While writing my notes on bridle fit for the new Bitless and Bridleless book, I started to develop a further interest in poll and ear profiles and how these affect the shape of the poll piece and the fit of the bridle. I have noted through fitting many horses, that most bitless bridles have a fixed headpiece and no options to choose between designs. While some parts of the bridle are carefully designed to offer a distinct action on the nose/curb etc, many do not offer flexibility in other areas for fitting. In my experience, this can lead to undesired behaviours and reactions such as head shaking, head rubbing and snatching the reins.

My theory on poll pressure caused my poorly placed or concentrated padding, is that many headpieces do not offer the correct shaping, or feature too much or too hard padding. I decided to carry out a very small study using photographs, to ascertain the differences in the shape of the muscle(s) around the poll and ears. This is the first step in my own research in to developing more information on bridle fit.

To begin the trial I asked for photographs, which I then selected for similar angle and without wearing any tack which would prevent me from a clear view of the ear path. I recorded the poll profile and ear curvature from the suitable photographs. Suitability was based on angle and clarity of the photo.

The Outline

In each photograph selected, I recorded the topline of the caudal auricular ear muscles and around to the base of the ear.

The outline follows the poll and curvature of the ear.

Each photo was aligned to a control image while the outline was being taken, this was to ensure the sizing and angle was as correct as possible. Angle control was not possible for this small study.

Sample Horses

This is an exceedingly small sample, consisting of 7 horses. 5 of which were geldings and 2 mares.

The following breeds were recorded:

  • Cob (2)
  • Paint (1)
  • Arabian (2)
  • Warmblood (1)
  • Andalusian (1)

In a full study I would want to survey 50+ horses with controlled angle photography and a balance of male/female of each breed where possible. I would also like to study more breeds and record ages.

Sample Results

The results of the small study showed two very distinct differences between the poll/ear outlined.

  1. Poll Profile: 2 of the 7 horses displayed a convex profile, 3 displayed a relatively similar mildly concave shaped poll, 1 displayed a deeply concave poll and 1 was unable to be recorded.
  2. Ear Curvature: The angle of the curvature is noticeably different for each horse. I found no correlation where two of the breeds or genders were compared. However, I would not discount the relationship at this stage as the study was too small and photo angles were not controlled.

Sample Outcome

The outcome of this study is that I have presented more data to back my theory that there is a distinct difference in equine poll profiles and ear curvature that warrants further investigation. I believe a study with more accurate data could support us in future bridle design and recording the development of the caudal auricular ear muscles.

One element that was not measured, but I would like to include in a further study, was the poll width (distance between the ears) which is an important factor when considering anatomical design of ear relief shaping. This would require aerial shots for additional measurement in a full study.

Image credit: Sue Thomas, Transcend Bitless Bridles

When we are selecting crown/headpieces for our horse’s bridles we need to pay close attention to the shape of the poll piece we are fitting, and indeed further designs such as split headpieces which could possible alleviate pressure caused by a high poll profile or indeed the mane where no bridle path is cut.

My next step will be published shortly.

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