If you are shopping for your first western bridle, the task can feel a little daunting with all the different types that are on the market. Fortunately, we broke down the various headstalls for you. Selecting the right headstall for your horse is key in completing your western bridle setup with the bit and reins. Depending on your discipline and horse’s preference, you might opt for a headstall with one ear, two ears, or a browband. Once you have determined which headstall to bring home to your horse, checking that it properly fits is most important in ensuring their comfort.

Different Parts of Western Bridles

The different parts of the western bridle include a headpiece (crownpiece), browband, throatlatch, cheekpiece, curb straps, and reins. Understanding the different parts of western bridles is the first step in deciding which headstall to purchase.

Every bridle will have a headpiece, the part that wraps on the horse’s head with ties, buckles, Chicago screws, or snaps on the ends to attach to the bit, and a curb strap. No western bridle is complete without a set of split or single reins. Most headstalls include adjustable cheekpieces, but not every headstall has a throatlatch. Single or split ear headstalls, meaning there is a loop for the horse’s ear, can have throatlatches, but browband headstalls are much more likely to have them for added security. The browband goes across the top of the headstall, below the ears and head/ crown piece, and provides stability for direct reining in a snaffle bit. Due to the mechanics of a typical snaffle, single and split ear headstalls would grant uneven pressure on the horse, increasing the risk that the bridle could fall off, so these headstalls are often attached to shanked bits that use more leverage. Some western bridles also have a cavesson, depending on the discipline and the horse’s level of training.

What are the Different Types of Western Headstalls and Bridles?

Many western bridles are on the market today, consisting of one or split-ear headstalls, double-ear headstalls, and browband/ working headstalls. Western bridles can also have extra silver bling for flashier show rings or have no bit at all. They are usually found in different shades of leather with plain or blingy designs and varying amounts of intricate stitching. Much of your decision to find the right bridle lies in your style, the discipline you ride in, and the bit your horse wears (or does not wear).

One Ear and Split Ear Headstalls

One Ear and Split Ear Headstalls

One Ear and Split Ear Headstalls are a classic option in every western rider’s tack room. One ear, or “single ear,” headstalls have a crown with an adjustable loop that one of the horse’s ears goes through. In contrast, split ear headstalls have a slit towards the top of the crown, where an adjustable loop would sit, that opens for the horse’s ear to go through. The loop or slit prevents the crownpiece from slipping too far back on the horse’s head. Either option might be comfortable for a horse that dislikes the feeling of a browband, but again, the one or split-ear headstalls' design does not typically provide a secure fit for regular snaffles. They are better suited for shanked bits, which are more likely to be worn by less green horses that no longer need the direct reining of a snaffle bit attached to a browband headstall with a throat latch. One and split-ear bridles are worn in various disciplines, such as western pleasure, cutting, reining, reined cowhorse, barrel racing, roping, ranch work, and trail riding.

Double Ear Headstalls

Double Ear Headstalls

Double Ear Headstalls can provide additional security so that the crownpiece will not slip too far back but are still worn with shanked or curbed bits. The two separate, symmetrical loops for the horse’s ears also help improve the balance of the bridle. Double ear headstalls are often designed with glittering metal pieces, elaborate leatherwork, and elegant color schemes, so they are most popular in the western pleasure ring. Their styles allow riders to stand out with an extra polish that matches their saddles and outfits.

Browband/ Working Headstalls

Working Headstalls

Browband, or “working,” headstalls are another less flashy staple among a western rider’s tack collection. The single piece of leather sits below the horse’s ears and attaches to the sides of the crownpiece. Every browband headstall includes a throat latch, preventing the bridle from slipping too far back or off the horse’s head. These headstalls are great for hand-to-mouth riding and can be worn with any bit, but are most often worn with snaffles for green horses or schooling at home. Likewise, browband headstalls can be worn on the trails or for ranch work. In competitions, they are frequently found in sorting, barrel racing, reined cowhorse, or roping arenas.

Western Show Bridles

Western Show Headstalls

A Western Show Bridle might be the perfect setup if you are on the hunt for a headstall specifically for competitions where you want more bling than a traditional leather headstall. Bridles designed with only the show ring in mind often consist of beautiful silver work and/ or intricate stitching. You can find western show bridles in single and double-ear headstalls, depending on your preference for the discipline you compete in. Reserving one bridle for schooling at home that might be a little plainer will help keep your nice show bridle in mint condition. Outfitting your horse in an eye-catching bridle that matches your saddle, show blanket, and clothes can also help you stand out to the judge, preventing you from getting lost in the crowd.

Bitless Bridles

Western Bitless Headstalls

The most common western Bitless Bridles consist of the bosal, loping hackamore, and mechanical hackamore. Often worn on green horses, Bosals are leather headstalls with thick, heavy nosebands made of cowhide material. Instead of traditional split or single reins, a mecate is attached to the bosal bridle under the horse’s chin. A mecate is a long, heavy rope, traditionally made of horsehair, that helps provide subtle cues to young horses. This bridle is a stepping stone to neck reining as it uses nose pressure instead of leverage. In the show ring, you might find a fancy bosal on a young western pleasure or reined cowhorse.

Loping hackamores, another option to ride colts in at home, are also great for giving finished horses a break from bits outside the show arena. They are simple in design with a browband headstall, a thick string-like throatlatch, a soft, plaited noseband, and a set of split or single reins. Casually known as “loping hacks,” these bridles are popular among cutters and cowhorse riders to warm up or cool out their horses. Loping hackamores are not quite as sophisticated as other hackamores, but help teach basic lateral cues.

Mechanical or English hackamores are only sometimes the best choice for green horses as they have thick nosebands with long shanks that create leverage. They are primarily worn for trail riding, show jumping, and barrel racing for finished horses that are not as fond of bits or have mouth injuries. Mechanical hackamores are sometimes a good fit for equestrians learning to ride, preventing accidental yanking on the horse’s mouth.

Side pulls and bitless bridles might also be notable options for green horses learning simple aids, for riders that enjoy leisurely riding at home or on the trails with their quiet horses, or for horses with mouth injuries. Side pulls are crafted with a leather or rope noseband, browband, throatlatch, and metal rings attached to both sides of the headstall for reins. A bitless bridle is, quite literally, a bitless bridle. It resembles a traditional English bridle without the bit, where rings are attached higher up at the noseband for a set of reins.

How to Fit a Western Headstall and Bridle

Your horse’s bridle mustn’t fit too snugly or too loosely. You should be able to place about two fingers underneath the headstall. A bridle that is too tight will carry the bit too far into the corners of the horse’s mouth or hold the noseband too high. On the other hand, a too-loose bridle will hang on the horse’s head, and they might struggle to hold the bit.

Your horse might appear uncomfortable, whether the bridle is too snug or loose. If the bridle is attached to a bit, ensure that the bit looks even on both sides of the horse’s face. Luckily, most western bridles are adjustable on at least one side of the headstall. For single or split-ear headstalls, ensure that the loop does not pinch the horse’s ear and is too constricting. If you have a leather bridle and are in a pinch to tighten or loosen up the headstall, you can add holes with a leather hole puncher to get the right size.

No matter your goals in riding, a properly fitted western headstall/bridle is one of the keys to keeping your horse happy, whether you are working cattle, trotting into the show ring, or hitting the trails.