Sunday, February 19, 2012


When showing dressage, you start off with a pretty simple set up, bridle-wise. It’s a headstall, a noseband, and a snaffle bit. Once you are ready to perform at 3rd Level, you are suddenly presented with a choice. If you so wish, you are permitted to use a double bridle. Although it is not mandatory under USDF rules, it is widely accepted that once you hit the “upper levels” (A vague term that in this day and age ranges from 3rd Level through Grand Prix, but for future reference when I say “upper level” I literally mean the FEI levels of Prix St. George through Grand Prix.) you will ride with a double bridle. However, if you plan on showing internationally, at CDI events, a double bridle and spurs are compulsory.

Of course, with me having a tiny rebellious streak, I would LOVE to show at the Grand Prix Level in just a snaffle, win the class, and have an appreciative audience. Just to be different. (That same part of me wants to show in a bareback dressage class. Wouldn’t that be fun?!) To my knowledge, I’ve never seen that. I’ve seen people ride all the movements in just a snaffle and even bitless, but it’s another thing to do that in competition and score well. A student of my current trainer showed Prix St. George very successfully last year with her horse wearing a snaffle bridle. Their cool meter is pretty high. 

Back to my explanation of “the double” as we fondly refer to it. Although I wouldn’t use the word “fond” in my case, but we’ll touch on that in a paragraph or so. The double bridle has a snaffle with smaller rings, called a bridoon, and a curb bit. Because it has two bits, you then have two reins. We could go on about the whys and hows, but that’s the point I need to make here. The point is, the double bridle works differently from your normal bridle. You do not have as much side to side suppling because you now have a curb which works with leverage. You can be much more subtle with your aids.

With that difference in mind, here’s what happens to me when I ride a horse with a double bridle. I sit there on their back and feel like my arms are not my own. I do what I normally would do with a normal snaffle bridle, but without the same effect. I try to do more in an effort to get any sort of positive response from the horse, or I stop doing anything at all. My arms become like dead limbs, simply grasping the reins with my failing hope. The double bridle paralyzes me. It makes me feel like I cannot ride. Because of who I am, when I feel like I cannot ride, I then feel entirely useless to the world. It is an unpleasant cycle.

Rocket& his snaffle, Sarah& Renee rocking the double bridle!

What do I do to make myself more comfortable with the double? I posed this question to myself and the answer I came up with is: Use the double bridle more! Ride in it every chance you get to with instruction. Learn to use it properly. I’ve only been testing this answer out for a week or so. I can’t say that I’ve had any real breakthrough yet, but I won’t give up hope just yet. I want to become proficient and at ease when using the double bridle. I want this, so I’m going to work at it. I will not remain paralyzed.

Is there something in riding that paralyzes you now or used to paralyze you? Also, I’m curious to know if that word is looking weirder to you now.

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