A double bridle is what you see used on all the top dressage horses during competition, and using a double bridle for the first time can mark a significant milestone in your dressage career.
That being said, many riders misuse double bridles or introduce them to their horses too soon, using it as a shortcut to getting their horses into an “outline” and mistakenly using it to slow their horse’s canter in order to negotiate the smaller circles and direct downward transitions demanded at the higher levels. As you can imagine, this just creates more problems.
So, in this article, we will look at the purpose of a double bridle, when are you and your horse ready for a double bridle, how to fit a double bridle, and how to start using one correctly.
What is a double bridle?
A double bridle is a bridle that has two bits; a Bradoon (snaffle bit, sometimes spelled Bridoon) and a Weymouth (curb bit).
A double bridle also has two sets of reins; one thicker rein attached to the Bradoon and a thinner one attached to the Weymouth.
What is the purpose of a double bridle?
Before you can even think about introducing your horse to a double bridle, you must understand the purpose of doing so.
A double bridle enhances the conversation between you and your horse. Importantly, a double bridle is not a shortcut to improving your horse’s performance; instead, it helps you talk to your horse in a more sophisticated way.
With the correct use of a double bridle, you can use smaller and more precise aids and feel more information through the reins than in a simple snaffle, allowing you to correct problems quickly.
Each bit is designed to act differently; the Bradoon influences lateral flexion (side-to-side), and the curb influences longitudinal flexion (over the back). When combined, you can position your horse more accurately and have precise control over his straightness, alignment of his shoulders, and the opening and closing of his frame (collection).
Lastly, although we wouldn’t recommend using a double bridle for the sole purpose of troubleshooting, it will help to highlight any faults in your horse’s way of going. Problems such as your horse not working forward into the contact or dropping behind your leg will be amplified in a double bridle.
How severe/harsh is a double bride?
There is a common belief that a double bridle is more severe than a snaffle bridle. In some cases, that is true because the curb bit especially can be very harsh when used in the wrong hands.
The severity of the curb bit depends on the following:
- the length of the shanks (the long sides),
- the height of the port (the wavy part that goes in the mouth over the tongue),
- and the tightness of the curb chain (the chain that lays in the chin groove).
But overriding all of these features is the temperament and education of the rider using it.
A double bridle does intensify your rein aids, which is what allows you to communicate with your horse via such small and invisible movements. However, it can still be mild if used correctly by educated hands.
On the flip side, any bit (and even some bitless bridles) have the potential to be harsh when misused.
When are YOU ready to use a double bridle?
You are ready to use a double bridle when you have a well-balanced and supple seat and can ride independently of the reins.
If you rely on your reins for balance or you are not secure in the saddle, then you shouldn’t be using a double bridle.
A good way to test this is to ask someone to lunge you on a suitable horse. Wrap up the reins in the horse’s throat latch (or remove them entirely) so that they are out of the way, and see if you can balance comfortably in walk, trot, and canter without using them.
Another requirement is that you have supple, feeling hands. As mentioned, the double bridle should add finesse to the contact, but that is only possible if you can feel what is going on down all four reins and you have the capability to isolate the snaffle rein and the curb rein and use each one accordingly.
If your arms, wrists, and hands are tight or rigid, or you have backward-thinking hands, again, you shouldn’t be using a double bridle just yet.
When is YOUR HORSE ready for a double bridle?
Your horse is ready to wear a double bridle when he can go consistently into the contact and is capable of being ridden in a good balance, with a fair degree of strength to maintain a suitable level of self-carriage.
A good way to test this is to ride a simple change (canter-walk-canter). If your horse is ready for a double bridle, then you should be able to execute the movement with zero trot steps and no loss of balance, and your horse should smoothly transition by taking more weight on his hind legs.
Related Read: How to Ride a Simple Change
If you cannot execute the simple change as desired, and your horse is not working forward into his regular snaffle, you won’t achieve anything by putting him in a double bridle. And if you do so, you risk creating big problems such as tongue issues, your horse lacking the confidence to go forwards, crookedness, anxiety, resistance, injury, and, sadly, irreparable damage.
