Bitting up for XC?

I have only ever ridden my horse(s) in a snaffle, but I have a guy right now who is just getting a bit strong for me. I’d like to school him in a stronger bit temporarily to see if that helps.

Looking for some recommendations because I’ve been in different varieties of snaffles for so long I’m not 100% where to turn.

The horse in question is usually rather sensitive to voice and seat cues, but sometimes he gets overtaken by his excitement/anxiety/adrenaline and I am having to work too hard to bring him back under control.

However, out in the field he is really running through my hand or leaning into me.

I was thinking a waterford may be a good choice. Any other suggestions from the crowd?

If he is leaning, I have found a Waterford helpful.

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I suggest trying a double bridle, at least until the horse understands your hands better.

Just today I was getting a QH off of his forehand at the trot by tweaking my sagging curb reins (it does not work with this horse to tweak the snaffle rein, he just leans harder on the bit.)

Many times I’ve put a double on the lesson horses and all of a sudden they understand and willingly obey my hand aids even though I rarely have any tension on the curb rein. For some reason having two bits in the horse’s mouth makes everything clearer to the horse. It has gotten to the point that both ladies who let me ride at their stables told me that they want me to only use the double bridle on their horses (everybody else has to use the snaffle or bitless bridle.)

I LOVE my double bridles and the horses seem to like them too.

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Typically, if I’m going to “bit up” I will start with a Happy Mouth pelham, which gives me the chance to ride mostly off the snaffle rein and use the curb only when needed. Or maybe a “big twist” snaffle.

Unfortunately, bitting is mostly trial and error. It’s important to find a mouthpiece your horse likes and then make sure you have enough brakes. I foxhunt and I’d always rather have a bit more bit, but ride on a loose rein, than be always pulling on my horse’s mouth.

A waterford is a good bit to try, but not all horses like it. My current mare likes a Waterford Mouthpiece a lot and it does work on her (she’s a draft x and can get heavy), but my Trakehner was mightily offended by it. My TB did not like the Waterford either, but did great in a Kimberwicke with a quarter moon mouthpiece.


Personally, I’d get the same mouthpiece he normally goes in, in a two ring gag. Put a rein on the snaffle, and a rein on the gag. If your horse goes to leaning, shorten up the gag rein a bit and let him find there’s nothing to lean on.

Agreed that you need as much bit as you need. Assuming you’ve done your homework, for some horses there is not enough training in the world that’s going to overcome the adrenaline of galloping in an open field. It’s kinder to get their attention without needing to reef them.


There are enough safety implications on cross country that a double is really not appropriate. Double bridles are for refining aids on a horse already educated to the seat and leg with a rider with educated hands. Perhaps you are the exception to the rule.

OP might try a Waterford or a Wilkie “snaffle” as a baby step up.


A pelham worked wonderfully for an OTTB I had who would be absolutely lovely on a snaffle… until he wasn’t. He was much like yours - would get anxious/amped and would lean. Using the curb rein for a few steps until he came back down to earth (and off my biceps!) was a very workable compromise.

If your horse isn’t used to going with a leverage bit though, I suggest a few low-key rides to really help him understand how the leverage works and being very very precise with how you use it. Always ask first with the snaffle, then with the curb if there’s no response, then immediately back to the snaffle rein. Really emphasize the release as the reward with the curb as well, and if you’re riding with it well consistently, over time you’ll find you need to use less and less curb and hopefully eventually be able to transition back to just a snaffle :slight_smile:

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Also agree waterford, or a rubber pelham. Definitely do not recommend a double bridle.


I’ve used a Kimberwicke in these instances very successfully on OTTBs who are sensitive, but take a strong hold. It’s just enough to prevent them tanking off without the risk of rider error offending them if they make a mistake, you only need one rein and you can use no curb chain if you like too.


Neue Schule has a really comprehensive set of articles that go into the hows and whys of different bit pressure and situations for use, with research, which I found super helpful. And at the end of the day each horse has preferences, and NS will rent you out several bits at a time to try :slight_smile:


I try to keep all of them in a snaffle, but when I have to up the ante, I always go to a rubber pelham first. It’s a good bit to step up to and most times I find after a few runs in them, I can go back down to a snaffle. I even did this last summer - my trainer had me swap to a pelham for a few months so I did not have to work so hard to keep my horse balanced.

What really helped with one of my run away trains was just actually going out several times a week and working on rateability in open areas. For some of them it isn’t about the fences, it’s more about learning to stay balanced and rideable through uneven terrain.


