BEST OF WILLIAM MICKLEM - 2 - A good idea has to give way to a better idea.

One of my training cornerstones is the philosophy that a good idea has to give way to a better idea. It makes every sense, it encourages continuous study and effort to improve, and it helps avoid polarisation between different ‘schools’ of thought. I never think you can't do something because it hasn't been done before. I believe it is vital we keep an open mind and search for better ideas, especially when better might mean more humane as well as more efficient.


However we suffer in the horse world from a plethora of unique methods, often offered as better ideas, which are in fact ideas that have been around for many years. A trainer that invents a unique method as a result of their limited knowledge is unfortunately unlikely to fully understand either the advantages or the disadvantages of their method. I believe that even good ideas have both advantages and disadvantages, though obviously the former should vastly outweigh the latter, and that it is only sensible to search for the disadvantages in what we do. If a trainer has studied their subject they can make use of knowledge accumulated over many years, building on the advantages and avoiding the disadvantages. This is the great benefit of training ‘classically.’


It is also the great strength of the modern era of dominant German dressage trainers and riders. Their success is built on the accumulated knowledge and teamwork leading from the better ideas and genius of just one man, Otto Lorke. He trained the great master trainers Bubi Gunther, Willie Schulteis, Joseph Neckermann and Herbert Rehbein, and they in turn trained Harry Boldt, Reiner Klimke and the majority of todays top trainers including Conrad Schumacher and Jean Bemelmans. They bring a huge combined experience to their work and know the advantages and disadvantages of their methods inside out.


There are many examples of things being reinvented: For example Monty Roberts’ ‘Join up’ is very much part of the 'acceptance' I have been talking about in my blogs. What is so interesting is that my father, Dick Micklem, (see my last blog) learnt the equivalent of ‘Join Up’ from Argentine polo players just after the second world war – so he was doing this in the late1940’s and there are many people who can testify to this. At the same time he also learnt the equivalent of what is currently known as the Dr Cook crossover strap, so that has also been around for a very long time as well. I regularly use an improved version of this strap as part of my Micklem bridle.

The Micklem bridle is my own best better idea! It won the innovation award at the BETA International in Birmingham, and it offers a very real alternative both to tight cranked up cavesson nosebands and to dropped nosebands that fit very low on the nose. Both of these nosebands are in my opinion good ideas that need a better idea. It is also now also received fast track approval by the FEI dressage committee…who described it as a “more horse friendly alternative to cranked up cavesson nosebands.”


Let me briefly explain: The horse’s top jaw is substantially wider than the lower jaw. The pictures below of a skull opened up, with the bottom jaw on the left and the top jaw on the right, make this obvious. You should also have an external feel of your own horse’s teeth today to see how all horses are like this.

Therefore a tight cavesson or flash noseband can squash the delicate tissue inside the mouth, between the protruding outside edge of the top jaw molar teeth on one side and the noseband on the other. Especially with a horse that tries to open the mouth this tends to cause bruising and/or laceration inside the mouth, with the result of discomfort and pain that will probably hinder acceptance of the bit.

In addition a cavesson noseband comes right over the main exit point for the motor and sensory nerves for the lower half of the horse’s head. Pressure on these nerves may cause numbness, which is why so many horses rub their noses on their fore legs after work, which also means that the area where the bit goes is also numbed! So if we want responsiveness to rein aids tight nosebands are often counter productive.


With the low dropped noseband there is the same story of obvious potential for discomfort and pain. It is so easy to damage the delicate two ends of the nose bones, which are only a quarter of an inch wide at maximum and should never be subjected to strong pressure. When a horse fights a dropped noseband they can literally fracture their own nose bands and I have no doubt that low dropped nosebands should be banned on humane grounds. What is certain is that the Micklem bridle avoids the disadvantages of both the dropped and cavesson nosebands, as well as being a supremely versatile bridle. Look at it here and at the top of this blog and you can see that it has truly been designed from the inside out for the comfort of the horse.


The important thing to remember is that uncomfortable nosebands, bits and saddles can all affect the degree of acceptance offered by your horse. Therefore these things should be checked and double checked on a continuous basis and changed if even a small improvement can be made. Sometimes it will mean a big change and often this requires real objectivity and honesty, as well as possibly the realisation that you have made a mistake. But take comfort from the fact that we all make mistakes. The wise are big enough to admit mistakes, or often it is simply a matter of letting a good idea give way to a better idea....and this same philosophy can also open the door to huge improvements in all areas of your riding and training. Happy days…William

NEXT TIME....BEST OF WILLIAM MICKLEM - 3- Fifth leg training...the best insurance policy on the market.

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Comment by William Micklem on January 6, 2010 at 3:59am
Hi...yes it is difficult to be 100% sure which is why I normally say 'may'cause numbness....the evidence I have is based on my own horses and my student's horses and using the bridle for 14 years, as well as on the opinion of my veterinary consultant Maureen Prendagast MRCVS who used to be a senior lecturer at the Dublin Veterinary College. When you eliminate sweat as a cause of rubbing there is no doubt in my experience that the rubbing described is largely eliminated unless it has become habitual. It is also easy to do a pin test before and after riding with cranked up nosebands to show the numbness created in the area below the noseband. Now that people are having so much success with the bridle it is going to be possible to do further research into it's effect and I will certainly keep you informed. Thank you for your intelligent response. William
Comment by Ansioso on January 6, 2010 at 12:04am
Hi - I agree with much of what you have written here! In fact I really enjoy your writing (have only just come across your blog yesterday).

I wanted to query one thing, though. You state that "Pressure on these nerves may cause numbness, which is why so many horses rub their noses on their fore legs after work", which seems a bit unsubstantiated. Don't you think there could be many other things that cause them to rub their noses on their legs? How do you know that it's the numbness (if their noses are in fact numb)?

I decided to check this on the horses at work today, as they are all ridden without nosebands (racehorses in pre-training), and therefore have nothing pressing on their nerve which may cause numbness. Yet they rub their noses just the same after exercise. So, I don't think your statement about this is correct - their is obviously something else involved. I'm not trying to be picky, but the apparent inaccuracy of this has been bothering me and I wanted to see if you had any other answers!

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