Too many riders try to use a double bridle to correct problems such as their horse working above the bit or bearing down on their hand. And while most horses will submit to the curb and come into an “outline,” this is incorrect and will be penalized severely by most dressage judges.
In a dressage test, the judge does not want to see curb bits with shanks that are parallel to the ground with very strong curb reins. (The curb rein should have the lighter tension of the two reins.) If your horse is yet to develop his balance, is on the forehand, and has his mouth open with a horizontal curb, this is only worthy of a low mark for submission. To save this inelegant look, it is worth keeping your horse in a snaffle bridle and trying to bring your horse’s balance further onto the hind legs before introducing him to the double bridle.
In a nutshell, the double bridle is not a shortcut! Introducing the double bridle should only happen when your horse is going confidently and correctly in a plain snaffle.
Using a double bridle in competition
If you are competing at British Dressage Elementary level (US third level) or above, you are allowed to use a double bridle in competition if you wish to do so. Still, you don’t have to, and you won’t get any bonus marks just for wearing one. (In fact, if you use a double bridle before you and your horse are ready for one, this will lose you marks because it will have a detrimental impact on your horse’s way of going and highlight all the faults in your training.)
A double bridle is only compulsory at Grand Prix if you are competing in FEI International competitions. However, at a national level, a simple snaffle is allowed through all levels, including Grand Prix.
So, unless you want to compete at Grand Prix level internationally, you do not have to use a double bridle.
[Please note that rules do vary among organizations, and they frequently change, so please check the requirements of the governing body you intend to compete with.]
Choosing the bits for a double bridle
As mentioned, the double bridle has two bits; the Bradoon and the Weymouth, also known as the snaffle and the curb.
If you take a trip to your local tack shop, it will leave you astounded and baffled by the range of bits that are available! The good news is that with so many different variations, you should be able to find a combination that suits your horse, although it may take a bit of trial and error.
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. Alternatively, online stores such as The Bit Bank will allow you to take bits on a trial basis, which you can return if unsuitable.
TIP: Remember to check the bitting rules for the organization you intend to compete with to ensure that your bits and the material they are made from are allowed.
When selecting bits, the factors you need to take into consideration are:
- The general shape of your horse’s mouth.
- The size and shape of your horse’s tongue.
- The height of your horse’s soft palate.
- The shape and placement of the bars of your horse’s mouth.
The correct size of the bits is essential.
- If the bits are too small, they will pinch your horse’s lips, and his lower jaw will be tight and tense when you work him.
- If they’re too big, they will slide through your horse’s mouth, and most of the action will be lost.
The correct thickness of the bits for the size of your horse’s mouth and tongue is also significant. If the bits are too thick or too thin, your horse will be uncomfortable, and he won’t work forward to seek the contact, preferring instead to evade the double bridle by becoming overbent, opening his mouth, or dropping behind your leg.
TIP: It’s a good idea to have both bits made of the same metal/material. Your horse will likely be more comfortable because both bits taste the same.
How to choose the right Bradoon (snaffle bit)
Like a regular snaffle, a single-jointed Bradoon has a nutcracker effect on your horse’s mouth, and a double-jointed one is softer and more sympathetic.
The Bradoon is much thinner than a regular snaffle and should be a quarter to half an inch longer than the Weymouth to allow sufficient space in the corners of your horse’s mouth so it doesn’t pinch his lips. For example, if your horse’s standard snaffle is 5.5 inches, you should look at 5.75-6 inches Bradoons. This isn’t set in stone, but it’s an ideal place to start.
Also, it’s a good idea to select a Bradoon 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, you should use a Bradoon of a similar configuration.
NOTE: Using a regular snaffle instead of a Bradoon is not generally advisable. 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 Bradoon, so the bit won’t fit properly.
How to choose the right Weymouth (curb bit)
The Weymouth is a ported mouthpiece without a joint. The port curves upward in the center of the bit, and your horse’s tongue fits underneath.
