Double bridles are used by many dressage riders competing at the higher levels, but what is the purpose of using one and are they really necessary?
The use of the double bridle in dressage is intended to allow a refinement of the rider’s aids, allowing them to give more precise signals to the horse. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as I have often observed when judging and spectating even at international level.
How does the double bridle work?
Depending upon the rider’s finesse (or lack of it), the double bridle can be a very severe tool.
When the curb bit is brought into play, it applies pressure to the horse’s poll and to the lower jaw via the curb chain. The pressure is increased depending upon the length of the curb shank; a fact that riders often overlook when taking up too strong a contact on the curb rein. The curb should be used in subtle combination with the bridoon bit which in turn is meant to be used independently of the curb. It is incorrect to ride with a strong, equal contact on both the curb and bridoon reins.
As the dressage horse becomes more highly trained, so the aids should become more discreet and softer. Sadly, as is often observed at even the very highest levels, this is not always the case.
The double bridle is all too often used as a means of creating an artificial form of collection by blocking the horse from moving forward. The energy and power from the hindquarters which is created by the rider’s leg should be contained (collected) posturally; that is to say by the horse’s whole body as he works in self-carriage assisted by the rider’s fingertip instructions, and never solely by the use of the bit.
All too often we see the curb shank pulled virtually horizontal to the ground; the horse ducks behind the vertical as it tries to escape the unpleasant pressure on its mouth. The neck tightens, the back stiffens and all elasticity and forward swing is lost. Often the horse begins to show signs of distress. It may try to put its tongue over the bit, open its mouth and become tense; sometimes the natural correct rhythm of the paces is disrupted, notably in the walk. The uneducated rider will then decide that their horse is unresponsive to the leg and “not going forward”. The solution is to employ the use of huge dressage spurs in an attempt to create more energy. The unfortunate horse is then merely being driven forward away from the spurs into what is effectively a brick wall in its mouth.
When judging, I much prefer to see a horse ridden in a simple snaffle bridle and without spurs. If a rider uses spurs purely to make the horse go forwards, this immediately tells me that the horse is behind the rider’s leg which is obviously ineffective. Likewise, if a rider cannot get their horse to soften his jaw unless she can force it by using the curb rein on a double bridle, she should go back to the arena and do her homework in a snaffle instead of taking shortcuts!
I watched a horse and rider competing at Prix St George level at the weekend. The horse was a big, powerful warmblood cross with paces to match. What a delight it was to see the horse presented in a simple snaffle bridle and the rider wearing short, dummy spurs rather than the usual enormous, jangling roweled variety that is so popular. Her test was smooth, light, balanced and obedient and the degree of collection she achieved through the combined use of her leg, seat, posture and contact was correct for the level of test she was riding. The horse was happy, full of impulsion, working in a correct outline with his quarters lowered and engaged and his shoulders light and mobile.
I rest my case!
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