Horse riding enthusiasts know quite well that a bridle is that piece of equipment that is used to a direct your horse with your hands. It consists mainly of two portions: the headstall that holds the bit and the reins, which are attached to the bit. Although the invention of the bridle is attributed to the Scythian people a little less than 5,000 years ago, do you know how to make a hand-made modern-day bridle? I interviewed Elaine Waters, the English saddler who trained in the British Army, exactly how one does this.
Wild: To start with the basics, Elaine, how long does it even take to create bridle?
Waters: A standard bridle, including reins, would take around 6-7 hours to make. All my bridles are cut and stitched by hand.
Wild: Could you describe the different types of bridles you make?
Waters: I have made all types of bridles. I tend to make them to order for people who have something specific in mind, so no two bridles are completely alike. I have done ones with shamrocks and celtic knots stitched into them. I’ve even done hungarian cavalry bridles. Of course, I now make bitless bridles too. I also like experimenting with different colours of leather and thread and new designs, although I also like the traditional ‘Australian Nut’ brown leather like we used in the Troop.
Wild: Many believe that horseback riding is cruel, especially when they see the pain that can be induced by the bit pulling at the horse’s mouth. Could you explain your position on why you prefer using a bitless bridle.
Waters: I am very much in favour of the use of bitless bridles. There are many different types available on the market. The type I make are of the cross pull design but the side pull and bosal are in many ways similar. I actually think actual ‘hackamores’ can be very harsh in the wrong hands.
Wild: I know that people are still very hesitant to the notion of using a bitless bridle, especially if they have been habitually using one with a bit.
Waters: I can fully understand the reluctance in some people to try riding bitless, as I myself was hesitant and wary at first, but having personally tried and tested the bitless bridle on a variety of different horses I can now see no reason why they should not become widespread, if not universal in their use. As far as I can see they are not only more comfortable and natural for the horse to wear, but also that in their use they are more easily understood by the horse. By far the greatest problem I have come across is altering the mindset of the rider who believes it is not possible to control a horse without a bit, although I would say 99% of people I know who have tried have been suprised to find how much control they have- as much if not more than with a bit. And to those who say that they have been riding for years with a bit ‘Why change now?’: well, things change, we learn and move on, otherwise we would still be living in caves and throwing rocks at each other.
Check out Elaine’s website to learn more and perhaps even get a hand-made bridle or saddle at: www.uiscesaddlery.blogspot.com