A double bridle, also called a full bridle or Weymouth bridle, is a bridle used with two bits and four reins. One bit, the bradoon (or bridoon), is a modified snaffle bit that is smaller in diameter and has smaller bit rings than a traditional snaffle, and it adjusted so that it sits above and behind the other bit used in a double bridle, the curb bit, sometimes simply called a "bit" when referring to the combination of curb and snaffle bit as a "bit and bradoon."
Double bridles are most commonly associated with dressage. They are required for upper level FEI dressage tests (Prix St. Georges (PSG), Intermediare, and Grand Prix), and are optional at the USDF third and fourth level. They are also permitted in the dressage phase of eventing at the Intermediate or Advanced levels, although not required. (In eventing, even at the advanced level, snaffle bridles are still the norm.)
Double bridles are fairly common for horse show purposes in Australia, and in the United Kingdom for show hunters, but are less common at shows in the United States, except for Saddle seat, show hack, and upper level Dressage competition. Additionally, ladies riding side saddle traditionally use a double bridle. Double bridles used to be seen on show hunters in the United States, but that trend has waned with most now using a snaffle.
Although rare, double bridles are occasionally used by show jumping riders and eventers in the stadium and cross-country phases. Riders today, especially juniors and amateurs who are more prone to mistakes than professionals, tend to prefer the snaffle bridle for basic work, as it will not have the same negative impact on the horse as the double bridle, should they do something wrong. However, many hot horses go much better in a double bridle, and it can also be helpful on horses that rear
Double bridles, originally called "full bridles", were much more common several hundred years ago. They were considered the "proper" equipment for a trained rider and horse, while a simple snaffle bridle was only for green horses and riders, young children, grooms, and poor riders. The double bridle is commonly seen in old paintings of hunt scenes, used by the well-trained gentry as they rode cross-country.
Although the modern ideal is for balance between the snaffle and the curb, and most riders today tend to employ the bradoon for the majority of commands, historically, the accomplished rider would "ride on the curb". Riding on the curb indicated lightness in the mouth, was a demonstration that both horse and rider had been highly trained, and that the rider had very good control of his hands, and was able to ride the horse mainly from the seat. The rider would keep a modest contact with the curb bit to regulate collection and only engage the bradoon bit to raise the head or reinforce leg and seat aids for impulsion and direction if those aids failed to achieve their effect. With a supremely trained horse and rider, not only would the horse be ridden on the curb only, but with placing both sets reins in one hand and carrying the whip upright in the other. Today, the tradition of riding on the curb is preserved almost exclusively by classical and advanced military riders, and it is possible to see such performances at the Spanish Riding School.
The double bridle was once used frequently by fox hunters, as they could employ the bradoon at the beginning of the hunt, and then use the curb if the horse became excessively excited and forward as the hunt continued. Additionally, it allowed women, confined to riding sidesaddle at the time, to ride hotter horses, with the option of using the curb rein if the horse began to pull too much.
Many eventers also used to ride with the double bridle when going cross-country on exceptionally high-strung horses. However, this practice has fallen out of favor, with most riders preferring the pelham instead, which is less harsh should the rider accidentally make a mistake. Additionally, the pelham could be used with bit converters, which allowed for one rein and made the bit much easier to handle.
The double bridle differs from the usual snaffle bridle in that it consists of four reins attached to two separate bits: the bradoon-style snaffle and a curb. The curb bit hangs down from the main headstall, and the bradoon has a separate, simpler headstall made from a narrow piece of leather known as a "bradoon hanger" or a "slip head." The bradoon headstall lies under the curb headstall, with the browband of the bridle holding both pieces, as well as the cavesson all together as a single unit.
A bradoon is a snaffle bit designed specifically for use in the double bridle. The bit mouthpiece is usually single-jointed, and the bit ring is usually a loose-ring, less often an eggbutt, or baucher. The rings are smaller in diameter (maximum 8 centimeters) than a regular snaffle bit, and for USDF competition, the mouthpiece must be at least 3/8" in diameter when used on a horse, with smaller diameters allowed for ponies. It is especially important to choose a bradoon that is the correct width. A bradoon that is too wide may get caught on top of the port of the curb bit and push the bridoon's joint upward into the upper palate, while one that is too narrow will pinch the horse's skin against his molars. Both cases are painful and should be avoided. In general, the bradoon should be about 1/2" wider than the Weymouth..
The curb bit, or Weymouth, consists of a mouthpiece with shanks and a curb chain. In USDF competition, the lower shank may be no longer than 10 cm (about 4") in length. With a sliding mouthpiece, this measurement is taken when the mouthpiece is at its highest point. The width of the curb bit is also important: a curb that is too narrow will cause the shanks to pinch the lips, one that is too wide will cause the lips to be pinched between the curb and the curb chain and may also cause it to lie unevenly in the mouth.. The upper shank should bend slightly outward, to prevent it from pinching when the reins are pulled. The severity of the curb is determined by several factors: longer shanks are considered more severe, as are tighter or thinner curb chains and higher ports.
The bradoon always lies higher in the horse's mouth than the curb bit, and is placed above the curb chain. It is common to place the bradoon a bit higher in the mouth than a snaffle used alone, because it is less likely to get caught on the curb. However, it is important that the bits do not lie too far apart from each other within the mouth, as the tongue may be caught between the two.. In general, both bits are chosen to be slightly thinner. Although this increases their severity, most horses prefer thinner bits because it allows for more room for the tongue, which can be uncomfortably cramped with two thick bits sharing the space.
The bradoon rein should be wider than the rein used on the curb bit and in sport horse disciplines is often a bit more grippy (laced or, less often, rubber reins are popular), while the curb rein is thinner and smooth. This makes it easy for the rider to distinguish the two by feel. The extra grip provided by the snaffle rein also helps prevent the horse from pulling it through the rider's hands, which would make the curb rein shorter in comparison and encourage the rider to over-use the curb rein.
