Hunters in Full Bridle

Ok, this was briefly mentioned in another thread and I’m curious what you guys think about this? I know there are some people who are not fans, and I can see why. I can’t imagine someone riding out on an actual hunt wearing one of these suckers. But, by the same token, is the show ring about a performance or about true functionality for the purpose of the given discipline (our western horses and their riders certainly wouldn’t be wearing all that bling out on the range)?

Apparently this is legal based on USEF standards (haven’t actually checked). Are there any guidelines for judges on this? Is it to be penalized or considered in any way

17 Responses to Hunters in Full Bridle

  1. leslie says:

    I think double bridles actually used to be fairly common in jumping classes and fox hunting back in the mid-20th century. You would never see them at a hunter/jumper show now, but I’m almost positive that they’re still legal.

    For Morgans, the rules do state that full bridles should be hunter-type and the judges are supposed to penalize excessively long shanks.

    “The Morgan Hunter Pleasure Horse should be shown with hunter-style equipment, including forward or balance seat saddle, and snaffle, pelham, kimberwicke bits or full bridle (curb and snaffle). If a full bridle is used, it must be of hunt style and excessive length of curb shank will be penalized.”

    I would think that if you were judging two horses who had completely equal performances, but one was in a double bridle and the other was in a plain snaffle, you’d pick the one with the snaffle, but there’s nothing in the rule book telling judges to judge that way, as far as I can tell. “Excessive length” is also vague, which means that could vary a lot from one judge to the next.

  2. empressive says:

    I’ll ask around, but yes a full bit is fine and like Leslie said has been in use for a long time. I have seen it used in dressage as well. Excessive length is when the Pelham begins to hit Weymouth length as in saddleseat.

    A friend in Texas goes “Fox hunting” and she will use a full bridle occasionally on some of the horses. These aren’t Morgans though of course mainly TB’s and a few Quarter horses, whatnot.

    Personally I like the full bridle look better than the snaffle. I don’t mind if a good horse goes great in a snaffle and I appreciate the obedience of the horse. My thing is that it is the correct full tack all used providing a neat picture. A snaffle is used everywhere. But here I am being oddly sentimental I guess. I like the whole picture that a full bridle provides.

    Give or take though yes a full bridle may be used. Just don’t be trying to duplicate saddleseat tack with excessive shanks! LOL

  3. leslie says:

    In dressage you can’t use a double bridle until you hit the upper levels. In dressageland it’s considered an advanced tool that shouldn’t be used by uneducated hands or horses that aren’t ready for that level of refinement. In our world we give ‘em to our walk-trotters and turn ‘em loose!

    A pelham and a double aren’t the same thing, either. A pelham is one bit, with a shank, with attachments for two sets of reins. It is never used with a snaffle. A weymouth/double/full bridle is a snaffle and curb together and while it was (I think) pretty common for jumpers back in the day, it would be considered pretty unorthodox in the 21st century hunter/jumper circuit.

    Basically, I wouldn’t call it “the correct full tack” for the division. That makes it sound like something’s missing from those who ride in a snaffle when reality I think it’s those who ride in doubles who are deviating from the ideal.

    It’s interesting how the everyone has a different aesthetic, though. I ride at a hunter/jumper barn and board at an eventing barn, so to me a double bridle on a hunter looks so wrong. But if you’re immersed in Morgan shows, a snaffle might look lacking since all of our breed’s hunter pleasure horses seem to show in doubles now.

  4. DVFMorgan says:


    I think pretty much anything goes in the higher level jumping events, like World Cup, Spruce Meadows and so on. Crazy stuff they ride some of those jumpers in. Running martingales, with double bridles, mechanical hackamores, and chambones ( I think they are called), some gags and mechanical hackamore combinations. Very seldom you may see a younger horse showing in a snaffle and martingale, but otherwise, looks like a free for all in the bridle department at the World level.

  5. empressive says:

    Yes, it shouldn’t be used until the upper levels, but all together it does give a very good aesthetic appeal to me.

    My bad for forgetting curb/Pelham thank you for clearing that up.

    I cannot condone nor condemn the walk trotters. I do not though mean to sound as though “something’s missing from those who ride in a snaffle”. Overall the ideal is a horse that obediently works and “goes through the motions” correctly and leisurely. Whether you use a full, pelham, or snaffle(descending order of severity).

