Is the Double Bridle EASIER for Horses to Understand?

Is the Double Bridle EASIER for Horses to Understand?

This week was the fourth time I used a double bridle on Bingo. I continue to be totally amazed how this horse who was VERY resistant to hand aids has settled down and is now showing definite signs of understanding my hand aids. Even though my curb rein is sagging enough so that I do not bring the curb chain into action, when I give hand aids his obedience has improved a lot and most signs of resistance to the hand aids have disappeared (as long as I keep them light!)

During my lesson this week I had no problems with Bingo at all. Halting was fine, he did not brace his jaw against my hand aids and stopped readily to the bradoon-curb alternation as he kept his lower jaw and poll relaxed. All of the three speeds of the walk drew praise from Debbie, his turns required less rein/seat/legs and he did not lose impulse. His leg yield improved also. His turns in place are still a work in progress but he is having an easier time figuring out his legs to do a proper turn in place. The most amazing thing this week was backing up, from having to do repeated aids for each step Bingo readily obeyed my light leg aids and light twitches on the sagging curb rein and backed up two full strides without any stopping, head flinging, scowls or gaping mouth--his usual reaction to the backing up hand/leg aids.


Debbie was very pleased with both of us. She told me how much she liked how I was working Bingo, how it was strengthening his riding muscles and how he moved under me.

When I got home I started thinking back to the other four horses I had introduced to the double bridle and how they reacted to having two bits in their mouths. When I introduced my first horse, Hat Tricks, to the double bridle it was pretty much an interesting non-event, but by then Hat Tricks and I had come to a good understanding with the snaffle bit, and he understood the snaffle bit and my hand aids. I got some extra refinement with him with the double bridle but no big changes in his obedience or way of going at first. As I sporadically used the double bridle on him we improved some and one day when the stars aligned I got the first collected canter of my life, with Hat Tricks light in hand, out trail riding, and heading home for extra impulse. Most of the time the double bridle was a boredom reliever and he never got upset about how I used the bits.

The next horse I introduced to the double bridle, Suzi a 7/8 Arab/ASB mare with a screw loose in her head, was more a case of desperation and not wanting to die while I retrained this mare who only had basic training with Western tack (including a Tom Thumb Western curb that was 3/4” too wide for her mouth.) After my first two rides in a single jointed snaffle and standing martingale it was super, super obvious that I had to do something different as far as her head gear was concerned. I went up to the Little Joe's Saddlery in Richmond, VA, and bough an Eldonian hollow mouthed fixed cheek curb that fit her mouth, as well as a rather thick Eldonian loose ring single-jointed bradoon. I also had to use my widest saddle, an old Borelli old English hunt saddle (no knee rolls, no security) since she had mutton withers. Suzi had many defenses, the usual inversions, mouth gaping, lower jaws of iron, PLUS she also either balked or bolted. Spurs helped with the balking, but I rapidly got tired of her galloping with her head high in the air going wherever she wanted.

It took me six months in the double bridle and standing martingale, plus two lunging sessions in a Chambon, until I got her to where I could ride her in a regular snaffle without needing a martingale. Then I never used the double bridle or martingale on her again because I did not have to.

The next horse was a Paso Fino mare owned by the owner of the Paso Fino breeding barn I was boarding at (sorry, I forgot her name.) He had bought this 6(?) year old mare who had been broken to saddle who just did not understand the bit. He had his rider work this mare, and after one day when the girl had to run the mare into the side of the barn to stop her because the mare had over-bent so much that her chin was planted against her chest, her rider had no control at all. He was desperate, otherwise he would have never asked me, who rode Forward Seat, to work on this mare who was headed for the Paso Fino shows. After listening the the list of woes from her owner I asked permission to use Suzi's double bridle on her and he agreed. After his tale of woe I had a pretty good idea of what was happening (she was going behind the bit big time) and how to fix it.

My first ride her owner was hovering around us anxiously watching us as we rode around the pasture (he did not have a riding ring.) I lightly introduced this mare to the bradoon and the curb bits, got her reaching to the bit in response to my legs, rode up to her owner in a rather impulsive walk, and stopped dead a few feet away from him, no inversion, no gaping, a rather nice civilized halt. His jaw dropped. I explained that she had been behind the bit (and then I had to teach him what that meant, he had never heard of it) and how I got that nice halt. He asked me to teach his rider about this so I gave the girl a few lessons on Suzi who was still super ready to go behind the bit for any reason, until the girl could satisfactorily keep contact, counteract the inversions, and come to a good easy halt. I got just a few more rides on this mare (since I did not know how to gait her or ride her in the Paso Fino show style), but his rider managed to stop the mare by using what I taught her so the main problem was solved.

The next horse was Glow, a Russian Arabian at Debbie's stable. Glow had big problems with contact, with the usual inversions and evasions, AND Glow did not suffer fools gladly, at all. After several bits until I found one he liked (JP Dr. Bristol) Glow learned to understand the snaffle bit and he got quite good in it, as good as Hat Tricks had been. I did not HAVE TO put a double bridle on Glow at all, it was a boredom reliever since by then I was limited to riding in the ring. After much thought Debbie and I agreed to introduce the double bridle without a curb chain on the curb bit. The last time I rode him I got a spectacular “school trot”, very impulsive, that Debbie had never seen Glow do before. Unfortunately for me Glow's breeder had finally tracked him down and offered to take Glow and Pepsi, another Arab gelding she had bred, back when Debbie could not use them any more in lessons. Well Pepsi had started stumbling badly, I was the only rider she had for Glow, so Glow finally got to go back to the place of his birth before I could try the curb chain on him. I still miss Glow, he is the best horse I ever rode.

So two of the four horses I introduced to the double bridle did not “need” it at all for basic control, what I got from the double bridle counted as “icing on the cake”, very nice, very pleasurable, but not absolutely necessary. By the time I had introduced these two horses to the double bridle they thoroughly understood the snaffle bit, my hand aids, and my goals for riding them and I had gotten them past inversions, gaping, stiff polls and bars of iron lower jaws. To them the double bridle seemed interesting, something new to explore without fear, and pretty much a non-event.

But thinking back to Suzi, the Paso Fino mare, and now Bingo, all these horses had absolutely no idea of how to relate to the snaffle bit, they had no understanding of how the hand aids worked, and while I could keep contact it was not the relaxed, confident contact that I love. As I related above I quickly put the double bridle and martingale on Suzi because I did not want to die (just a little exaggeration), the double bridle was totally necessary for me to gain control over the crazy mare. The Paso Fino mare had NO IDEA of what the bit meant even though she was “broke”. With both these mares, by alternating between the snaffle and curb, they finally figured bits out—sort of an “Oh, is that what you mean?” instead of a panicked meltdown.

Bingo did not really understand the bit. The first time I rode him for several months him I had gotten him to accept the bit and the hand aids somewhat, but that disappeared during his long vacation. I was facing a few months of work in the snaffle before he truly understood what I meant when I used hand aids. But when I introduced the double bridle he calmed down, he started to use the thinking part of his brain, and in four weeks I've made the progress that I was thinking would take me months of work.

I do not know if having two bits in the mouth activates more brain cells in the horse's mind, but it sure seems that way to me. I suspect that having two bits, resting on different parts of the tongue, sort of derails the horse's old defenses because it feels new. At least with Bingo his improved understanding does not come because the curb bit hurts more since I have not engaged the curb chain, all my hand aids for the curb bit so far have come from tweaking a sagging rein with immediate release. But one way or another Bingo now seems to UNDERSTAND bits and the hand aids, and I am simply ecstatic about it all.

I now believe the double bridle helps the horses to figure it all out.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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