The action of the Weymouth is influenced by the height of the port, the length of the shanks, and the tightness and material of the cub chain.
- The higher the port, the more it permits your horse’s tongue to move into it, and, consequently, the more the mouthpiece acts on the bars of your horse’s mouth.
- A high port will also press on the roof of your horse’s mouth when the reins are picked up.
- The longer the shanks, the more pressure it will put on your horse’s chin and poll, and it will also influence the action of the port inside of your horse’s mouth (so if the bit has a high port, the more pressure it will put on the roof of your horse’s mouth).
The curb chain
- The tighter the curb chain is fitted, the more pressure will be placed on your horse’s chin.
- The material can also have an effect. For example, a curb chain with a rubber guard will be softer than a bare chain.
When choosing a Weymouth, it’s sensible to start with one that has a low port, short shanks, and a thick curb chain with a rubber chain guard, which is the kindest option.
That being said, all horses are individuals, and although the above is a good starting point, it might not fit your horse’s mouth conformation. For example, if your horse has a big tongue and a high palate, he may prefer a higher port that gives his tongue more room, and since he has a high palate, it won’t put too much pressure on the roof of his mouth.
Choosing the right bits is, to some degree, a matter of trial and error. If you are at all lost or confused about what best fits your horse, we recommend that you hire the services of a qualified professional.
How to fit a double bridle
The bridle-work of a double bridle should be fitted in the same way as a snaffle bridle.
TIP: When you put the bridle on, leave the straps out of all the cheekpieces to make height adjustments less fiddly.
The browband should fit comfortably so it doesn’t pull the bridle onto the bulbs of your horse’s ears.
The Bradoon bit, which is a snaffle, should be fitted so that it slightly wrinkles the corners of your horse’s lips. It’s sometimes fitted to a separate headpiece (the slip head), which buckles on the offside.
TIP: To make room for the curb bit, it’s often a good idea to raise the Bradoon a hole or half-hole (but not always).
The Weymouth is fitted on the cheekpieces, and once in your horse’s mouth, it should lie just below the Bradoon when viewed from the side.
If you have a gelding or a stallion, ensure that the Weymouth does not fit so low that it touches your horse’s tushes.
The throat lash and noseband buckles the same as on a snaffle bridle, but make sure that the noseband is not fitted so low that it interferes with the action of the Bradoon; for this reason, you can only use a cavesson-style noseband with a double bridle.
The cub chain will already be attached to the offside hook of the Weymouth. Twist the chain clockwise until it lies flat, and then place it into the groove above your horse’s chin and hook it over the nearside hook, and if you have more than two links left over, hook them over the top so they’re not jangling around.
To ensure the curb chain is fitted correctly, pick up the Weymouth rein and use it to move the bit to an angle of about 45 degrees. The chain should rest neatly in your horse’s chin groove. If it’s too loose, it will jingle about and irritate your horse, and if it’s too tight, your horse will be extremely uncomfortable and show signs of resistance. As a general rule, you should be able to push two fingers between your horse’s chin and the chain.
Finally, put the lip strap through the fly link on the underside of the curb chain (the link hanging lower in the middle) and buckle it on the near side.
When looking at the bits fitted, the Bradoon can sometimes look a little high in your horse’s mouth because of the extra metalwork in there, but both bits should sit comfortably in your horse’s mouth when you move them with your fingers, and your horse should be able to gently chew on the bits. If your horse can pull the bits up in his mouth, creating a bulge in the cheekpieces and/or slip head, the bits are probably fitted too low.
How to hold the reins of a double bridle
There are a few ways to hold the double reins, but the simplest and most effective method is where you hold the Bradoon rein as if it were the rein of a snaffle bridle, that is, between your little finger and your ring finger, with your thumbs on top. In this manner, there is the least upset to your usual trained aiding mechanisms of your hands and reactions because it is what you are already accustomed to.
