A Single Jointed Bradoon Improves Contact
As I lay thinking about my previous week's lesson I decided I had to do SOMETHING about Bingo's bradoon on the double bridle. Since the French-link eggbutt bradoon seemed to be encouraging sucking back, iffy contact except for a few steps, and great resistance to halting and backing up, and I decided that Francis Dwyer might have a good point about double jointed snaffles acting like a twitch around the lower jaw. Bingo was acting like he was uncomfortable with the bradoon while at the same time he did not seem to mind me twitching my sagging curb reins at all. So I dug out my 4 3/4” eggbutt single-jointed bradoon and put it on my double bridle.
Thankfully Bingo has mostly shed out, hair still comes out but not in clouds of very fine hair that sticks to everything. Every week Bingo acts less head/ear shy and now he stands peacefully as I brush his ears thoroughly inside and out, though he still reacts some when I groom his head further down. This is a big improvement over two months ago when I had to stand on tip-toe and sneak up to his ears with the brush and brushing the rest of his head caused him major upset. Bingo did give Debbie a little bit of a hard time when she bridled him, but he opened his mouth after a minute or so.
When we started our ride I let him have a few minutes to get used to the different feeling bit set up before I asked for contact. Contact? No problem. He reached out, took contact, kept contact, and did not suck back at all. Debbie praised his first circle as the sand showed a nice even curved path. His turn on the hindquarters improved and while his back felt irritated from the turn in place it was not as bad as the previous weeks. Then came the big test, our first halt. I asked twice with the bradoon, lightly with both hands at once, and Bingo halted, no gaping mouth, no iron lower jaw, no “I don't want to”, Bingo just halted.
Resuming our walk, Bingo had no problems with picking up contact when I asked him to with my legs. He proceeded along our very winding path around the jumps without trying to suck back at all. When we trotted he voluntarily reached for a gentle contact, kept the contact, and even reached out further with his head as he relaxed, keeping his lower jaw nice and relaxed. When I wanted him to walk he obeyed promptly instead of his previous “I don't want to slow down”.
Bingo was transformed.
Near the end of out lesson came the final big test, backing up. When I first asked for it Bingo acted as if he was not sure that my backing up rein aids meant the same thing as they did in the French-link bradoon, but after a few light combinations of alternating legs and hands he backed up tentatively, to be rewarded lavishly. He did not set his jaw, Debbie said he just opened his mouth a little bit, and although he backed up with micro-steps Debbie and I were pleased with his lack of his usual resistance.
The big difference with my hands when I ride with the double bridle is that I keep my hands closer together, around 6” instead of the 12” to 18” I keep them apart when I ride in just the snaffle. Holding my hands closer together seem to irritate the horses when I ride them in a double jointed snaffle, which is why Debbie always gets after me about my hands being further apart than the ideal. If the horse and Debbie disagree about what constitutes proper contact I usually listen to the horse first, and all the horses I've ridden in a double jointed snaffle have wanted my hands to be further apart when they pick up contact. So long as I keep my hands further apart contact is fine, but the closer my hands get the worse the contact. Is this the “lower jaw twitch” effect that Dwyer wrote about?
Note to self: double jointed snaffles need wide hands, with single-jointed snaffles I can keep my hands closer together without irritating the horses. I now wonder if the veritable plague of dressage horses carrying their heads behind vertical comes from the “lower jaw twitch” effect of the double jointed, supposedly gentler snaffle bits. As usual horses often do not agree with the theoretical constructs that horse people build around the bits, and a single-jointed snaffle might be the gentler bit in a double bridle or when the rider holds their hands closer together with just the snaffle in the horse's mouth.
On Friday I got to ride Bingo for my homework ride. It felt so hot and muggy I was surprised when my husband told me that the car's outside temperature gauge said it was only in the higher 70s. I spent my whole ride at the walk getting my hands coordinated enough to give aids with the unjointed Shire's Blue Alloy ported “Mullen mouth” snaffle. Debbie told me that while she did not need to use Bingo in the regular lessons now, she will need to use him for summer camp, and I told her it might be a good idea if I lent her my new bit for camp. I've noticed that when Bingo's mouth hurts he sets his lower jaw and his mouth becomes HARD, which encourages his riders to give stronger hand aids. Except for figuring my hand aids out in this bit I have not run into horrible resistances to the hand aids, and since it seems to hurt him less he might be more cooperative with his little riders if he is not afraid of pain from the bit.
Decades ago I started reading about how double-jointed snaffles were gentler bits than single-jointed snaffles. I started off experimenting with the double-jointed snaffles with a “dog bone copper roller” double jointed snaffle on my first horse, and he LOVED that bit (it was the only bit he would open his mouth for—I never had to stick my thumb into his mouth.) I then got into the Dr. Bristol bits which worked fine for me once I figured out how to put them on the bridle properly (one way is gentle, the other way is very harsh.) I am a Forward Seat rider, and if the horse tells me, by his reactions to the bit, that he prefers me to keep my hands further apart I will ride with wide hands. I did not get as good reactions with the French-link or lozenge double-jointed snaffles, especially when I brought my hands closer together, but the horses would humor me as long as I was polite with my hand aids.
Right now I am beginning to believe that, except for certain horses with wonky mouths, the horses DO NOT consider double-jointed snaffles to be the gentler bit (of course there are exceptions!) The widespread use of double-jointed snaffles is relatively new, back when I started riding seriously the double-jointed bits were not widespread and most hunt seat/dressage people used a single-jointed snaffle, from beginners to advanced riders, until the time came for the double bridle. For the horses that did not like a single-jointed snaffle the proper remedy was often a rubber Mullen mouth Pelham. I do find it telling that back then when a horse carried his head behind the vertical it was considered a HORRIBLE, AWFUL fault with contact, instead of it being rewarded with the highest honors. Of course the horses objected to harsh, hard, inhumane hands with the single-jointed snaffle, but with decent hands (decent, not perfect) they would reach for contact and keep contact without going behind vertical.
Listen to your horse, it is HIS mouth, and his comfort.
Have a great ride!