The Proper Tool

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Whenever I judge a dressage show, I get an inevitable question, often from my scribe. It happens during a Third Level class, when someone appears with a double bridle. Doubles are optional from Third through the FEI levels at U.S. shows, and their use remains somewhat controversial at Third even though they've been allowed there for five years now.

?Why do they need to use a double'? The question?s always rhetorical, never a search for an explanation. I can understand why the double?s been demonized at Third, but I don't accept the rationale behind that concern ? that in the hands of rider who isn?t highly skilled the double becomes a form of abuse. Frankly, so can a plain snaffle.

Some people will resort to the use of a double bridle in order to install power brakes or to bring the horse's head down because of its action on the poll. And, gee, the double looks so good, at least while the horse is standing still, as if it automatically conveys an aura of upper-level dressage, just as the top hat did before safety helmets gained widespread acceptance at FEI levels last year.

The double will indeed lower the head or will slow a speeding freight train of a warmblood, but at what cost' Reliance on the curb causes the poll and top line to become rigid and the horse to shift his balance forward, not to the rear.

Others, even newbies in its use, will approach the double on the upward slope of their learning curve. They'll start by realizing that they don't have to use the curb at all but can still ride off the snaffle rein and leave a little loop in the curb rein.

They'll gradually acquire the appropriate amount of tension in the curb rein so that their hand aids become lighter and more subtle, just as a pair of blunt spurs can make leg aids lighter. When this happens, they?ll realize that the horse is becoming more active with his hind legs and lighter in his forehand.

Anyone showing at Third Level should have confirmed their ability to demonstrate collection since starting Second Level, where collection is first required. A rider who shows up at Third in a double, but whose horse is continually on the forehand with a gaping mouth, is going to take a very heavy hit in the rider score. The rider?s also held accountable for opting to show at Third when they don't understand collection, as is a comparable rider in a snaffle.

Really, the double isn?t the problem here. It won?t harm the horse any more than a pair of bad hands holding a snaffle because the horse in either case will just brace himself into a mode of self-protection. As with so many things in riding ? as in life ? blame the person, not the tool.