are many different types of reins, which largely depend on personal preferences. The feel, flexibility, material, width and length of the reins all play an important role. The rider must feel comfortable with the reins in order to be able to give fine and precise aids without getting blisters in the areas between the fingers.

Rider praises her horse by the neck

There are reins made of leather, webbing, imitation leather or cotton, as well as with rubber or silicone nubs for a better grip. Leather stops help beginners to develop a feeling for the length of the reins, so that shortening the reins is even on both sides. It also helps to prevent the reins from slipping through the fingers. Many rein designs have martingale stoppers that prevent the rings of the martingale fork from catching on the rein buckles on the bit and becoming tangled. Reins are attached to the bit rings or, in the case of bitless bridles, to the respective side rings. This can be done with spring hooks or leather loops.

The length of the reins should be adapted to the size of the horse. If the length of the bridle is too short, the rider will tilt over at the front and will not be able to sit upright. Likewise, the horse cannot stretch sufficiently. If, on the other hand, the reins are too long, the rider’s toe can get caught in the end of the reins hanging down on the horse’s neck. Or the rider does not reach out enough, so that arms and hands are pulled backwards and upwards to make contact with the reins. To determine the correct rein length, you can refer to the manufacturers‘ specifications, which designate rein lengths according to the size of the horse (e.g. pony, full).

Besides closed reins, which are typical in traditional riding, there are split reins in the Western scene. These are reins that are not joined in the middle and are therefore held as a so-called bridge of reins. You can find out more about Western accessories in our extensive Western guide.

The underrated bridle accessory: The browband

You can spruce up the look of your bridle with a browband studded with glittering stones or made of shiny patent leather. The strap above the eyes, which connects the two cheek pieces, is much more than just a pretty accessory. It has the important task of preventing the headpiece from slipping backwards, which could put pressure on the sensitive atlas vertebra. This happens especially if the noseband is buckled too loosely and the cheek pieces lift up when the horse chews.

Browband of a bridle

At the same time, the browband must not be too tight, otherwise it will pull the headpiece from behind against the roots of the ears. This would squeeze the parotid gland, block the jaw joint or simply give the horse a headache.

So the correct length of the browband is important. This is how you measure the correct length of the browband:

  • Detach the browband from one side and unharness the horse
  • Place the strap around the horse’s forehead.
  • The loose end of the browband must reach to the other side of the bridle without having to pull on it.
  • If in doubt, choose a longer browband.

A browband is not absolutely necessary for bits with a leverage action. This is because the cheek pieces and consequently the headpiece are pulled downwards by the leverage effect of the long bit shanks. This means that there is no danger of the headpiece being lifted and slipping backwards. The same applies to bitless bridles, which do not have a mouthpiece that could lift the cheek pieces and the headpiece when the horse chews.

The function of the flash strap

The flash strap is a small strap that is buckled in front of the bit on flash or crank flash nosebands.

Throughout its history, the flash strap has had different purposes. Although not sufficiently documented by pictures, the flash strap was used during the First World War to minimise the high losses of horses due to broken jaws. Poorly trained horses fell hard and fast and suffered fatal broken jaws. A tightly buckled flash strap was used to prevent the horse’s mouth from being torn open, thus fixing the jaw. In battle, when the rider was not careful to use a gentle hand, the tight flash strap also reduced the risk of injury to the horse’s mouth.

Horse with flash strap licks and chews
The flash strap should allow active muzzle action

Today, as riders pay attention to a sensitive rein connection and value a sound and good training of the horse, the flash strap has lost its original purpose. Nevertheless, it still has a purpose today. As in the past, it can prevent the horse from opening its mouth if the reins are used too strongly. This also serves the horse in that the jaw is not overstretched or the jaw joint overstrained.

In summary, the flash strap helps the horse to relax the jaw, which can promote suppleness.

The flash strap should be buckled loosely enough to prevent extreme opening of the horse’s mouth, but still allow chewing, breathing and swallowing. This is achieved with a correct buckling that allows two fingers to slip between the strap and the bridge of the nose (the bone area). It is best to put one hand under the strap when closing it so that you are not tempted to buckle it too tightly.

Tightly laced flash strap
This is too tight!

Auxiliary reins as support for riding and lungeing

Auxiliary reins are a bridle accessory that can be used in many ways. Either the use of auxiliary reins is for training purposes for the horse, whereby the horse’s head and neck posture is influenced. Auxiliary reins can also be a support for beginners when they are still working on their balanced seat and cannot concentrate on the horse’s head and neck posture. The horse is also limited towards the front.

We distinguish between running side reins, side reins and Lauffer reins, which are buckled in in different ways and thus also pursue different goals.

Side reins
Running side reinsLauffer reins
BucklingTwo individual straps
strapped to girth and bit ring on both sides;
Should lie horizontally when horse assumes correct head position
Strap runs from the girth through the front legs, branches off into two straps, is pulled through the bit rings and attached to the side of the girth. Side straps should be horizontal when horse is in correct head position.Two straps, can be buckled in as running side reins or a variation of the side reins
PurposeLungeing, in-hand work or beginner ridersLungeing, beginner ridersWarm-up phase,
for beginner riders, as a lungeing aid
Horse is framed on both sidesHorse cannot jerk its head upwards in an uncontrolled manner,
a forward-downward stretch is possible
Versatile use due to changeable buckling, for working out the extension posture or the elevation in equal measure, depending on the buckling.
DisadvantageEven with correctly fastened side reins, the horse cannot stretch correctly downward-forward, it may get behind the bit and move on the forehandHardly any lateral limitationHardly any lateral limitation, horse can get behind the vertical

Breastplates and martingales

A martingale is primarily used in showjumping and eventing. It consists of a breastplate with a 3- or 5-point buckle and a martingale fork. The purpose of the martingale is to limit the horse’s head movement upwards. Only when the horse wants to withdraw upwards from the aids does the martingale intervene.

To do this, the martingale fork must have a length that reaches up to the throatlash. When the horse is moving correctly, the martingale fork sags and does not exert any additional pressure on the bit rings. Only when the head is stretched unnaturally high is there a bend in the rein line and more pressure is exerted on the mouthpiece.

Sometimes the martingale is counted as an auxiliary rein because it can support the rider’s aids. This is because it can absorb unsteady hand movements of the rider, which is why the martingale is also suitable for riders with still unsteady hands. It is also very horse-friendly because it gives the horse the room to stretch forward-downward.

Martingale and breastplate

Soft padding of the bridle with poll and nose sleeves

Horse with Sheepskin padded bridle

They are not just a plush or soft accessory. Poll and nose sleeves made of sheepskin or teddy fleece can be a useful bridle accessory for sensitive horses. Sheepskin and teddy fleece padding is conducive to better pressure distribution and thus avoids pressure points and chafing. Soft padding not only on bridles, but also on breastplates is a sensible thing to have.

Sheepskin has many other properties that make the bridle more comfortable for the horse to wear. You can read more about why sheepskin is also popular in equestrian sports in our sheepskin guide.

In addition to fluffy padding, there are also poll protectors with integrated ceramic fibres. These reflect the horse’s body heat and have a warming effect on the sensitive head and its surroundings. In this way, these poll protectors can have a supporting effect during the horse’s warm-up phase and counteract tension and blockages in the jaw joint or atlas vertebra. A detailed explanation of how ceramic fibres work in textiles and what they are used for in equestrian sport can be found in our extensive therapy guide.