    As for “Correct full tack” that was a play on words. Correct in that the “full bridle” can be used in the hunt division legally even for walk/trotters. Plus that is the “most” amount of hardware used on a Hunt horse in a show. Sorry my joke was missed.

    I’m not immersed in the Morgan shows. But am rather the person watching behind the glass. If you catch what I mean. ;)

  6. leslie says:

    Yeah, in jumpers it pretty much is anything goes. For more on that:

    I don’t think there’s much point in drawing comparisons between a Morgan hunter pleasure horse and open jumpers, though. I was contrasting Morgan hunters with hunter/jumper circuit hunters. I probably should have specified that.

    Empressive, I’m not trying to condemn the walk-trotters either, having once been a novice saddle seat rider who rode horses in double bridles and probably didn’t actually ruin any of them. It’s just an interesting disconnect between schools of thought. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. :)

    Are you a photographer, or is your glass metaphorical?

  7. empressive says:

    I guess I figure that so long as the walk/trotters are ok and in the least safe then I will hold my peace. The truth probably does exist somewhere, it’s just the manifestation it takes for some is so entirely estranged from others sometimes.

    As for me, I wish I was a photographer! But nearly everyone else in my family or friends is a professional so I gave that up. My glass is more metaphorical, it’s physical shape would have to me college. :)

  8. alpmorgans says:

    strangley enough, us morgan people are the only ones who show our hunter pleasure horses in full bridles. Saddlebreds dont, arabs dont, stock horses dont (for obvious reasons ;] ). When it comes to jumpers, pretty much any bits go. there are not very specific rules.

    and in the open hunter circut, hunters show in D ring snaffles ONLY, and equitation horses often show in pelhams.

    i personally like the pelham bit with our morgans, but so many people swear on the full bridle. which can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

  9. eseybold21 says:

    I might be ‘old school’ but full bridles are traditional. That being said I think the horse should wear what it goes best in. End of story.

  10. StacyGRS says:

    my hunter beginnings make me love a hunter braided well, in a full cheek snaffle:) My least fav is a Kimberwick.

  11. smskelly says:

    I worked at a tack store years and years ago, which catered exclusively to the hunter folks. Couldn’t keep full cheeks on the rack, but the Kimberwicks? They gathered dust. :-)
    I’ve never quite grasped the Morgan world’s affection for Kimberwicks.

    The two foxhunts in the area meant we stocked a decent number of pelhams and hunt style full bridles as well. A few used full bridles, many used pelhams.

  12. alpmorgans says:

    oh yea. hunter show in full cheeks too. duh :] they just dont show in O rings. i see most of them in D rings tho. for some reason the ponies seem to be in the full cheeks.

    and obviously horses go in what is best suited for them. that wasnt the point of this thread.

  13. eseybold21 says:

    Double bridles, originally called “full bridles”, were much more common several hundred years ago. They were considered the “proper” equipment for a trained rider and horse, while a simple snaffle bridle was only for green horses and riders, young children, grooms, and poor riders. The double bridle is commonly seen in old paintings of hunt scenes, used by the well-trained gentry as they rode cross-country.
    Although the modern ideal is for balance between the snaffle and the curb, and most riders today tend to employ the bradoon for the majority of commands, historically, the accomplished rider would “ride on the curb.” Riding on the curb indicated lightness in the mouth, was a demonstration that both horse and rider had been highly trained, and that the rider had very good control of his hands, and was able to ride the horse mainly from the seat. The rider would keep a modest contact with the curb bit to regulate collection and only engage the bradoon bit to raise the head or reinforce leg and seat aids for impulsion and direction if those aids failed to achieve their effect. With a supremely trained horse and rider, not only would the horse be ridden on the curb only, but with placing both sets reins in one hand and carrying the whip upright in the other. Today, the tradition of riding only on the curb is preserved by classical and advanced military riders, and it is possible to see such performances at the Spanish Riding School. It is also used on finished horses in western riding. The tradition of riding with double reins in one hand is preserved by polo players, where double reins remain the norm but the double bridle has been largely replaced by the pelham bit or the gag bit.
    The double bridle was once used frequently by fox hunters, as they could employ the bradoon at the beginning of the hunt, and then use the curb if the horse became excessively excited and forward as the hunt continued. Additionally, it allowed women, confined to riding sidesaddle at the time, to ride hotter horses, with the option of using the curb rein if the horse began to pull too much.
    Many eventers also used to ride with the double bridle when going cross-country on exceptionally high-strung horses. However, this practice has fallen out of favor, with most riders preferring the pelham instead, which is less harsh should the rider accidentally make a mistake. Additionally, the pelham could be used with bit converters, which allowed for one rein and made the bit much easier to handle.

