I’ve been reading recently about the “Comfort Bridle” or “Elevator Bridle” that was developed by Lorraine Greene of Horsesence Saddlers. Variations on this design are now being marketed by several leading manufacturers, such as Albion and Jeffries.
The principle behind this type of bridle is that by maximizing the horse’s comfort, you can improve its performance. Specifically, these bridles are designed to relieve pressure to the poll area.
According to the Horsesense web site:
The Elevator Bridle has been designed to relieve pressure to the horse’s very sensitive poll area. It is one of the most sensitive areas on a horse’s body, just where a bridle headpiece sits. Nerves and blood vessels which feed the brain are located in this area. It is also where Meridian lines run – one of the areas which they connect is the kidney area, exactly where the saddle and rider sit.
Lorraine Greene said, “I designed a special cushioned underpad, constructed in the softest leather and strongest cushioning, supporting a newly shaped leather headpiece to allow room for the horse’s ears to move freely without rubbing. It eliminates the common problem of a bridle being pulled forward onto the horse’s ears. We see many horses with sore backs of ears, so it’s important to remember that a horse can feel something as light as a fly on his body. To minimise pressure, this headpiece has crew holes either side below a horse’s ears to allow the thinner noseband strap to thread through and over the top of the cushioned pad”.
A lot of top riders seem to agree that this design makes a difference. The testimonials on the site are impressive and the spate of copycat bridles indicates that this is a design that is here to stay.
What I find most interesting about the design concept is the emphasis on reducing poll pressure. There are several bridle and bit configurations that use poll pressure as a way to control horses: gag bits, for example or the cross-under style bitless bridles like the Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle or the Nurtural Bitless Bridle. These last two describe their mechanism as a “whole head hug”, that is a kinder, gentler solution than traditional bridles, and yet their mechanism definitely relies on poll pressure.
While I haven’t tried one of the comfort bridles yet, the concept resonates with me. I have a horse that is very sensitive to poll pressure. I’ve tried the Dr. Cook’s Bitless bridle on him and found that the poll pressure was too severe for him; the slightest pressure on the bridle caused him to start to rear. I actually tried one of the bridles again last week. One of my barn mates bought one (in biothane) and I wanted to give it another try. I found that it still provided more pressure on him than he could tolerate when hacking or schooling on the flat. It might actually work out in the hunt field where I find I need a bit more stopping power, but for flat work he focused more on the bridle than on me and I could not establish the same connection that I can achieve with bitless designs that use nose pressure. Instead, he backed off of the connection and hollowed his back.
So, the idea of minimizing poll pressure to maximize performance makes sense to me. In fact, I’ve seen the relationship between back sensitivity and the poll in my own horse. The last time I had my saddles fitted, I asked Gary Severson (aka the Saddle Dr.) about the tightness I could feel in his back. Gary used what I can only describe as acupressure at his poll. Almost immediately he started to chew, lick and yawn. His eye got soft and so did his back. I’ve been using this technique whenever I feel any extra tension in his back and it has made a huge difference. He is using his back more and really swings.
I suspect that if I still rode with a bit, I would try the comfort design bridles. But I think that a lot depends on your horse. If you have a horse that is sensitive to poll pressure — and it appears that many are — this design can help you find a better way to communicate with your horse without causing tension and stiffness in your horse’s back.