Dead-Horse Bridle

Saddlery isn’t cheap. But if you buy good quality ‘English’ leather and look after it properly, it can last for donkey’s years. Which is just as well, really.

In the early 19th century, the regimental Colonel was responsible for procuring all enlisted dragoons’ basic kit, the cost of which he then re-charged to the government. So it would seem to make sense for the Colonel to buy the best quality he could find, but there are stories of parsimonious officers obtaining inferior equipment before invoicing Horse Guards (HQ) for the best!

Many of these frauds must eventually have been found out, however. Equipment had a specified ‘lifespan’. A saddle, girth and pistol holsters must last 16 years, a bit 12 years and a bridle, breastplate etc. with all associated strap-work 6 years. So any regiment which put in more than the expected level of requisitions, due to excessive breakages, would have fallen under suspicion.

And this lifespan caused problems for individual cavalrymen. If you lost your horse for any reason you had to make darned sure you made every possible effort to retrieve your saddlery – a little difficult if you were under fire on a battlefield at the time. Because the danger was that unless your commanding officer was prepared to sign that the equipment was ‘lost due to enemy action’ you could be called upon to pay for its replacement. And only earning two shillings (10 pence) per day as a Private Dragoon, you might spend the remaining years of your enlistment paying off the debt!

But back to longevity. As an example, take the bridle in the picture – a double-bridle, more modern, civilian version of that described in an earlier post. The bit was bought for this particular horse, but most of the bridle belonged to my wife’s old horse, bought for him in 1997. The bridoon reins came from the ex point-to-pointer before that, and the curb (narrowest) reins were made in 1974 and belonged to my first horse, who I bought as a four-year-old, and we lost, aged 27, in 1995.

Not a bad lifespan for strips of cowhide impregnated with tannin, eh?

And that’s why we call it the ‘dead-horse bridle’.


~ by cavalrytales on February 16, 2010.

5 Responses to “Dead-Horse Bridle”

  1. Very handsome horse and dead horse bridle. I too have some dead horse stuff…it belongs to my horse Valjean. Can’t part with theboth bridles, saddle,or cooler. I did ignore it for quite some time but kept it in the ancient tack trunk. Well, I’ve started getting it out and cleaning it at least once a year. Ahhhh the memories and sensories. The smell of leather, neatsfoot oil, glycerin soap. And just the ancient feel of the strips, the method of cleaning, the polishing, the putting-back-together.
    You have a fantastic blog. thanks for taking the time.


    • I know what that’s like.
      After I lost my first horse his saddle sat on the rack for a couple of years gathering dust but too precious to part with. Eventually I decided it was pointless keeping it – by then it was quite old-fashioned and I thought I’d never use it on anything else. An Equestrian Centre nearby held a table-top sale in aid of a local horsey charity so I took it there and sold it for £45. Best thing was, I’d paid £50 for that saddle brand-new, so I’d only lost £5 for twenty-three years use!!
      Glad you like the blog. The thing I’ve found most difficult is getting the amount of ‘explanation’ right, bearing in might it’s sort-of aimed at people who read the novel and who may not be very horse-oriented. But then too much gets boring for more knowledgeable readers like you. You must shout at me if I get it wrong!
      Sorry – just noticed that you sign off with ‘J’ too, so I’ll stick to



  2. I still can’t part with them. I do miss horses so much and just having his saddle and bridle does wonders in needed moments. I guess you could call me an addict to horses who had recovered but I do miss the days.

    I also underdstand what you mean about toooooo much and tooooo little and just right. So if I make a blooper, you shout it out. I have forgotten much, much has changed, and I’m still learning.


  3. […] Dead-Horse Bridle […]


  4. […] Dead-Horse Bridle […]


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