Once you reach elementary/secondary level dressage, you can ride your horse in a double bridle if you want to.
In this article, we’ll look at how to introduce your horse to a double bridle. But first of all, what is a double bridle and what is it used for?
What is a double bridle?
A double bridle has two bits: the bridoon and the curb.
The bridoon bit is a snaffle, and the curb is a ported mouthpiece without a joint.
The port curves upward in the center of the curb bit, and the horse’s tongue fits underneath.
The bridoon works like a regular snaffle and should be fitted in much the same way.
The double bride has two reins; one thicker rein attached to the bridoon and a thinner one attached to the curb.
What’s the purpose of the double bridle?
The double bridle should be used to add a finer feeling through the connection you have with the contact that will help to improve balance and maintain the collection.
However, until the horse is working forward into his regular snaffle, you won’t achieve anything by putting him in a double bridle.
You can’t create an elastic contact and true connection through the horse’s back by using the curb rein to pull the horse’s head in!
Choosing the right bits
A trip to your local tack shop will leave you astounded and baffled by the range of curb bits that are available!
Bits are costly, so if possible, it’s a good idea to borrow a few from friends to try out before you part with your cash. Online stores such as The Bit Bank will allow you to take bits on a trial basis and will give free advice on fitting too.
Both bits should be made of the same metal/material. Your horse will most likely be more comfortable because both bits taste the same.
Also, you should check the bitting rules in your national rulebook for further guidance.
How to choose the right bridoon bit
Like a regular snaffle, a single-jointed bridoon has a nutcracker effect on the horse’s mouth. A double-jointed bridoon is a softer, more sympathetic bit, like French-link snaffle.
The bridoon is much thinner than a regular snaffle so that there’s room for the curb bit in the horse’s mouth. Also, the bridoon should be a quarter to half an inch longer than the curb so that it doesn’t pinch your horse’s lips.
When choosing bits for your horse’s double bridle, you should select a bridoon that is similar or the same as your regular snaffle. For example, if your horse usually works best in a loose-ring, double-jointed snaffle, then you should use a bridoon of a similar configuration.
It’s not generally advisable to use a regular snaffle instead of a bridoon. Firstly, the bit will be too thick and you risk crowding your horse’s mouth. Also, the rings of a regular snaffle will be larger than those of a bridoon so the bit won’t fit properly.
How to choose the right curb bit
The curb bit sits close to the bars of the horse’s mouth, working on the poll and the chin.
It’s sensible to start with a curb that has a low port, which is the kindest option. The curve of a lower port allows more room for the horse’s tongue, whereas a high port presses on the roof of the horse’s mouth when the curb rein is picked up.
The width of the curb is very important too. As a general rule, the curb should be the same width as your regular snaffle. The bit and the shanks must not pinch the horse’s cheeks or the corners of the mouth.
The severity of the curb depends on the length of the bit’s shanks. Basically, the longer the shanks, the more severe the bit will be. A curb with short shanks will create very little pressure on the chin and poll, and the port won’t act on the roof of the horse’s mouth as much as that of a higher ported bit.
Attached to the curb is a curb chain. The curb chain sits in the horse’s chin groove. When fitting the curb chain, make sure that it lays flat without any twists that could pinch the horse’s skin. To be on the safe side, use a thick curb chain with a rubber chain guard.
How to fit the double bridle
The double bridle bits should be adjusted as you would when fitting a regular snaffle bridle.
The bridoon can sometimes look a little high in the horse’s mouth because of the extra metalwork in there. But the bits should sit comfortably in the horse’s mouth when you move them with your fingers.
If the horse can pull the bits up in his mouth, creating a bulge in the cheekpieces or sliphead, the bits are probably fitted too low.
The curb chain should be fitted so that you can push two fingers between the horse’s chin and the chain. When you pick up the curb rein, the curb chain should move up to rest in the horse’s chin groove without pinching.
The horse should gently chew on the bits.
When should you start using a double bridle?
Introducing the double bridle should only happen when your horse is going well in a plain snaffle.
Too many riders try to use a double bridle to correct problems such as their horse working above the bit or bearing down on the rider’s hand. And while most horses will submit to the curb and come into an outline, this is not correct and will be penalized severely by most dressage judges.
In a nutshell, the double bridle is not a short cut!
When your horse is going happily, confidently, and correctly in a snaffle, you can introduce a double bridle.
The first time you use a double bridle, schedule an easy day for your horse. Don’t attempt to fix a problem or teach your horse something new.
How to ride your horse in the double bridle for the first time
The first time you ride your horse in the double bridle, keep a very light contact with both bits, with the emphasis on the bridoon.
Allow your horse to stride freely forward and “play” with the bits as he gets used to the new arrangement of hardware in his mouth.
Ride as you would in your regular snaffle.
If you find that the horse comes too light in your hand or ducks behind the contact, the bits may be too severe, causing the horse to back off your hand. In this case, try a thicker set of bits.
If the horse clamps his mouth down on the bits, they could be too thick in his mouth or too tight against his cheeks, causing discomfort and pinching. Again, adjust the bits accordingly.
The double bridle should be used as a finishing touch to establish a lighter feeling of balance and collection with a horse who is already working confidently through his back and into your regular snaffle bridle.
Choose a bridoon and curb that fit your horse correctly and mimic his regular snaffle conformation. If possible, ask an experienced riding instructor to fit the double bridle for you and to give you a few lessons on how to ride in one.
How did things go when you introduced your dressage horse to a double bridle for the first time? Share with us in the comments box below!