When using a double bridle, a cavesson is always used. It should not be adjusted too low, as it may cause the skin and lip to pinch between it and the bradoon. Some riders use a padded crownpiece because the curb places pressure on the poll.
The curb bit places pressure on the bars, the palate (especially if the port of the curb bit is fairly large), and via the curb chain, the poll and chin groove. It is used to regulate vertical flexion (cresting the neck and collecting the body through an arched spine), and the poll pressure asks the horse to lower the poll and telescope the neck to raise the base of the neck. If the horse tries to push his nose outward without permission from the rider, the curb reins will automatically come into play and tighten, asking the horse to flex. If the horse stiffens, adding slight poll and tongue pressure with the curb can ask him to relax at the poll.
A rider may increase pressure on the curb alone by lifting their hands forward and upward. The hands remain the same distance from the bradoon because they move around a circle that is a radius equal to that of the bradoon rein. Therefore the action of the bradoon does not come into play. However, because the curb rein is several inches below the bradoon, raising the hands pull upward on the bit and engages the shank.
When used in Saddle seat tradition, particularly in the USA, the bradoon is used both to raise the head and turn, while the curb is used to lower the head, soften the jaw, and to slow the horse. In saddle seat riding, contact is to be maintained equally on all four reins.
In modern dressage, most riders employing the double bridle "ride on the bradoon." In other words, they keep a steady contact with the bradoon bit and only engage the curb bit to when necessary to encourage the horse to collect. As a result, the bradoon rein keeps slightly more pressure, and the curb rein, although in contact, is much softer. In competition, total loss of rein contact of the curb (which will result in the rein being bowed) will cause a severe deduction from the rider's score. To ride mainly from the bradoon while still keeping a soft contact on the curb, the rider must have steady, soft hands and a correct hand position. To activate the bradoon separately from the curb, if the rider is using the most common rein holds (described below), the rider simply rotates the lower fingers into the hand and slightly upward, which will tighten pressure on the bradoon. The upper part of the hand, where the curb is held, remains in the same point in space and acts as a pivot, so that the pressure on the curb does not change.
The rider must have an independent seat and soft hands. Additionally, they should be able to keep their horse moving uphill with elevated shoulders, or else activating the curb will cause him to hollow, fall onto the forehand, and flex incorrectly at the 3rd vertebra rather than the poll. The rider must also take care to determine if a double bridle is proper for the individual horse's training and temperament. Certain sensitive horses will do better if kept in a snaffle for a longer period of time. Horses that tend to be lazy or behind their rider's leg will also become more so if ridden in double bridle before they are consistently forward.
Overuse of the curb will cause the horse to go behind the bit, open his mouth, draw his tongue back in his mouth to escape the pressure, or damage the tongue. Additionally, it can cause unpure gaits, including a "pacey" walk, a stiff trot, and a 4-beat canter. Overuse of the somewhat thin bradoon can lead to a hard mouth, and in severe cases, cause sores or bleeding at the corners of the mouth.
When first learning to use the double bridle, it can be helpful to gain experience holding and manipulating two reins without actually using the more severe curb. To do so, the rider may place two reins on the snaffle. A rider may also ride on contact with the snaffle rein, keeping the curb rein loose until the hold becomes comfortable and familiar.
There are several types of rein holds which offer various degrees of action between both bits.
This rein hold is also seen in competitive dressage, during FEI freestyle tests. It demonstrates the horse's throughness, self-carriage, and obedience due to the fact that the rider has little control with the reins except to create flexion. When used, it can increase the difficulty of the movement, thereby helping the rider attain a higher score if executed well.
In both cases, the ends of the reins usually leave the fist between the thumb and index finger, as seen when riding with just a snaffle rein. However, another variation allows the end of the snaffle rein to leave between the first and second fingers, and the end of the curb to leave between the thumb and first finger. This allows the rider to easily identify each rein and adjust the tension on each. It also helps to avoid too much tension on the curb rein..
Two of the mild forms of this type of hold involve the curb rein either under the fourth finger, or between the fourth and third finger, while holding the bradoon between the second and third fingers.
The most extreme form of this is called the "Fillis Hold", named after James Fillis. It involves the curb rein being held under the pinkie, and the bradoon rein held like a driving rein, between the thumb and first finger. The two reins therefore insert into the hand as far away as they possibly could and allow each set to be used with considerable leverage. Therefore, either rein can be used without the influence of the other, simply by rotating the lower or upper part of the hand back.. This hold is commonly seen used (correctly) by the dressage rider Philipe Karl. However, when used incorrectly, which can be extremely easy to do even by excellent riders, it causes the horse to flex at the 3rd vertebra instead of the poll, a major fault.
The left hand holds the left bradoon rein below the fourth finger (pinkie), the left hand curb rein between the third and fourth fingers, and the right hand curb between the second and third fingers. It is held right over the pommel of the saddle.. The right hand holds the bradoon as it would normally hold a snaffle (between the third and fourth fingers), and the hand is held very close to the left hand. This hold has several important consequences: it decreases the action of the curb, it prevents the rider from riding with their hands too wide or performing an overzealous opening rein with their left hand, and it shows when the horse is not properly straight, because the rider can no longer make the rein pressure on one side of the mouth any stronger than the other, since reins from both sides are held in the left hand. The rider must ride off the seat and legs to bend the horse, and the horse must therefore be properly "through"..
The whip is held upright in the right hand, going back to the tradition where the sword would b held in such a way as a salute. This method is rarely practiced today, although still seen used by the Spanish Riding School.