Bridle making methods
Long time followers of my page may have read my blog post a few years ago about different bridle making. The industry has evolved since then so I now feel the need to update it especially with the influx of bridles carrying the highly powerful marketing tags including “bespoke” “handmade” “made to measure” “anatomical”. Really every bridle could be described as handmade as there are always hands feeding the item through a machine even at the most machined level, however there are definite gradients of handmade and therefore quality levels
- Top of the tree in quality (in my opinion) is handmade by an individual highly skilled and experienced bridlemaker. The bridles made in this way will be entirely made by hand and hand stitched from the first selection of top quality materials and cut of the leather through to the blocking of keepers and final finishing polish. The only exception will be machine stitching on the rubber reins as this allows for easier future replacement of the rubber. Every part of these bridles will be made with utmost care and attention for each individual horse and rider, making sure to pair up reins and cheekpieces from the same part of the hide and accepting a high level of material wastage. Average price depends greatly on design of bridle, it can be anything between £300 to £1000.
- 2. Then comes a bridle handmade by multiple people. These bridles are usually made in a factory setting and made in batches of around 15 individual components from good quality materials. These will all be standard sizes and will move through a variety of stations, cutting out, edging and staining, preparation for stitching and stitching, each component will be quality checked and assembled into a bridle at the end. The long parts of the bridle i.e. the browband, noseband, headpiece, rolled parts and reins will all be machine stitched while the billets and buckles are usually handstitched at a larger stitch size and keepers left large and unblocked which speeds up the process. Each hide of leather will be used to produce one or two components so one whole bridle will have been made up of a number of different hides. While on paper these bridles can be called handmade, truly they should be referred to as manufactured. This is the method of bridlemaking which is often sold as “made to measure” when in reality the bridles are made up of different standard sized components for each horse. The factories making these bridles will have invested heavily in labour saving machines for staining and machine stitched e.g. a special sewing machine specific to sewing rolled leather. The method works well as long as the horse fits within the existing set measurements. Most top of the range UK branded bridles are made in this method and any bridle company who sells more than 50 or 60 bridles in a year will have their bridles made like this. You can expect to pay similar costs to truly handmade.
- 3. The third method is similar to above only using lesser quality materials and fittings and made abroad. Some of these bridles are made from English leather shipped abroad to be made, then shipped back to be sold. Very often these bridles are not as carefully checked before being sold so have issues once out being used. Many bridles made using this method have design faults because they are not thought through as carefully as they should be. These bridles will be made using as many machines and short cuts as possible to save labour. Many well known non UK brands will fall in to this category and it will be pot luck whether a consumer buys a “good” version made from the better parts of the hide or a “bad” version made from lesser quality part of the hide. These bridles are often overpriced for what they are and rely on the powerful emotionally charged marketing tags like “anatomical” “comfort” “humane” to continue selling bridles. Often the designs will be a bit out there and not actually advisable to use on a horse. These sort of designs I believe are concocted by a board of executives who have not actually seen a bridle on the horse, they are just following fashions.
- 4. Then last of all there are the real cheaply made and in my opinion unsafe bridles. Made in a similar way to the above method only with sub par materials and fittings and completely machine stitched. These bridles usually cost £30 and upwards, to put that in perspective, before I even cut into a hide the bridle will have cost me around £100 in leather and materials. The remainder of the cost of my bridles is pure labour.
Each method has it’s pros and cons, some have more cons than pros, truly handmade does usually take longer but is often not as expensive as is commonly thought, number 4 is not to be entertained at all in my opinion.
The conclusion is to make an informed decision and make sure you know what you are buying when looking for a bridle. Remember, there are many companies out there who will use any and all tactics to sell their products, asking the right questions will soon show them up as being truthful or not.