Bridle Testing & Design
"The Fairfax Performance Bridle is a natural continuation of everything we discovered when developing the Performance Girth. If we can prove a girth has such a dramatic effect on a horse’s way of going, surely the bridle must have a similar unknown impact. There are lots of theories about how bridles work, but I always want the facts.”
Vanessa Fairfax – designer
Our product designer spent two years investigating and testing many traditional bridle designs to prove exactly where the common pressure peaks are and how this pressure affects the horse in motion. Her intention was then to design a new bridle which eliminated these areas of pressure. The final set of tests, under scientific conditions, involved 28 horses which were all examined in their own bridle, and then in the Fairfax Performance bridle. The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science published a scientific paper about these test results.
We developed our bridle using a combination of:
• Pliance pressure mapping to identify pressure hot spots
• Rein gauges to compare the evenness of rein contact
• Centuar Biomechanics gait analysis to measure the difference in the horse’s stride and flexion.
Read much more about our testing techniques here
“In the early days we didn’t know what to expect,” says Vanessa. “But as more results filtered through a clear pattern emerged that we couldn’t argue with, however surprised we were.”
1 There are six key high-pressure zones
- back edge of headpiece
- front of headpiece
- under the browband
- under the front of the noseband
- under the back of the noseband
- over the crown of the head
2 Bridle pressure is not constant
Once a bridle is fitted and fastened, the pressure does not remain the same as we might expect. It is influenced by factors such as ground reaction force when landing over a fence or taking a stride, or by a natural reflex such as swallowing. As the swallowing mechanism in the horse’s mouth moves, the sides of his face push up and out against the ‘fixed’ nature of a normal bridle. Rigidity and, worse, tightness at the joint of the headpiece and browband will make this natural act uncomfortable.
3 Stability is essential for comfort
Our data shows that the more movement there is around the crown of the horse’s head, the less comfortable he becomes. So the answer is not a loose or baggy bridle. The answer is a bridle that remains consistently stable against the horse’s head even as it moves – ie a bridle that moves with the horse, not against him.
4 Articulation is the key to stability
Articulation points allow the components of the bridle to move independently and in harmony with the horse’s movement. The bridle remains stable against his head, instead of being rigid, and pressure is effectively reduced.
5 Most bridles exert hardly any poll pressure at all
Pressure is actually higher each side of the poll, behind the ears and under the browband (see Pliance pressure mapping screen, right. The two green peaks are pressure behind the ears, the gap of low pressure in the middle is the poll).
6 Symmetry is significant
Gait analysis proves a significant decrease in knee flexion in situations where there is asymmetry around the horse’s head – for example if buckles are placed on one side only, high on the headpiece. Competition numbers placed on one side of the bridle (in the line of vision) have the same effect.
The result – The only bridle developed using scientific testing
All of this amazing data was checked, digested and processed, then eventually used to design a bridle that significantly reduces pressure in the key peak pressure zones.
Gait analysis by Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics clearly establishes how this reduction in pressure affects the horse’s freedom of movement.
"Horses wearing the Fairfax Performance Bridle consistently record significantly greater hock flexion, knee flexion and forelimb protraction. Riders can feel this improvement in movement and experience a greater harmony with their horse."
Our research into traditional nosebands produced staggering results. What we thought we understood about nosebands has been turned on its head. At Fairfax, we have radically changed the way we now see this common piece of kit in the light of our test results.
- Pressure exerted on either side of the nasal bone by a’normal’ cavesson noseband is four times higher than that we measured under a saddle. The cavesson pressure we recorded was so high, we thought the pressure mat must be faulty and we sent it back to the manufacturer. It wasn’t.
- A cavesson noseband fitted high up against the cheekbones puts pressure on arteries running directly under the end of cheekbone and causes reduced joint flexion compared to a correctly fitting noseband.
- Flash nosebands cause the most pressure and have the most detrimental effect on a horse’s movement. A flash strap dragging down the lower edge of the cavesson part is the most antagonistic high-pressure noseband design we tested.
- Drop and grackle nosebands perform better in terms of pressure reduction and freedom of movement compared to any other conventional noseband we tested.
- A crank noseband exerts less pressure than a normal cavesson! This is perhaps one of the most surprising and controversial findings of the scientific trials (see below)
Crank v cavesson
It seems astonishing that a crank exerts less pressure than a normal cavesson noseband*. We checked and double-checked our readings, but the data confirmed the results.
This is down to the fact that a normal cavesson is fixed and rigid against the horse’s nose and jaw. The small rings on either side of a crank allow at least some articulation – and articulation reduces pressure (see point 4 in the findings above)
The Fairfax Cavesson has large circular articulation rings where the noseband joins the cheek pieces. These allow the noseband to move as the horse moves. The pad at point G on the diagram lifts the noseband completely clear of the nasal bone eliminating any restrictive pressure at this sensitive point.
*tested at the same tightness
These additional pressure-reducing features of the Fairfax Cavesson are scientifically proven to offer the best solution for those competing in a double bridle*
*Note: The Fairfax Performance Bridle is designed for top competition horses. We offer a cavesson version because a cavesson noseband has to be worn with a double bridle. Double bridles can be worn for Elementary dressage levels and above, and are compulsory in international Prix st Georges tests.
IMPORTANT NOTE: pressure under any bridle can be intensified by over-tightening or poor fitting.
- Central lozenge to maintain stability (see point 3 in the findings above)
- Narrowed to avoid interference with back edge of the skull
- Splits are lowered for stability (see point 3 in the findings above) and are symmetrical both sides (see point 6 in the findings above)
- Noseband attaches both sides for symmetry (see point 6 in the findings above)
- Prolite pads lift the bridle clear of pressure points below the browband
- Noseband and headpiece are lined with Prolite for comfort
- Prolite pad lifts the noseband clear of the nasal bone, relieving pressure on the sensitive areas either side
- Noseband rings for articulation (see point 4 in the findings above)