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A bridle has been proven to improve a horse’s comfort and way of going in a recent study. The two-year project investigated optimal bridle design, before creating a bridle that matched the findings.

Sites of high pressure under the headpiece of a double bridle and a standard crank cavesson noseband were determined on 12 high-level competition horses using pressure mats under their usual bridles.

High-pressure zones were found behind the base of the ears on headpieces and on either side of the nasal bone on nosebands.

A bridle, which has since been released to the market by Fairfax Saddles, was then created to reduce the pressure in these areas, as well as additional sites where high pressure was recorded. The bridle was tested on the 12 horses and the results were compared to their usual bridles.

In ridden tests, peak pressure with the horses’ usual bridles was on average 106.7% greater than with the Fairfax bridle, and peak pressure under the noseband was 47.8% greater with their own noseband in comparison to the Fairfax bridle. Forelimb protraction, measured using high-speed video, also increased, by 4.2%.

Riders were asked to score their horse’s quality of work in each bridle. All reported a positive difference with the Fairfax bridle and a marked difference was reported by nine of 12 riders for straightness, eight for rhythm, suppleness and impulsion, and seven for contact and collection.

“We found that the horses moved significantly differently wearing the Fairfax bridle, where there were lower pressures than under their own bridle,” independent researcher Dr Rachel Murray told H&H.

Vanessa Fairfax, owner of Fairfax Saddles, added: “During the summer we ran a series of regional bridle clinics and have shown that the performance benefits can be felt by non-elite riders on horses of varying abilities and ages, as well as by the elite rider on the grand prix horse.”

This is not the first time research has been carried out on Fairfax Saddles’ products. In 2011, a scientific study was carried out on the company’s performance girth. The girth, which was tested by the British Olympic squad, was proven to improve a horse’s symmetry and freedom of movement (news, 30 August, 2012).

‘It feels completely different’

Dressage rider Henriette Andersen has been trialling the FEI approved bridle.

“It feels completely different — the horses are just more comfortable,” she told H&H.

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“It takes the pressure away and it makes them an awful lot lighter in the rein and more comfortable in themselves because of that.”

Shaun Mandy, dressage rider and trainer, trialled the bridle in July.

“For me there was more lightness, a softer neck and evenness,” he told H&H.

Rachel Murray carried out the research alongside Vanessa Fairfax, Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics and master saddler Mark Fisher. A peer-reviewed paper detailing the research, which began in 2013, was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science on 7 September.

“There is not nearly enough research into tack,” added Rachel. “I hope the publication of this paper makes others follow suit, and think more about how tack can benefit both performance and welfare.”

The Fairfax performance bridle has been available to buy with a limited selection of retailers since June and goes on widespread sale on 4 January, 2016. Clinics will be run in the New Year so riders can try the bridle on their own horses.

For more information visit: www.fairfaxsaddles.com

Ref: H&H 24/12/15