Selecting a Headstall

Trying to decide on a headstall for your horse now a day can cause some major anxiety.  Your choices go way beyond the single ear or the brow band style that I had to make as a kid.  Should you get one with a cow hide or crystal inlay, one with zebra stripes or giraffe spots, crosses or star conchos, or maybe the conchos with six shooters on them?  The new one I think I want is a brow band style bridle with Turquoise and Brown floral print ocerlay with copper spur conchos and nail heads.  It is just the coolest and would look great on Dollar.  It could be mine for only $259.95.  Before you get your credit card out and make that purchase, let’s go over some headstall basics.

For starters what exactly is a headstall?  A headstall is basically the part of the bridle that goes around your horse’s head and is designed to hold your bit or bosal in place.  Manufactures have been very creative over the years and have redesigned the headstall over and over again.  Really not making it any more effective, but making it more attractive.

When selecting which headstall would be best for you, you really need to take in consideration the type of riding you will be doing, the temperament of your horse, and your budget.

Basic Headstall Types

When looking at headstalls there are basically three main types:  brow band, single ear and two ear.  A brow band headstall has a band that crosses the horses “brow” or forehead.

A single ear headstall has a loop that goes around one of the horses ears.  There are several varieties of single ear headstalls.  The most common today is the sliding loop.  The advantage to this is that you can slide the loop to fit around the ear perfectly. There is also a slide ear that has a little piece of latigo that goes around the ear to hold the headstall in place, and a slip or slotted ear that simply has a slot in the leather for the horse’s ear to go into.

Two ear headstalls are similar to the one ear headstalls, but they have a slot for each of your horse’s ears to go into.  These are most commonly used in showing.  And this year they have even put a new twist on the two ear headstalls and make cross-crown head stalls.  These are the hot new items for showing this season.  They have two slots for the horse’s ears and they cross in the middle of the horse’s foretop.

Type of Riding

The type of riding you do should play a major role in they type of headstall you choose.  If you just ride for fun on the weekends and don’t do anything real intense then you could use any type of headstall you want.  However, if you are riding colts or doing heavy work on your horse, I suggest that you use a brow band headstall for the simple fact that they tend to stay in place better than most.  The other thing about a brow band headstall is that they are typically equipped with a throat latch.  This will prevent the headstall from slipping off of your horse’s head.  The single ear headstalls are starting to move away from having a throat latch on them, which to me seems like a major hazard if you are anywhere out in the open or on a young horse. Without the throat latch, it is easy for the bridle to slip right off the horse, leaving you with no real control of the horse.  Two eared bridles are typically designed for showing although I do have one that is just plain leather.  Like many of the one eared headstalls, the two eared bridle is usually not equipped with at throat latch, so I recommend using it only for arena work.

Temperament of Horse

The temperament of the horse can make a difference to me which type of bridle to use.  If I’m riding a really mellow, broke horse, I don’t mind not having a bridle without a throat latch on it.  However, if I’m riding a horse that rubs on things or tosses his head around, I definitely want a bridle with a throat latch on it.


Budget can really put a damper on which headstall you choose.  If you have a small budget and don’t ride too often, you probably don’t need a really fancy headstall.  There are some pretty cool ones out there, but if you don’t have the means to pay for them, you should stick to something basic.  A plain headstall, new starts right around $30 for leather, less for nylon.  Fancy headstalls go for just about any price you can imagine.  I’ve actually seen headstalls that cost over $1000.  You do need to be aware that if you are shopping on line, sometimes pictures make a headstall seem nicer than it actually is.  My rule is that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  There are many people out there selling “silver show” equipment that cheap tin and painted (not oiled) leather.  Also if you have a slim budget you can look at buying used tack.  Leather can last forever, and sometimes people get tired of their headstalls before they are even near wore out.  I have found many deals on tack in consignment shops and on ebay.  You just need to keep your eyes open and shop around.

There are thousands of choices out there when it comes to choosing a headstall for your horse.  Take some time and shop around to find the one that best fits your riding style and your horse.  And if you happen to run into this headstall (click for link) my birthday is in December. 🙂