We sometimes think of the horse bridle as like a car steering wheel – it’s the essential piece of tack that helps you guide your horse and have a safe ride. The bridle allows the rider or driver to communicate commands and cues effectively, directing the horse’s movements.
Extending this example, a double bridle would be like a power-steering wheel. It provides the rider with an even sharper, more responsive riding experience!
This is possible because double bridles have two bits and two sets of reins. These additions help you to quickly and precisely course-correct and communicate with your horse. This is really valuable in dressage and certain show competitions.
You may be considering using a double bridle yourself. Or you might simply want to learn more about double bridle riding. In this article, we cover all the essentials and walk you through the 6 important, practical steps you should follow to correctly fit a double bridle on your equine buddy.
Parts Of The Double Bridle
The snaffle bridle is the most basic type of bridle and is widely used for general riding. The snaffle bit has a jointed mouthpiece that allows you, as the rider, to apply direct pressure on the mouth to communicate with and guide your horse.
The double bridle, also known as a Weymouth bridle, is typically used in more advanced riding disciplines. It consists of two bits and two sets of reins.
In most respects, the double bridle is much the same as a snaffle bridle. Except with added extras.
1. Headpiece or Crownpiece – the main strap that goes over your horse’s head behind the ears to provide support and stability for the rest of the bridle.
2. Bit – the metal mouthpiece that sits in your horse’s mouth. It is attached to the headpiece by the cheek pieces.
- Double bridles have two bits– the snaffle (or bridoon or bradoon) bit and the curb (or Weymouth) bit. The bridoon bit mouthpiece is usually single-jointed, and the bit ring is usually a loose ring. The curb bit consists of a mouthpiece with shanks and a curb chain.
3. Reins – the reins are attached to the bits and are the line of communication between your hands and your horse’s mouth. By manipulating the reins, you can signal your pony to turn, stop, or change speed.
- A double bridle has two sets of reins– a snaffle rein attached to the bridoon and a curb rein attached to the curb bit
4. Browband – the strap that runs horizontally across your horse’s forehead, above the eyes. It helps keep the headpiece in place.
5. Noseband – the noseband encircles your animal’s nose. It helps keep the bridle in place, prevents the horse from opening its mouth too wide, and provides additional control by applying pressure to the sensitive nose area.
6. Throat lash – the strap that fastens beneath your horse’s throat to prevent the bridle from slipping off the head.
7. Cheek pieces – the cheek pieces run from the browband and headpiece to the bit. They are used to keep the bit in place and also encourage your horse to keep its head facing forward.
8. Buckles – there are a number of buckles on the bridle to help you adjust the straps so that everything fits your horse properly.
Watch our video on fitting a double bridle
The 6 Steps To Fit A Double Bridle
1. Measure the bridle for fit
First, it’s important to ensure the bridle will fit your horse comfortably. Measure the bridle against the side of your horse’s head to gauge that the fit is sound.
If the bridle is too long or too short, alter the strap lengths as required.
2. Insert the bits into the mouth
It’s best for all parties concerned (you and your trusty steed) that the two bits are fitted as one. To achieve this, place the bridoon bit on top of the curb bit.
Face forwards in the same direction as your fine equine. Standing by the neck and head, put the reins over the head.
Place your arm between your horse’s ears, holding the bridle’s headpiece near the brow. Your arm over the head, plus an ability to grip the reins in need, allows you to gently control the animal.
With your other hand, position both bits against your horse’s mouth. If your guy or girl is slow to accept the bits, place your thumb into the side of the mouth to encourage them to open wide.
Insert both bits into the mouth, being careful not to bang the teeth or hurt your maned friend.
Also, be careful to keep your fingers on either side of the chompers! Ease the bits into place behind the teeth.
3. Fix the bridle in place
Put the bridle on in the usual manner. It’s good practice to keep an arm through the reins so that you can grab hold to halt an impatient hoofer from wandering off.
- Slip the headpiece over the head and behind the ears. Ensure that it sits comfortably without causing pressure points or rubbing. It should be snug enough to prevent slipping, but not too tight.
- Check the browband lies flat against your horse’s forehead- but not too tight or ‘biting’.
- Fasten the throat lash. You want to be able to insert three fingers or so between the throat lash and the cheek piece to prevent the lash from being restrictive and causing discomfort or affecting breathing.
- Fasten the back of the noseband, checking it’s not too restrictive by fitting a finger down the side of the band.
- Also, run your fingers underneath the cheek pieces. Excessively tight cheek pieces can cause irritation too.
Before cinching the whole lot firmly in place, it’s always good to stand in front of the horse and ensure the bridle is on nice and straight, and everything looks neat and comfy.
4. Check the fit and position of the bits
Check the bit mouthpieces to see that the bridoon lies behind the curb bit in your horse’s mouth.
