BY CYNTHIA HODGES, J.D., LL.M., M.A.
Graduating to the double bridle is a milestone in the horse’s training. This article discusses how to make the transition easier for the horse so as to avoid common training issues, such as avoiding the bit, that may arise when the horse is first introduced to the double bridle.
The double bridle is a relatively severe bridle consisting of a bridoon, which is a thin loose-ring snaffle, and a curb bit, which is an unjointed bit with shanks and a chin chain. The double bridle is an important tool for training because the two bits have different effects. The bridoon allows for lateral flexion, while the curb bit’s lever-like action allows for longitudinal flexion. When horses are first introduced to the new bitting, however, they may duck the bit to avoid its effects.
In the past, Old School masters addressed this issue by introducing the horse to the double bridle in stages. Rather than suddenly confronting the horse with severe bitting, they eased their horses into the double bridle by first using milder bit combinations. Allowing the horse to gradually grow accustomed to more severe bridling increased the likelihood the horse would accept the new bits and continue stepping into the bridle. The first double bridle combination to be used was the double snaffle, then the snaffle with a Pelham bit, and, finally, the bridoon with the curb bit.
The mildest version of the double bridle is the double snaffle. This was the first combination to be introduced to the horse by tactful trainers. The double snaffle consists of two loose-ring snaffle bits with two sets of reins. The first snaffle, the one closer to the rider, is thinner and acts like the bridoon of a standard double bridle. The other snaffle substitutes for the curb bit. Placing a dropped noseband between the two bits protects the corners of the horse’s mouth from being pinched. The rider may hold the reins of the double snaffle as per the modern 2:2 method commonly used in competition, in which the rider holds two reins in each hand. Riding the horse forward on straight lines is a good way to encourage the horse to step into his new bridle.
Once the horse is comfortable with the double snaffle, he may be introduced to a slightly more severe combination: a snaffle with a Pelham bit. In this combination, the snaffle is the first bit, while the Pelham substitutes for the curb bit. The Pelham bit is ideal for this intermediate stage because it is a snaffle, but has elements of a curb, such as a chin chain. Using the Pelham bit in this phase introduces the horse to the chin chain, yet retains a relatively mild and familiar action that is unlikely to over-face the horse and cause him to duck behind the bit.
Once the horse is going well in the snaffle and Pelham, it is time to introduce the standard double bridle, the severest of the three. By this time, the horse is used to two bits and the chin chain. Because the horse has been allowed to gradually grow accustomed to more severe bridling, he is more likely to accept the double bridle than if the milder combinations had been skipped.
Modern-day dressage riders should consider easing their horses into the double bridle as the Old School masters did. In this way, they will improve the likelihood that their horses will continue to correctly go on the bit when they graduate to the double bridle.
NOTE: Riding auf Doppeltrense*: Introducing the Horse to the Double Bridle (* Die Doppeltrense is the German term for the double snaffle bridle.)
Mikolka, Karl, Oberbereiter a.D. “The Double Bridle: Considerations and Applications,” 1998 Revised from the 1996 edition: “Thoughts On The Double Bridle.”
Seeger, Louis. Herr Baucher und seine Kuenste. Ein ernstes Wort an Deutschlands Reiter. Verlag von Friedr. Aug. Herbig. Berlin, 1852.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR CYNTHIA HODGES, J.D., LL.M., M.A.