I think this is really the problem with my guy. He’s equally tough just out schooling on the flat in the big fields as he is over fences. Actually I’ve found he’s not pulling me at the jumps but when I canter away from the fence or when I let the canter get a bit bigger and that’s when I lose him.

I probably could stay in the snaffle while I build up the strength, it wasn’t a total train wreck, but my arms are sore today and for me that means I’m working too hard

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I did what some of the other posters here suggested, and went from a bomber mouthpiece (happy tongue) to almost the same in a 2.5. She was good in it, but I did switch from that to a winderen 2.5. It was super until we started schooling training and prelim heights. She was getting a bit strong and leaning.

We swapped her to a waterford, and the difference was night and day. The horse out in the field is 100% rideable off my seat and leg, I do ride her often in just a halter, but when the bigger fences line up in front of her, she gets too bold. The waterford took away 90% of the discussions we were having about who was boss :rofl: now it’s just a light half halt to accompany my body changing position, and she immediately comes back.

I would just try and not be afraid to try, different bits and let your horse tell you. Don’t get stuck on it must be ridden in a snaffle. I jump judge a lot, and I would rather see a soft hand with a leverage bit than someone fighting for control with a snaffle.


A good exercise for these ones is to circle as soon as you start feeling this, either 20m or even slightly bigger, as nicely and least amount of pulling as possible, use your seat and body, lots of bend and counter bend. Stay on the circle until the horse quiets and canters nicely. Do that every time it happens. This really helped me with my old freight train speed demon. Feel free to ignore if you know what you’re doing already haha

Question for the bitting experts here: when you realize you need more bit, how do you decide to change mouthpieces vs adding leverage? Is it softer to go to a stronger mouthpiece (waterford, slow twist, corkscrew, etc) with no leverage, or a plain mouthpiece with leverage? Does your answer change depending on the individual horse?

I’m not an expert, but I do love bits, and figuring out what works for each horse. I try to only change one thing at once. So I made sure my horse liked leverage before I changed the mouth piece, and initially I went to a less stronger mouth piece (I went to a winderen as my second option with the 2.5 ring).

Once we ran into some pay attention issues and leaning, it was suggested that I try a waterford. I absolutely use a far lighter touch with that then the winderen or the happy tongue. But I also didn’t just stick to the waterford. Depending on what we are doing, changes what I use. Low risk gym lines, or working or turning/rideability over less height, I prefer to use my winderen. Riding wide fences, cross country or bigger and thus higher stakes stadium, I swap her to the waterford so that our response times are quicker and the fights are less.

With my husbands horse, I know he can back off a bit if he feels the bit is strong, but I had his flatting myler with hooks, so I just used that. I didn’t feel changing his bit was going to be an answer, so we played with bridles instead, and since he just keeps flipping my husband off when he dares to half halt him, we are trying a running :rofl:


I suggest that you learn to use your seat , along with slow steady exercises to get the horse fit enough to off the fore hand.

We have all seen photo proof of the nasty results a so-called professional achieved going CC in a double.

It is not the reins your horse nneds to learn to listen to but your body.

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Ladies, using the double bridle is not rocket science. So far the seven or eight horses I’ve introduced the double bridle understood it just fine. If the horses understand it the double bridle is not rocket science. These horses included horses that were responsive to the snaffle through regular Forward Seat schooling ala Littauer, green horses who were having difficulties understanding what the bit means, including horses ridden for decades by not so good riders, rebellious horses, cooperative horses, horses who were just trying to understand their riders, and they all improved.

I DO NOT ride horses in the double bridle like many dressage riders and Saddle seat riders I’ve seen pictures/videos of. I DO NOT haul back on the curb bit, the curb bit is for light cues which the horses seem to understand better than spurring the poor horses into an ungiving hand with a snaffle with the mouth tied shut to prevent gaping.

After over 50 years of riding and studying about bits and contact I, like many educated riders of the past, find that the double bridle helps to bring clarity to the horses who really do not understand what in the Hades their riders are asking for with the snaffle bit, either contact or rein aids.

If g-your horses truly understood what you ask for with the snaffle bridle g-you would never have to tie your horses’ mouths shut with tight nosebands that look strong enough to hold an elephant. Your horses would not travel with their faces behind the vertical. I have not used a noseband with any bit for over a decade, and that noseband was over 2 fingers loose, my riding teacher and I were having discussions about the necessity of nosebands with my hands and riding, I ended up removing anything that could ever tie the horses’ mouths shut.

Ladies, you claim that experienced riders are truly incapable of handling a double bridle when Saddleseat kids, young kids, kids younger than 6 years old are trained how to use the double bridle from the start.

