After my last competition of the year in 2016 my coach recommended that I was ready to start Nonie in a double bridle. For me this felt like a huge step forward, a sign that I was becoming a ‘grown-up’ rider.
I had a few out rides using the bits that had been hanging around in the cupboard from the early 2000’s when Mum and I used to ride In show horse competitions. They were cheap bits but in good condition and I figured they would be good enough to get started with. However, upon using them for the first time in a schooling session I quickly realised Nonie was not a fan. Shortly after this, Dressage QLD changed their rules to allow the use of a snaffle bridle up to Grand Prix, so long as it was not an international class.
I decided I wouldn’t bother with a double bridle. What was the point, she didn’t seem to like it and after all a good rider can do all the grand prix movements in a snaffle right?
I have to admit I came to this decision without really understanding the mechanics of the double bridle. Later last year I started to do some more reading on the double bridle and realised why using one might be highly beneficial.
I am going to share my learnings below, but please note the decision to introduce the double bridle to your horse is highly personal. This decision should happen in consultation with a trusted and experienced coach.
What is a double bridle?
The double bridle is a bridle made up of two bits, the bridoon (or snaffle) and the wheymouth (or curb) each with their own set of reins.
There are a wide variety of bridoons and wheymouths available on the market. However in general the bridoon is thinner than a normal snaffle and the use of loose rings is fairly common.
Attached to the wheymouth is a curb chain, which sits in the chin groove. A variety of covers and guards are available for the curb chain. A lip strap can also be attached to the small holes/loops on the middle of the shank, and is threaded through the round link which hangs down in the middle of the sub chain. The lip strap has functions to keep the curb chain on your bridle and in place.
Putting your double bridle together
The snaffle’s connected to the sliphead, or something like that…
For the most part the double bridle is put together in the same manner as a snaffle, the key difference is that the wheymouth is attached to the cheek pieces on the crownpiece, while the bridoon is attached to the sliphead (the separate piece of leather. This is threaded through the browband underneath the main crownpiece and behind the noseband.
The bridoon sits at the place in the mouth as your snaffle usually would. You want it to be sitting snuggly in the corners of the horses mouth so that there are two – three wrinkles in the corner of the horses mouth. The wheymouth will then sit a little below this. In this brilliant article Gerhard Politz explains that there is no set rule as to exactly how low the wheymouth should sit, but that caution should be exercised to not have it sitting too low as this may cause tounge issues or may hit the horses teeth.
There are multiple options for the type of bridoon and wheymouth to select and this decision should be made in consultation with your trainer. There may be a degree of trial and error required to find the combination that suits your horse best.
What does the double bridle do/how does it work?
In the sport of dressage we need to be able to adjust and shape our horse, we do this both laterally and longitudinally. The snaffle acts to help raise the horses head and neck while the wheymouth acts to lower the head and neck. This being said it is essential that the double bridle not be used in an endeavour to get a horse who is heavy or difficult in the contact to submit.
The snaffle bit and the bridoon place pressure on the horses tongue and bars and can also be used to assist with lateral flexion. In contrast the wheymouth bit through its leverage action puts pressure on the poll, the chin groove and the mouth. In doing so it helps to create more roundness, engagement and collection.
It was this very quote that caused me to rethink my stance on the need to learn to ride in a double bridle:
The activity the hind legs of a well trained horse create flows over the back into the rider’s hand. This corresponds with the concept of riding a horse from behind to the front; the only way natural for a horse.
How do you hold the reins?
There are a number of different options for holding the reins on a double bridle. And again the way that you end up holding them will be dependant upon how you feel comfortable and you and your horseshoe needs. Your coach can help you find what works best for you.
What I failed to realise before I started schooling in the double was just how hard it would be to keep all the reins organised and in the correct place. In my head Nonie and I were elegantly and effortlessly dancing down the centreline double bridle and all before I’d even used it.
It can be quite confusing trying to figure out what goes where and how to keep a consistent contact. I was initially using the cross over method, with the snaffle rein on the outside and under my ring finger and the curb rein on the inside and under my middle finger. However, after some issues with the bridoon rein slipping cause me to have too much contact on the curb my coach suggested I try another way of holding the reins. I am now holding the curb rein under my third finger on the outside, while the snaffle rein is on the inside and under my second finger. This has helped significantly.
For more reading on the topic of double bridles see: