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Technique Dressage : Handle the double bridle with precision

Technique Dressage : Handle the double bridle with precision


Using the Bridle: Two Bits, Four Reins. How to Use this Tack Properly?


Going back far into equestrian history brings us to the creation of the bridle. Originally, this bit was made available to the cavalry to facilitate one-handed horse control, freeing the second hand to manage weapons. It was not until the time of La Guérinière that it spread in riding schools as a tool to refine the communication between the rider and his horse. Today, it is an integral part of the sports and competitive landscape. Sometimes strictly prohibited, often allowed, and in some cases mandatory, the bridle is reserved for only the most experienced hands. It indeed requires a remarkable degree of skill and know-how, or it risks acting too harshly on the horse's mouth.


On the national and international stage, the bridle is imposed by various federal regulations at certain levels of competition. All the tests dictated by the International Equestrian Federation require its use, except for young horse tests where it is categorically prohibited. Only the junior preliminary tests and tests reserved for seven-year-old horses tolerate both the bridle and the snaffle. However, its utility, necessity, and legitimacy are increasingly questioned within the dressage community. In some countries like Sweden since 2015, it is allowed to ride the Grand Prix in a snaffle on the national circuit. This standard is not yet in effect in France or with the International Equestrian Federation.


 The Evolution and Rules Surrounding Bridle Use in Competitions


"In theory, the use of the bridle in dressage should make the degree of understanding in the pair more subtle and refined. However, it is necessary that the horse has reached a certain degree of accuracy in its learning with a simple snaffle, that it can shift weight onto its haunches while carrying itself forward in a good connection from head to toe". Lena Thouvenin, a young professional rider of twenty-seven years old, who has already been selected twice for the world championship for young horses with her Diamondgio LTH DressValue, confirms this. "For the horse bound to the bridle bit without preparation, it is a heavy constraint that can break the morale of our athlete and likely spoil his locomotion and his desire to carry himself forward by giving himself to his rider".

If appropriate use of the bridle can facilitate the search for balance and collection, its introduction at an early stage of training can have harmful and sometimes irreversible consequences. 


Tensions and contact problems can quickly arise, which is why it is preferable to consult a qualified professional before incorporating the use of the bridle into your training. Only a confirmed rider, with a fair hand, capable of distinguishing the two reins and their actions can be entrusted with the management of a bridle. "The bridle seems to me to be the subtle tool that will 'refine' the collection work. If a rider cannot perform any of the high school movements without resorting to the bridle, I worry about what he will have really devoted to basic work," notes Lena. It seems reasonable to wait until the age of six or seven to introduce the bridle to the horse to ensure not to act prematurely on a body and therefore a jaw that is still growing. Lena agrees, "we indeed expect active participation and joy in the execution from our equine partner. So, no bridle before the horse is straight, on the bit in a snaffle, in impulsion according to what the scale of progression indicates to us. So, it is probably necessary to start using the bridle sparingly around the age of six, during the winter so that this work is routine as soon as the horse is old enough to approach Saint Georges around seven or eight years old".


However, it is essential to take each horse on a case-by-case basis and adapt its practice to the stage of dressage. "I think this step must be taken with an experienced coach who will adjust the bridle bit and who will teach the horse, on foot, what this new bit is for. Accompanied by a skilled coach who yields to the slightest hint of a positive response, the horse quickly understands its use. The latter must understand that the bridle is an indication, an aid and not a torture device that could scare him and thus encourage him to back off, shut down, shrink his front end, break his neck at the third vertebra, and work in resistance, all reactions incompatible with the notion of lightness that we are all seeking".


H2 Tag: "Understanding the Challenges and Benefits of Bridle Usage in Dressage"




"The subtlety is never to abuse the bridle with the aim of forcing the horse to adopt a certain position. Too harsh an action of the bridle can damage his trust in the rider's hand. This mouthpiece, used excessively, risks causing the horse to shrink "behind the hand", dropping the contact and losing the connection necessary for the correct engagement of the hindquarters and the "correct" operation that results. Deceptive, this impression of lightness is mistaken. On the contrary, it is essential to maintain a certain contact with the horse's mouth, however light it may be. "If on the contrary the horse comes out of the hand, if he leans or if he is unstable, the rider using the bridle is not on the way to the high degree of collection in lightness. It is then necessary to ban the bridle for a time and return to low school work by carefully examining the correction of gaits, relaxation (trust), the quality of contact (horse-human connection) and this in propulsion (speed/cadence) but also straightness (the hardest!) to recondition the horse in a positive dynamic leading to resemblance", explains Lena.


The bridle is an instrument to be used with moderation. One must avoid falling into the trap of daily use, which could cause it to lose its benefit and mask certain imperfections more easily detectable in a snaffle. Constantly ridden in a bridle, the horse risks becoming hard in the mouth, the return to a simple snaffle then becoming increasingly difficult. "The bridle should not be a daily recourse," warns Lena. "It is good to alternate and check that we are not mistaken about the intensity of the aid provided by the bridle. We must return to the simple snaffle and check that the horse is still confident on the hand. We should even notice progress in terms of its permeability". The evolution of the discipline as well as that of breeding could encourage us in the coming years to question the interest of the bridle in competition. "We now produce well-oriented, light, sporty, active and upward-moving horses. It's much simpler than what we could see not so long ago: cramped, closed, constrained and heavy on the hand, slow in the hindquarters," notes Lena. "The conformation of modern horses greatly facilitates the collected work of the piaffe, passage and pirouettes. I would be delighted to be able to ride the Grand Prix in a snaffle one day".


Like many of us, the young rider is questioning the future of the bridle. Should we impose it, propose it, exclude it from programs? So far mandatory at the highest level of competition not only to sharpen the rider's aids but also to test the horse's submission to the bit, the change in philosophy would tend to favor an adaptation of practices. Indeed, the discipline of dressage tends to become less a matter of taming the animal than of cooperation in the pair formed between the rider and his horse partner."


H2 Tag: "The Subtleties and Challenges of Bridle Use in Modern Dressage"


Unlike the snaffle, the bridle is composed of two bits whose action is different or even opposite. On the one hand, the snaffle bit, which acts more as a "lift", and on the other hand, the curb bit considered as a "lowering" element. The first can be of several types: eggbutt, double-jointed, Baucher... The pressure it exerts on the corners of the lips encourages the elevation and bending of the neck. The curb bit can also be of various forms (L'Hotte, straight, ported...). It applies pressure on the bars and the tongue. Its effect is more longitudinal, closing the angle of the head/neck by bringing the horse's carriage closer to the vertical. The curb chain adjusts more or less, modulating the effect of the lever arms of the bit. An angle of forty-five degrees between the horse's mouth and the branches of the bit is commonly recommended. Tighter, with a smaller angle, the curb chain will make the bit too harsh.


To use the bridle correctly, the rider must be able to distinguish between the actions of the two reins. The snaffle rein should be used primarily, with the curb rein only coming into play for specific requests and to refine the rider's aids. It is essential to maintain a light and constant contact with the horse's mouth with both reins, the rider's hands acting in a balanced, harmonious, and elastic manner.


While the bridle allows for a more precise and nuanced control of the horse, it requires a high level of skill and sensitivity from the rider. The misuse of the bridle can cause discomfort or even pain to the horse, as well as leading to resistance or misunderstanding of the rider's aids. Therefore, it is essential that the rider has a good understanding of the principles of equitation and a well-trained and sensitive hand before attempting to ride with a bridle.


Furthermore, the introduction of the bridle should be done gradually and with respect for the horse's comfort and understanding. The horse should first be comfortable and responsive with a snaffle bit before the curb bit is introduced. It is recommended to first introduce the curb bit without the curb chain, allowing the horse to get used to the feel of the bit in his mouth. The curb chain can then be added later, once the horse is comfortable with the curb bit.


In conclusion, the use of the bridle, with its two bits and four reins, can be a valuable tool in the experienced rider's toolkit, allowing for more subtle and refined communication with the horse. However, its use requires a high level of skill and sensitivity from the rider, and should be approached with caution and respect for the horse's comfort and understanding.