As for the double bridle being inherently dangerous cross country, maybe you should go back in time and say that to cavalry men who rode their horses in double bridles into the chaos, confusion and danger of armed conflict with bullets flying and cannon balls plowing through the troops, injure and dead horses and people strewn across the landscape, riding cross country over land that was not groomed for the benefit of the horses.

For many decades many fox hunters in England preferred to follow the hounds with a double bridle on their horses’ heads. According to their writings they did this because they wanted to be prepared for anything that came up.

Riding cross country on a groomed course in a double bridle is not any more dangerous than careening around the course with a harsher snaffle bit, and the horse’s mouth will be more comfortable with a double bridle than with many snaffles with “creative” mouthpieces that when you get down to in DEPEND ON MORE PAIN to keep the horse listening to you when its blood is up galloping fast and jumping obstacles.

I do not ride dressage. I do not ride Saddle Seat either. But I, a severely handicapped rider with a neurological disease that affects my balance, my strength, my coordination, and the sensitivity of my body (numbness) can get better results from the horse just riding around the ring at the walk and trot with the double than with the most carefully selected snaffle bit (the one that the horse finally says, OK, I like this bit.) Before my MS crippled me I gladly galloped in field, trail and ring with the double bridle, and my horses did NOT go behind the vertical, they did NOT run around with their mouth agape, I did not have to have a death grip on the reins ever, and the horses went cheerfully in the Forward Seat ideal of free swinging gaits that cover the ground without wasting the horse’s energy and their faces were definitely in front of vertical.

As far as “using my seat” to slow down/halt the horse? Well ladies I have MS, almost no energy, I can only ride 30 minutes maybe three times a week if I am in top form. Why in the world would it be “better” for me to waste my energy engaging many large muscles to move the biggest, heaviest bones in my body, when I can get good, soft results by increasing the strength of my maybe one to two ounces of contact by a few grams in a well timed rein aid?

I ride lesson horses at two stables, one hunt seat and one sort of Western. Both ladies have told me that they do not want me to change from my double bridle to any snaffle. I get good, soft results with the snaffle, it is just with the horse also having the curb bit in its mouth even though I do not take up direct contact with the curb bit I get BETTER results without distressing one lady’s heart horse of the ages and with the lesson horses with some problems. My riding teacher is also willing for me to introduce her own personal riding horse to the double bridle, she wants to see how he could improve.

The horses I ride reach out willingly to take contact in response to my leg aids. Though I wear spurs (Spursuaders, the gentlest spurs I’ve found) and carry a crop I do not need to use them to get the horse to reach out and take contact. 98% of the time these horses have relaxed mouths, tongues, lower jaws and polls, as for the remaining 2% of the time, well sometimes I just have to explain something to the horse. After that the horse and I go back to regular contact with a relaxed mouth, tongue, lower jaw and poll.

Using a double bridle need not be dangerous. Using a double bridle is not rocket science, the horses understand it just fine after the first 30 minutes in it, at least they do when I introduce them to the double bridle.

And of course the double bridle can be used to hurt the horse. ANY bit can be used to hurt the horse. It is the hand on the other end of the rein that causes the horse pain. You have a decent seat? You have decent, responsive hands? You should not have many problems using a double bridle and you may find out that your horse PREFERS the double bridle over every single snaffle, Pelham, Kimberwick, Elevator or other single bit that you have tried in that desperate, very expensive search for that elusive “perfect” bit for your horse, the one that your horse will listen to even though all hell is breaking loose around you.

Or you can spend hundreds of dollars on one special snaffle bit after another, on all the tight nosebands, on all the auxiliary reins for training, all the time looking desperately for the results that a good double bridle can bring you with minimal training of the horse in the double bridle.

Horses understand the double bridle just fine when it is introduced properly, with light hands and well timed rein and leg aids. It seems to me that it is human beings that are not up to using the double bridle. But do not lose hope, the double bridle is almost as easy for a human to learn to use as it is for the horse.


XC is not calvary fields anymore. At all. Whatsoever. And yes, some riders can use a double on XC, which is fine. Experienced, educated riders.

This rider has a small issue while galloping, a double is not the answer to that. That is an extreme suggestion to a very small issue. Eventing doesn’t even allow a double in dressage until very high level.


Maybe this is just me but this came off as condescending. OP is asking for recommendations fro an XC bit and a double bridle is not really a conventional XC option for safety reasons. Schooling with the double bridle in a field or arena is fine. I’m comfortable riding with two reins and have personally schooled XC in this setup. It’s inherently more risky, especially when I was jumping up and down banks where I needed to slip my reins and gather them back up again. It was doable but running cross country is the last place to add complexity.