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Double Bridle - Refinement or Torture?
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Double Bridle - Refinement or Torture?

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.

Correct schooling

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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  1. PonyGirl
    Another great post, Autumnap. Unfortunately, I agree with your post. I say unfortunately, because it is a sad reflection on the caliber of rider showing today, who does not know the proper use of spurs and curb bit. Since I ride western I use a curb and wear spurs on a daily basis. My horses are trained to respond to the curb chain just touching their chin. I never actually pull on the bit at all. I also use my spurs (quite blunt) to give different cues. If I touch the horse with the side of my foot, it means one thing, if I touch him with the side of my spur it means another, if I touch him with the rowel, it means something else again. I very, very rarely even poke my horses, and I certainly never draw blood. Although I have never ridden in the higher levels of dressage, it is my understanding that the curb and spur are to be used in a manner somewhat similar to what I've just described. The fact that these riders are trying to force the horse to do something instead of get him to do it willingly shows, in my opinion, that they don't understand what dressage really is.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you! I've actually had to eliminate riders in dressage classes whose horses were marked by the spurs on welfare grounds. I think they should be banned from use below advanced level.
  2. mered30
    I have only used spurs a few times and I just don't like them. The double bridle I am not sure about
  3. arabobsession
    great blog, I ride in a big ring snaffle with a french link, my mare does not respond to harshness. I used spurs to teach her to leg yield, and haven't used them since, and I quite regularly ride with my crop stuck down the leg of my jodphurs, as she gets upset when i use my naughty voice without worrying about the crop, it's quite funny to watch. voted
    1. autumnap
      Many thanks! The voice aid is a very useful one and yet not allowed in dressage. As a judge, I wouldn't have a problem with a rule change to allow riders to use their voice as an additional aid. This would be much less offensive than the misuse of artificials such as spurs, whips and double bridles, all of which are allowed.
  4. Abibrennan123
    I hate them, they Hurt the Horses Mouth Just To Make The Rider Look Better!
    1. Toots
      Or not better, depending upon the rider! I saw another one at the weekend; it looked as thought the rider had the handbrake on through the whole test - poor horse.

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