The Proper Fitting and Use of the Full Bridle

by Jayne Ayers, Kathy Connelly, Anne Gribbons and George Williams

The “Full” or “Double” Bridle is more than an “air brake”—it can be a source of great discomfort to the horse.


  1. Seat of the rider must be correct, with no reliance on the reins for balance in ALL gaits (including the extended gaits)

  2. Steady hands

  3. Body/hands remaining steady during transitions

  4. Ability to weight seatbones at will

  5. Control of the lower legs and spurs

  6. Ability to sit in the center of the horse, both side to side and front to back

  7. Ability to control the length of the reins, and to shorten/lengthen them at will 

The full bridle allows the rider to fine tune communication with the horse.  The curb is used for longitudinal flexion, and requires that the horse already be in uphill carriage, since you can’t get the horse up with the curb—using the curb would only place the horse on the forehand.  The rider must already be skilled in getting the horse up in front from the seat and leg.  The snaffle is what is used to “ride” the horse, and for lateral flexion.

In fitting, need to allow room for the tongue.  Horses generally prefer double-jointed bridoons (snaffle) bits.  The loose ring version is milder.  An S-shaped cheek on the curb will prevent pinches to the cheek, but is more “old-fashioned.”

Pinching can be a problem at the poll, and some horses need a cutback bridle.  Pulling on the curb applies poll pressure.  Many modern bridles add padding at the poll, but there is such a thing as too much padding, which can make the bridle fit too tightly there.  Be sure to check the bridle for fit on the individual horse.

The bridoon should provide for 2 wrinkles, and be wider than the curb.  It should fit high enough that it doesn’t knock on the curb, but not so high that it pinches the cheek against the noseband.  The curb should not be so low that it knocks against the teeth, but not high enough that it interferes with the bridoon.  If the curb port catches on the snaffle, it can damage the horse’s palate.

There are several ways to hold the reins.  The 3:1 can be particularly useful with a sensitive horse, since it allows the play/use of the snaffle while the curb remains very quiet.

General Ideas on Fitting the Bridle

  1. Pay attention to the individual anatomy and conformation of the horse’s head/mouth

  2. Take the horse’s level/temperament into consideration when selecting the bits

  3. Rider’s level and ability

The USEF Rulebook (can be downloaded from the USEF website has information on legal bits/bridles.  Also recommended: Herm Sprenger’s book “Leading with Feeling”

Choice of the leather portion of the bridle is individual, based on the conformation, based on the shape of the poll.  Some horses have long polls and others have short polls.  It is possible to overdo the padding and make the pinching worse.  The noseband should rest 1 to 2 fingers below the nose bone, but the exact distance depends on whether the horse has a long vs. shallow mouth.  The amount of padding needed around the nose also varies.  Some horses need a great deal of padding, particularly around the area where the noseband closes (buckle area) where others aren’t particularly bothered.  Watch out for pinching.

The horse’s individual conformation will determine the space available.  The height of the palate will determine the port needed, and tends to become shallower with age.  The tongue size and shape also plays a role.  If the bit doesn’t fit, the horse will move its tongue a lot looking for a place of comfort.  The lower lips and the diastem (the space between the upper and lower jaw bones) also play a role.  The bridoon is the primary bit, and will need to be 0.5 cm longer than the curb.  The lower part of the curb will be determined by the needs of the lips and lower jaw, while the cheek and poll will determine the upper.

Anne Gribbons recommends that the double be introduced when the basics are “reasonably established.” In other words, the horse is laterally supple, and in uphill self-carriage.  Ideally, the horse will enjoy it and will come more through in the topline.   Sometimes this will be as early as 5, but sometimes not until 10.  She prefers to ride with the double once or twice a week initially, eventually working to 50% of the time.  By the time she has a horse doing high level FEI work, she may ride with it most of the time.  Most horses, she says, accept it readily.

Source: 2005 USDF Convention

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