The horse’s bridoon bit is attached to the ‘sliphead’ – a separate narrow piece of leather designed specifically for this bit. The position/ height of the fit can be adjusted via the buckle on the sliphead.
You want the bridoon to be sitting snuggly in the corners of the horse’s mouth so that there are two or three wrinkles in the corner of the mouth. It should be high enough to avoid hitting the horse’s teeth but low enough to allow for proper communication with the reins.
The curb bit is attached to the two cheek pieces and is adjusted with the cheek pieces. It should sit comfortably at the corners of the mouth, slightly lower than the bridoon bit.
Check that the bits aren’t hitting the teeth and that they lie flush with your horse’s jaw.
5. Fasten the curb chain
As mentioned, the curb bit includes shanks and a curb chain. The curb chain must be snuggly fitted and fastened in the chin groove underneath your horse’s mouth.
Ensure the links in the chain are untwisted, they must lie smooth and flat against the flesh.
When you find the right tightness of the chain, attach the chain link onto the bit hook.
6. Check the tension of the curb chain
This is a small but important step. Consider the following:
- The tighter the curb chain, the easier and quicker it is for you as the rider to apply pressure and get your mount’s attention. Also, the pressure is felt more severely, with the result that you need to use less rein.
- A too-loose curb chain on the other hand can cause the bit to rotate excessively in your horse’s mouth, putting nasty pressure on the tongue.
You will appreciate then that the length and tension of the curb chain are very important to how the curb bit works and how your horse is impacted. You don’t want the curb bit rotating about too freely; neither do you want to inflict uncomfortable pressure on your boy or girl.
Every horse is different, but the general rule on curb chains is that the chain tension should be adjusted so that it (and the bit mouthpiece) come into action when the bit forms a 45-degree angle with the line of the horse’s lips.
You can test this by gently pulling back the curb rein. The 45-degree ‘rule’ will guide you to adjust to the right tension.
How Does A Double Bridle Work?
Broadly speaking, the snaffle rein acts to help raise your horse’s head and neck. While the curb rein acts to lower the head and neck.
When riding with a double bridle, the rider uses the double rein aids together or separately to prompt the desired action from the horse.
The top set of reins (snaffle) is traditionally slightly thicker and longer than the bottom set of reins.
The snaffle reins are generally milder in effect. They apply pressure on the corner of the mouth, tongue, and bars (area of the mouth with no teeth). Using a snaffle with leather studs is a great way to distinguish the reins and prevent slippage through your fingers.
- The snaffle reins assist with achieving lateral and vertical flexion.
The curb reins are used to communicate commands through leverage. When using the curb reins, you exert pressure on the chin groove, mouth corners, and poll (the spot just behind or between the ears) simultaneously.
- Curb reins are used to achieve more refined control and nuanced engagement- including collection (transfer of weight from front legs to hind quarters), half-halts, and specific movements and postures in competition.
Care And Consideration For Your Horse When Fitting A Double Bridle
Every horse is different. When it comes to bits, we must recognise that mouth conformation varies from animal to animal.
Some horses have thick tongues while others’ tongues are thinner. The fleshiness of the gums also varies widely. Mouth sizes, number of teeth, and teeth density also differ.
In addition to mouth structure, the horse’s nature may make him or her reluctant to hold a bit.
This all means that great care should be taken to ensure the double bridle bits are the right design, size, and thickness for your horse. It may take some trial and error to really find a ‘happy bit fit‘.
Dangers of wrong-sized bits:
- A bridoon that is too wide can get caught on top of the curb bit and push painfully upward into the palate. One that is too narrow will pinch the horse’s skin against the molars.
- A curb that is too narrow can 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.
As a rule, the bridoon mouthpiece should be at least 1/4 inch longer than the curb bit mouthpiece. And the curb bit should have an overlap of 1/4 inch when pulled out to one side of the mouth.
Horses best suited to a double bridle are well-schooled with a fair bit of experience under rein.
And of course, it is important that the rider is also experienced and competent in the saddle.
What is a lip strap?
The lip strap is a piece of tack sometimes used on a double bridle. It functions to keep the curb chain in place on your bridle and prevent it from getting lost. It can also help to stop a “mouthy” horse from mouthing or “lipping” the bit shank. Improvements in the design and security of curb chains have made lip straps less common these days.
Should I use a double bridle on my horse?
If you are considering using a double bridle outside of competition, it’s important that it is done in the best interests of your horse, and only after proper training foundations are in place. Both you and your horse must be comfortable, mature, and experienced enough to use the double bridle effectively to reap the full rewards and benefits of riding this way.
What is a fixed cheek Weymouth?
A fixed cheek Weymouth is a type of Weymouth (or curb) bit used in a double bridle. The shank on this curb bit is fixed to the mouthpiece, which provides a more direct rein aid than with a sliding cheek Weymouth.