Properly Adjusting a Bridle: How to Fit a Western Bit

Properly Adjusting a Bridle: How to Fit a Western Bit

Learn how to fit a snaffle bit properly and adjust a headstall for a western curb bit, creating a well-fitting bridle.

A closeup photo of a horse wearing a snaffle bit.

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By  Chance O'Neal, world champion Versatility Ranch Horse trainer


Different bridles, different bits and different adjustments of that equipment will make a horse perform differently. Finding the perfect fit for a western horse requires assessing individual needs, but let’s talk about an average on most horses. 

Step 1: Adjust the bridle so the bit does not create a wrinkle.  

What I consider an average start, adjust your bit – snaffle or curb – right in the corner of the horse’s mouth without a wrinkle. Just hugging the lip. Adjust it so you’ve got three fingers between your headstall and the cheek of your horse, and make sure you can slide your fingers between the curb strap and your horse’s chin. The horse is just carrying that bit.

That’s the best place to start.

Step 2: Using the headstall, adjust the bit up or down.

But for different horses, you may do different things. Each horse has a different feel. So depending on where I’m riding, I might adjust it up or down and find out where that horse is most comfortable with that bridle.

Step 3: Know when to set the bit higher and tighter. 

 If you’ve got a horse that’s really soft in his face and really rides good in the bridle, you can probably have your curb just a notch shorter, move that bridle up and put just one wrinkle in the corner of his mouth, because that horse is going to be right in your hand.

You take up contact so quick with the tighter bridle, so when you pick the reins up, the horse is automatically off the reins because he feels that bit so much quicker.  

 If I’m riding a colt in a snaffle, especially a ring snaffle, I might tighten it up just a little bit, so that bit has a little more contact with him all the time, and it’ll make him a little more sensitive when you take ahold of him. But that’s a temporary adjustment – you might ride like that for two or three days, but then drop it back down to normal. 

Step 4: Know when to set the bit lower and looser. 

Then again, if you have a horse that wants to root his nose a little bit, and doesn’t want to be that soft, you might want to adjust that bridle down a little bit, and get his curb a little looser so it moves more. When I loosen it, the bridle will move much more before it makes contact with that horse’s mouth. 

Loosening it is a good trick if the rider is quick with his hands, too. If you loosen that bridle a little more, it takes a lot longer to come in contact with the horse. If you’re showing in the show pen, and you’re getting nervous and getting quick-handed, you might want to do that. That way, when you move your hands, the movement of the bridle is that much further before it makes contact. In other words, the horse will feel the bridle move before he feels any pressure. 

More Tips for Fitting Western Tack

How to Fit the Western Bridle

Knowing where to adjust the headstall and set the bit depends on two things: How good your horse is in the bridle and how quick your hands are. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know one way or another, if you can do the three-finger rule, that’s a good place to start. 

More Considerations for an Enjoyable Ride

When your tack fits, it's much easier to enjoy the ride. And when you have the right tools to maintain your farm or ranch, it's that much easier to appreciate time with your horses. 

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