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An Explanation of the Full Bridle for the Rider

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To be an effective rider you must understand how a full bridle is set up and what the different bits do.

What is a full bridle?

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Horse Wearing a Full Bridle
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A full bridle, also known as the double or weymouth bridle, consists of a snaffle and a curb bit used simultaneously in the horse's mouth, with a set of reins to each. The curb bit and snaffle should be arranged in the mouth so that the horse is comfortable and the snaffle lies above the curb, allowing both bits to work to their full ability.

The full bridle allows the rider to fine tune communication with the horse. The curb is used for longitudinal flexion (to bring the nose to chest), and requires that the horse already be in uphill carriage, since you can’t get the horse’s head up with the curb. In laymen’s terms you use the snaffle to raise the head and neck, or the curb to raise it and tuck the horse's nose. The rider must already be skilled in getting the horse up in front from the seat and leg.

The two pairs of reins are attached to the bits, one set to the snaffle and one to the ring at the bottom of the cheek or branch of the curb bit. The two pairs of reins are often different, in that one pair will usually be either thinner than the other or will have some sort of grip added, either rubber or leather lacing. This is so the rider can distinguish between the snaffle and curb rein. When the reins are leather, as on a show bridle, the snaffle rein is usually slightly wider than the curb (commonly one size, i.e. 1/8 of an inch), so it is easier to hold and encourages the rider to use mainly the snaffle action of the double bridle.

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Prerequisites for effectively using a full bridle:

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 seat bones 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

Riding with a full bridle is like conducting an orchestra. It takes a maestro to do it well.

Common Bits and How They Work:

Snaffle

One type of snaffle for the double bridle
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A snaffle is a bit without shanks that works on the lips, tongue and bars of the horse's mouth with only as much pressure as you, the rider, directly put on it through your contact (pull, to be crude) on the reins. It may have a jointed or a bar mouthpiece.

The snaffle bit is a thin bit, usually made with loose rings. It has a thin, jointed mouthpiece, and is often very light. It should be noted that the thickness of the mouthpiece will affect the horse, as although it is (usually) a simple snaffle, being very thin it will have a high ratio of pounds per square inch.

The snaffle’s action is principally on the lips at the corners of the mouth, on the bars (interdental space behind the front incisors and in front of the back molars) and on the tongue. Different mouthpieces and nosebands will alter the action, but the first point of action of the snaffle is when the head is raised against the corners of the mouth. The snaffle has an elevating effect on the head.

The most important thing to remember is that the snaffle bit should be used 70% of the time. We use the snaffle to control the position of the neck and withers. Through the snaffle we communicate between the hand and a mouth letting the horse to know which way to go. On the extended gaits, the snaffle provides sufficient support. So, if the snaffle serves 70% of the hands aids, what does the curb do?

Curb

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Lower Cheek Bar aka Shank. Upper Cheek Bar aka Purchase.

A curb is a bit with shanks and a chain or strap under the jaw that acts as a fulcrum for the lever action of the bit in the horse's mouth. It puts pressure on the bars, tongue and jaw, the amount depending on the design of the bit (longer shank -- more pressure on jaw, higher port -- more pressure on roof of mouth) and the amount of contact you keep with the reins. It raises a horse's head and neck and can make him tuck his nose. A curb bit can be very painful to a horse; a light pull on the reins with a long shanked curb is much more severe than a heavy pull on the reins with a snaffle.

The curb chain attaches to the offside (right) hook and should be twisted clockwise until the links lie flat, then hooked onto the nearside (left) hook. The fly link (a loose link in the middle of the chain) should hang in the middle and the lip strap is threaded through and buckled together. A common misconception is that the lip strap is only necessary for keeping the curb chain in place, but its main function is to stop the cheek of sliding cheek curbs from inverting and rendering the curb ineffective, or from being dragged into the horse's mouth. The curb chain, whether made single link or of multiple links, should always lie flat. The curb chain is essential on a curb bit; otherwise the lever action is dependent entirely on the headpiece. No curb bit has the actions of a curb unless a curb chain is used. Without a chain the bit reverts to a form of snaffle, its severity being governed only by the design of the mouthpiece and cheeks. The chain can sometimes rub on a horse's jaw. In these cases a rubber curb guard can be used and relieves the pressure slightly from the chin. The curb bit works on the basis of a lever action. The mouthpiece is effectively the fulcrum (hinge), the upper and lower cheeks the lever. The length of the branch (shaft) below the mouthpiece determines how much action the cheek (above the mouthpiece) will have on the poll, rotating around the mouthpiece. The idea of the curb is, through pressure on the horse's poll, together with the curb chain acting on the chin groove, to encourage the horse to lower its head. By doing this it is intended that the hind legs are brought more underneath, and the horse works in a more rounded outline. It is suggested that while the snaffle works on the horse's muscles, the curb works on its skeleton, suggesting and encouraging the horse to make full use of its back and body.

Another theory expresses the lever equation differently, by using the curb chain as the fulcrum and the weight supplied by the mouthpiece. The curb is a lever of the second order, in which the power is the pull of the reins; the weight, the bars of the mouth, against which the mouthpiece presses; and the fulcrum the chin-groove in which the curb chain should rest." (Hayes, H. 1901 p.40) A third theory is while the lever action exerts pressure on the poll, the tightening of the curb chain in the chin groove, as well as helping the lever action, has the added effect that it will encourage relaxation of the lower jaw and thus aid the retraction of the head (Hartley Edwards, 1990). In every theory the end result is the horse’s nose is brought in.

With a curb you don't have direct pressure on your horse's mouth like you do with a snaffle bit. What you do have is more pressure. “With a snaffle, two ounces of pressure on the bit results in two ounces of pressure on the mouth. But if you put two ounces of pressure on the reins with a curb, there could be four, six or even eight ounces of pressure on the mouth. To get a feel for the pressure, take the bridle off the horse and putting your fist between the mouthpiece and curb chain. Then pull back on the reins. You'll be amazed at the pressure. The curb bit consists of a mouthpiece with shanks on each side. The upper shank sometimes has a bridle ring or a separate ring for the curb chain. The lower shank has rein rings on the bottom. The curb bit works by rotation, so when you pull the reins, the bottom of the shank goes back and the top goes forward. "The curb chain, or strap, tightens, squeezing the jaw, and the bridle presses against the poll. If your horse is throwing his head up when you're stopping, look to yourself first. Make sure you're using your hands properly before you stop a horse in a curb bit, let him know your intentions. "You first indicate a stop with your body, shifting your weight down in the saddle. Pick up the reins gently so your horse feels it and gets ready. Then give the command with your voice and a touch and release on the bit. Nothing makes a horse as miserable as someone hauling back on a curb bit. If you keep hauling back and not using a touch-and-release, his mouth will eventually go numb. Then you'll really have problems.

It is possible, at first glance, to see the combination of the snaffle and the curb as contradictory forces: one encourages the horse to raise its head, the second to lower it. However, as has been explained, since the horse should not be ridden in a double bridle until the outline and self carriage has been established in a snaffle, the curb simply adds a degree of finesse to the aids given by a sensitive rider, and allows more to be asked of the horse's frame.

Remember that reins are used ALWAYS together with the leg aids. Meaning the horse must be pushing from behind to be able to effectively set the head.

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