    While the snaffle bridle is more common, the double bridle, in the hands of an experienced rider, is able to transmit more nuanced commands and obtain more sophisticated responses from the horse. Thus, for advanced forms of riding, it is preferred.

    If you are going on tradition, as far as history, ‘full bridles’ are the most traditional.

    As far as the point of this tread, the question was… “is it to be penalized or considered in any way”? The answer is no. A bridle is not to be considered in in any way. If a horse goes brilliantly in a snaffle it may get a few extra looks, and might possibly place over a horse in a full bridle if the horses are EXACTLY even in every way; however an extremely skilled horse with an extremely skilled rider can both benifit from a full bridle if used correctly. A judge should not penalize a full bridle!

  14. Montehorse says:


    Thank you for sharing the history of the full bridle. I always enjoy learning about history, and how traditions evolve. I feel enlightened after reading your post.

  15. leslie says:

    In those same old depictions of fox hunters in double bridles, you’ll notice the riders in what would now be considered appalling riding position. The world got better for horses after wide adoption of two-point. Sometimes tradition is the opposite of progress.

    While I would like to say that Morgan riders are better at all things by virtue of our association with this wonderful breed, I feel compelled to point out (as someone already has here) that the Morgan world is the last holdout for the full hunter bridle. I don’t think it’s because hunter riders on the Arab circuit or the open (as in over fences) circuit aren’t capable of handling a curb or that we demand a higher level of subtle refinement than they do. I also don’t think that the 11-year-old kids, the novice amateurs, or the pros on three-year-old horses actually need a curb on their hunters for transmitting nuanced commands, and yet there they all are with double bridles.

  16. eseybold21 says:

    Lelie i agree, however the point was whether or not judges should consider the bridle, and they should not. And until that novice amateur, or 11 yr old or three year old horse are in my barn and i have worked with them or ridden them it is not up to me what goes in that horses mouth or that persons hands. So i will not judge it until I’ve worked it lol
    Bridle or bits more specifically, are always a source of controversy in the horse world. Much like feed, training techniques, or show ring fashion, bits always stir us all up. It is not to be judged, and as long as no one is hurt or in a dangerous situation, unless they come into our barns, we need to agree to disagree and not penalize people for our opinions. If the horse and rider go good in what they have on more power to them.

    Kudos to the creator of above level! Very cool site! See you all after santa barbara! (where i will be showing a hunter in a snaffle lol!!!)

  17. leslie says:

    Well, the question of whether or not double bridles can be penalized has long since been answered since the rule book actually does have a pretty straightforward answer. The conversation has moved on from there, and I was responding to your post on the history of the full bridle, not the original post.

    I understand that judges are hired to interpret the rule book and apply it to the horses they see in front of them, so I agree that the judge’s opinion of a certain bridle shouldn’t color her decision. On the other hand, I really feel that if my horse needs serious heavy artillery on his face, and your horse goes great in a smooth, loose-ring snaffle, then your horse should get some bonus points over mine in a pleasure class. In this case I do mean “should” in a sort of general sense, since in reality, the rule book and I disagree on this issue.

    You’re also right that we can’t judge horses and riders we don’t know (although that’s exactly what horse show judges are paid to do!) but when I can scan the proofs from any hunter class at any Morgan show and see 90% or more of the entries going in double bridles while knowing that the vast majority of horses and riders don’t actually need or even benefit from a double bridle, well, you do the math.

    All this being said, I think the double bridles aren’t actually the problem, but a symptom of the bigger root problems in our hunter pleasure division…but is there a deader horse to beat than that topic? I’ll leave it alone.

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