When bridling your horse, your first bit of information needs to be the status of your horse’s training and past experience. Things are quite different for a fully trained horse into a curb bit and a horse just now being bitted.
That said, my own personal opinion is that unless you have a valid reason for doing otherwise, I suggest you use the mildest bit you can find. A french link snaffle (the bit that has a small piece between the two side bars) is very mild and soft. A horse’s mouth is very sensitive because it consists of bone covered by nerves, in turn covered by a thin layer of skin. There is virtually no padding! A mild snaffle is the general bit of choice for starting young horses, but it is also the bit of choice through the second level of dressage, so you ought to be able to achieve anything you want with that bit. On rare occasions you will run across horses whose mouths have been damaged by bad riders. These horses become a challenge to bit correctly because they fear and hate the bit, but assuming you are dealing with a horse with no bad previous experience, a mild snaffle should suffice.
One consideration that I feel is very important: Buy good bridles! Desert Arabians have very sensitive skin, and if you buy good quality leatherwork, and care for them well, they will last you forever and be comfortable for your horse. Dry cracked leather is very uncomfortable on sensitive skin. Also, keep your bit clean. If you wipe it off with a damp rag after using it, the bit will stay smooth and clean. Dried muck on a bit can chafe a horse’s mouth and make it very uncomfortable for the horse.
I prefer using an English style bridle with browband and caveson even if the horse is to be ridden western because the caveson and browband stabilize the bridle and make it less likely for the bit to shift and pull through the mouth.
Step 1: When bridling a horse, stand facing in the direction the horse is facing. With both hands, open the bridle wide and slip the horse’s nose through the caveson with bit resting just below the horse’s mouth.
Step 2: Put both sides of the bridle in your right hand and slip your left hand under the bit. Put your thumb in the corner of the horse’s mouth and when he opens his mouth, gently slide in the bit.
Step 3: Pull up with your right hand so you lift the bit to the correct position, and then carefully put the headstall over the horse’s head one ear at a time.
Step 4: When the bridle is on the horse’s head, make sure that the bit is even, that the sides of the bridle are even, and that the browband and caveson are even.
Step 5: Fasten the throatlatch, making sure that you can get two fingers between it and the horse’s neck so that when he arches his neck it is not too tight. Make sure that both sides of the bit stick out of the corners of the horse’s mouth. If they don’t, the bit is too small. My horses use a 4 1/2-inch bit, but that is a small size and some Desert Arabians take a 5-inch bit.
Make sure that there is one small wrinkle at the corner of the horse’s mouth. If the bit is too low, it will move around in the horse’s mouth. If it is too high, it will pinch the horse.
Attention to just a few details when bridling your horse can make the experience easy and pleasant for both you and your horse.
Susan’s demonstration horse for this article is Mah Sabbah Bedu, a straight Babson stallion who is just getting ready to start his dressage show career.