Cider Said “Yes”!
When I called Shannon last Saturday night to see if I could ride on Sunday I excitedly told her that I finally had a double bridle made up for Cider. I asked if I could introduce Cider to it, and Shannon said yes! She told me she had never used a double bridle herself, and had not used one on a horse, and she was eager to see how it all worked. I warned her we would probably have to spend a few minutes adjusting the length of the cheek pieces since I “guestimated” the length when I made the bridle up.
The weather was wonderful Sunday, an ideal Autumn morning, cool enough so I could wear my protective vest but warm enough that I put on my summer technical fabric shirt. I wrapped my homemade bit warmer around both bits so that Shannon did not see them until she bridled Cider. She liked the look of the bits, Cider opened her mouth rather easily, and when Shannon put the bits in Cider was a little bit uncertain about having two bits in her mouth. I had to lower the Weymouth curb around a hole on both sides so it ended up vertically just above her curb groove, and Shannon said the bradoon was fine, Cider just had one small wrinkle at the corners of her mouth. I showed Shannon how to do the curb chain properly, in front of the bradoon, adjusting the curb chain so I could fit two fingers side-to-side between it and Cider's curb groove, and I showed her the proper angle for the cheek pieces when the curb chain starts acting, 45° to Cider's lips. I explained the purposes of using the lip strap, for me the most important is it helps keep the curb chain in the curb groove. The bits I used for Cider's 4 3/4” mouth were a 125mm Fager titanium Victoria Mullen mouth Weymouth curb and a 120mm Fager titanium Madeleine double jointed fixed-cheek bradoon.
Cider mouthed the bits as Shannon walked her around and slowly tightened her girth. By the time she was ready to mount she seemed to accept them just sitting in her mouth. I walked her into the ring, she was a little uncertain at first, but she seemed to like the contact with the bradoon and she relaxed. After a few minutes of walking I started introducing her to the action of the curb bit. First I approached Shannon, loosened my bradoon rein until it sagged, and I tweaked my little fingers once as her head went up. Huh? So I repeated my aid the next time her head went up and she stopped with no gaping, no head flinging, and no signs of distress at all. I told her to go to Shannon so she could get her well deserved praise (I had already rewarded her by loosening the curb rein and saying GOOD GIRL!).
After a few minutes more of walking around the ring keeping contact with the bradoon and letting the curb rein sag, I asked Shannon if I could try keeping contact with just the curb bit, something I like to do to prove to the horse that the curb bit is not an instrument of torture. Shannon told me to go ahead so I loosened my bradoon rein so it was sagging, shortened my curb rein just short of contact, and sent her ahead with my legs. As she reached out I made sure that my fingers were relaxed and sort of loose and I kept my contact light. She met the mouthpiece of the curb without any fear, kept contact without any problems, and after a few strides I loosened my curb rein and sent her to Shannon for more praise.
During this process something truly amazing happened. At first Cider was very, very stiff and flinched whenever her front hooves hit the ground. I had to use my legs to collect her when we went down-slope which helped a little bit but not much. As we walked around I had to use my legs a lot to keep her in any form of straightness, both thighs and lower legs. BUT THEN, after the first time I used the curb rein to stop, this started changing. Her flinching was less, and I did not need as much leg to keep her straight. Then, after I kept contact with just the curb rein, the true miracle happened, she stopped flinching going down-slope and I did not have to use my collecting leg aids. Going back to just keeping contact with the bradoon we walked around and all of a sudden I realized that I was not having to use my legs to keep her straight.
So I experimented. Going uphill all problems disappeared, she kept on track and did not try to turn into a pretzel. Going downhill she kept on track too. Then I started guiding her to those parts of the ring that before she had been super reluctant to keep on track. She kept on track fine with no leg or hand aids from me. Her flinching completely disappeared, she went wherever I wanted with minimal aids, keeping pretty straight. She kept straight on the paths where she formerly twisted herself into a pretzel to try and defend her legs, and every stride she got better and better.
Then I did the ultimate test. There is a diagonal going down-slope where every time I tried to ride it before Cider twisted this way and that to avoid putting her feet down, and this time she went straight with no flinching, on sagging reins with no leg aids. My jaw dropped, I had not expected that problem to disappear at all.
I sent her to Shannon and got off. It was a few minutes early but I was scared that I might mess up and ruin a more perfect ride.
Cider exceeded my expectations. I had hoped that having two bits in her mouth might distract her from her pain, but I did not even dare to hope that her flinching would disappear completely. I had hoped that the stability of the Mullen mouthpiece of the curb might induce her to walk straighter, but I had not even dared to hope that I would not have to use any hand or leg aids in the more difficult parts of the ring. Her contact was steady, she obeyed every rein aid without any arguments or discussions, she did not gape, she did not “set” her mouth to a bar of iron, and Shannon said that she never showed any distress about having two bits in her mouth.
Shannon also warned me that Cider usually takes at least three rides to come to a final conclusion about a bit. She readily gave me permission to go on using the double bridle on her as she wants to see how this experiment works over time.
This is what I am starting to call “the miracle of the double bridle.” Those old riders from days of yore were right, the double bridle is good for a riding horse.
Have a great ride,