Next, you need to pick up the reins to the Weymouth. So, as you are holding the thicker reins of the Bradoon (in the same way as you hold your regular snaffle reins), point your index finger and middle finger forward as though you were making a gun sign with your hands. Keep both of those fingers together and hook them around the thinner reins of the Weymouth, then close your fingers back into your usual fist with thumbs on top.
If done correctly, the curb rein will come inside your hand between your two middle fingers.
Lastly, slide your hands up the reins to have a good contact with the snaffle and light contact with the curb.
How to use the reins of a double bridle
It’s important to remember that you have two bits and two sets of reins, and they need to be used as such. If you use your reins as though you just had one bit, then you might as well not use a double bridle.
Remember that your hands should never pull backward.
Your rein length is held by your thumb pressing down on top of your index finger, and the rest of your fingers should be soft and supple because it is through your fingers that you give your rein aids.
In a single snaffle bridle, if you wanted to apply a rein aid, you would simply squeeze your hand into a fist. In a double bridle, you squeeze with individual fingers to give and aid down the desired rein.
For example, if you were holding the double reins as we described above (with the snaffle rein between your little finger and ring finger, and your curb rein between your two middle fingers), then if you wanted to send an aid to the snaffle, you would squeeze with your ring finger, and if you wanted to send an aid to the curb, you would squeeze with your middle finger.
When using both bits, remember that each is designed to act differently in your horse’s mouth; the Bradoon is best suited for bending and lateral flexion (side-to-side), and the Weymouth is best suited for longitudinal flexion (over the back), half-halts, engagement, and collection.
Introducing your horse to a double bridle and riding for the first time
If your horse is ready for a double bridle (see above for “When is your horse ready for a double bridle?”), the transition to one should be relatively smooth and straightforward.
The first time you plan to use a double bridle, schedule an easy day for your horse. Do not attempt to fix a problem or teach your horse something new.
At the beginning of your session, keep a very light contact with both bits, with the emphasis on the Bradoon, and 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.
If your horse is relaxed and comfortable, you can take up more of a contact on the Bradoon and ride as you would in a regular snaffle but with a very light Weymouth rein.
If your horse is happy with the bits you have chosen for him, he will gradually become accustomed to his new bridle over time, and you can progress with your training.
If, however, your horse is not happy with the bits you have chosen for him, he may come too light in your hand, duck behind the contact, clamp down on the bits, or show signs of tension and discomfort. In this case, you need to take a step back and possibly try other bit configurations. Don’t plow on regardless because you can undo all of your hard work to date and create big training problems.
Continuing work with a double bridle
As you and your horse progress with work in a double bridle, remember that he doesn’t always have to be ridden in a double bridle. It’s good for your horse also to do some work in his single snaffle bridle.
Horses that are always ridden in double bridles can become stiff and difficult to bend, and the riders can become too reliant on the double bridle and gradually start to overuse the curb rein.
It is, therefore, a good idea to regularly ride your horse in both bridles, and each one will complement the other; the single snaffle helping to keep your horse supple and loose, and the double bridle helping with engagement, collection, and self-carriage.
You should always be able to carry out your horse’s work and ride all school movements in both a single snaffle and a double bridle.
A double bridle is a bridle with two bits; a Bradoon (snaffle) and a Weymouth (curb). Its purpose is to refine the conversation between you and your horse and to develop more precision in the execution of school movements.
You should only use a double bridle if you have an independent seat with forward-thinking supple hands. And you should only introduce your horse to a double bridle when he is working confidently through his back and into your regular snaffle bridle with a fair degree of balance.
That being said, a double-bridle is only mandatory if you aim to compete internationally at Grand Prix level. So, if your horse is happy in his single snaffle, it may be prudent to leave him in it.
But if you do want to use a double bridle, choose a Bradoon and curb that fit your horse correctly and mimic his regular snaffle conformation.
If you’ve never used a double bridle before, although reading this post will help get you started, it’s a good idea also to ask an experienced professional to help you fit it and then invest in some lessons for your first few times riding in one.