One of the biggest milestones for any dressage rider in their journey up the levels is the introduction of the double bridle. But how do you know when your horse is ready? And how do you choose the right options from the confusing array of bits and bridles available? We talked to some of Canada’s top dressage riders, bridle manufacturers, and tack retailers to bring you their top tips.

Determining when your horse is ready for a double bridle

Jaimey and Tina Irwin, international grand prix competitors

“Each horse is different when determining the right time to start them in the double bridle. We like to begin introducing them to it when the fundamentals are in place and the horse is able to accept the contact and go well in a snaffle bridle. We always make sure that the horse has learned the simple changes through the walk, counter-canter, and is showing balance and self-carriage with correct acceptance of the contact. The horse should also have a good understanding of the flying change. The double bridle is optional as of third level, but we want to make sure that the horse is able to do all of that level’s movements in the snaffle bridle first.”

Selecting the right double bridle for your horse

Stephen Forbes, founder, Solo Equine

“There are three main points to focus on when choosing a double bridle: Comfort, efficacy, and aesthetics. A noseband that tapers at the sides minimizes bulk and accentuates a beautiful head. Crownpieces come in a variety of shapes for a variety of reasons. There are crownpieces which widen at the poll to dissipate pressure over a larger surface area, minimizing the amount of pressure directly on the poll. Cutaway/anatomical types are cut back around the ears to reduce pressure around the base of the ears. Similar to fitting a snaffle bridle, you want the crownpiece to sit flush, with even distribution over the poll.

It’s important that the browband is long enough so it doesn’t pull the crownpiece forward. For most warmbloods I’d recommend at least 17” for the browband. Doubles have an extra buckle on each side of the bridle, so it’s imperative to ensure they aren’t too close to the eye and interfering with the vision of the horse.

Another common fit issue is nosebands that sit too low. A correctly-fitted noseband will lie just below the cheekbones without making contact with them. Make sure you can fit two fingers under the noseband once it’s fastened. I also like to make sure I can easily run my fingers under the cheek pieces as well as under the crown piece over the poll. You don’t want excessive pressure anywhere. A correctly-fitted bridle is one the horse shouldn’t even notice.”

Choosing the best bits for your horse’s double bridle

Eiren Crawford, international grand prix competitor

“Know your horse’s preference in a snaffle. If they prefer a single- or double-jointed snaffle bit, then choose the same type for your bradoon. If you’re not sure, start with something plain and simple. My favourite bit combo to introduce doubles are the Neue Schule Transform Weymouth and Trans Angled Lozenge bradoon. It’s best to begin with something really basic like this, then start trying other options if your horse demonstrates specific preferences. Many horses take exception to the curb chain, while others don’t care. If they are extra-sensitive to the pressure of the chain their reactions can be pretty dramatic, so always have a curb chain cover on hand.

Play with how high or low the bits sit in the mouth. If they are too low, the horse can get busy with the tongue and put it over the bits. But if they are too high or tight, I find the horses lose feeling in the contact. However, horses can surprise you with what they prefer, so be ready to try something different!”

Fitting the bits correctly for a double bridle

Tammy Levasseur, owner, On The Bit Tack & Apparel

“Before introducing the double bridle to any horse, I always recommend a visit from your vet or equine dentist first to make sure the teeth are in good shape, without any sharp points that could cause injury or discomfort. Your dentist can also advise of any physical issues or mouth shape issues such as a low palate which could affect your bitting choices.

A correctly-fitted Weymouth will fit snugly against the corners of the mouth without being tight, and the mouthpiece shouldn’t be visible. The bradoon should be 1/4 inch larger than the Weymouth, allowing for about 1/8 inch of play on either side of the mouth. The shank should sit at a 45-degree angle once contact with the reins is taken up. The curb chain must lie flat against the horse’s skin and should be tightened to prevent the shank of the Weymouth from surpassing the 45-degree angle.”

Introducing the double bridle to your horse

Jaimey and Tina Irwin

“When introducing the double bridle for the first time, we keep things very simple and straightforward. The first time that the horse wears the double bridle, we give them a light ride to familiarize them with having two bits in their mouth and we don’t expect them to do any difficult high-level movements.

You want to make sure that the horse’s first experience with the double bridle is a positive one. This is a crucial moment in the horse’s training and needs to be handled carefully and correctly. It will probably take a few rides to know which bits are best for your horse through some experimenting. It is always a good idea to ask a professional who is very knowledgeable in this area for help, as they can help guide you in the process.”