Why and when to use a double bridle?

  • Written By: British Dressage Magazine
  • Published: Wed, 06 Mar 2024 15:48 GMT

Double bridles are allowed in BD competition from Elementary level, but knowing how and when to introduce one, is an important consideration for riders at all levels. 


Double bridles are not required under BD rules, where even a Grand Prix test can be done in a snaffle, but if you are planning to compete under FEI regulations they are currently mandatory at this level. And some horses may simply perform better in them. That is the situation for Steph Bradley, BDCC Level 3 coach and Master Saddle Fitter, who also rides at PSG and Inter I levels on her schoolmaster. She points out that some people – like herself – may have acquired a horse who is used to a double bridle and goes better in it than a snaffle. “It can be transformational, give much more control and allow more refined aids.”

But horses need consideration before just putting in a double, as bitting specialist and vet physio Amy Burr explains. “I work in a holistic way, so the first question when someone asks me to fit a double is always whether the horse is mechanically and posturally able to work at that level. A double bridle will not help if a horse is not physically able – within a few months it will really highlight the issue.”

Ensuring horses are correctly muscled, work across their back and are secure and working well in a snaffle is essential, she says. 

Society of Master Saddlers bitting and bridle fitting specialist Catherine Baker says taking account of the individual nature of a horse’s mouth conformation is also crucial. “Can the horse take two bits? If it has a low palate, big tongue and fleshy lips it might not physically have room for them. The torus inguae muscle can be big and low down and can interfere with bitting, especially for a double.”

That point is echoed by SMS bridle fitting course leader, Frances Roche, who says the issue is most likely to be found in more heavily built horses, such as cobs, Lusitanos, Andalusians and some Warmbloods.

Amy adds that adequate space between the canines and molars in the jaw is important, and can be an issue for stallions and geldings. “Sometimes the gap can be just 2-3 inches, and bits can move up to an inch when the contact is taken up. It’s important to ensure the bits can move freely without banging the teeth. It’s for this reason that it is best to have wolf teeth removed. 

“Jaw conformation is important as many Warmblood crosses can have very short mouths, particularly compared to, say, Irish horses. This means the bradoon may have to sit higher in the mouth to make space for the Weymouth, so it’s important to make sure the lips aren’t being overly-stretched.”

The Weymouth, which should generally be about quarter of an inch smaller than the bradoon, should sit below it. Both should sit separately and independently where possible, she says. “If they are together, you won’t get the individual aids from the two separate bits and reins.”

When fitting double bits, Amy aims to ensure they sit evenly across the tongue and jaw, and looks for a Weymouth that suits the horse’s mouth. “It should fit the tongue like a jigsaw piece,” she says. The curb chain and lip strap also need to be correct.

Finding the correct Weymouth and bradoon for each horse is important, says Catherine. “The best option is to use a bit fitter. They will have a stock of bits you can try, which is much easier than trying its individually from a bit bank which can end up being costly. But do check the credentials of your fitter.”

Ensuring correct bridle fit also takes time and effort. Frances explains: “Many people start with a traditional bridle and just add a slip head, but watch there isn’t too much pressure round the browband and headpiece with more straps going through there.”

Anatomical bridles or monocrown headpieces can be a good option, but only if they fit correctly and are not digging into the ears, she says. And while only a cavesson or crank noseband can be used with a double, it is important to avoid overtightening it. “People sometimes do this if they are having problems, but it will cause more tension in the hyoid, and via muscular connections, though the back to the hindlegs.”

Once the bits and bridle are fitted and before putting on the reins, Amy will assess the horse’s mouth again. “Look at where the horse is putting its tongue – is it in the right position? If it is retracted or to one side, that is telling you that the horse is finding something uncomfortable.”

Reins for a double bridle are personal preference, but the curb rein is usually thinnest. Steph says she rides in the ‘ultimate combination’ of reins which are leather, lined with rubber on the inside and also have individual notches on them which makes maintaining rein length easier. Once the rider is on board – which all four agree should be in an arena initially, Amy advises riding off the bradoon to start with, allowing the horse to get used to the increased weight in its mouth. She says the double will give a marginally different posture in the horse if it is being used correctly. “It is important to build up that strength and posture. 

Many bit fitters see tension-related problems which can easily lead to other issues. “It is less easy to cover up issues with a double bridle, as you can’t just put a flash noseband on. I would recommend having someone regularly filming your sessions at home so you can see what is happening – a horse that feels light in the contact might have their tongue retracted and their mouth open. “Horses are very individual and like pressures in different places, and are affected by the rider too. For the first few weeks, make the rides short and enjoyable, such as hacking or low-key 20 minute sessions so the horse has a positive association with the double bridle.” 

Article originally published in March 2023 
© British Dressage Magazine 
Author: Emma Penny