We Check Out the Weymouth Curb
One of the advantages of the double bridle is the ability to communicate with the horse at a level of great subtlety. The bradoon give the snaffle effect or course, like the Weymouth curb gives the curb effect, and the subtleness of the double bridle comes from how the rider uses both bits in combination. For most purposes the individual bits are used to indicate to the horse how the rider wants him to move, for turning the bradoon is used, and for slowing down/halting either the bradoon or Weymouth can be used. With the double bridle a rider can also effect the horse's head carriage, the bradoon works to raise the horse's head with the nose stuck out, and the Weymouth curb asks the horse to yield his lower jaw and to flex at the poll, and the horse brings his nose down and toward his neck. To be able to get the full effects of the double bridle the bits MUST fit and be placed in the mouth the proper positions, and the rider's hands must be independent from the seat and the fingers must be supple and able to move independently of each other.
When we bridled Bingo I was very happy that Bingo decided that he did not have to sling his head around when we adjusted the bridle. I was successful in getting the Weymouth curb exactly in the right position, vertically above his chin groove, and I was able to get his curb chain to its proper tightness-- so I could get my fore and middle fingers side-by-side horizontally between the curb chain and his chin groove. At first Debbie was worried that Bingo might consider the curb chain too tight, but dropped her objections when it became apparent that Bingo was comfortable with the slightly tighter curb chain.
Since I had big problems getting to sleep the night before I told Debbie I could only walk, I just was not confident enough that I could keep my position stable at the trot. So Bingo and I walked around, doing gradual turns between and around the jumps while I kept contact with the bradoon. Bingo did not fuss at the bits, he accepted contact readily and he willingly kept the contact. As before when I was adjusting my reins I accidentally bumped the curb bit slightly once and he did not react, so when he was STILL resistant to stopping with just the bradoon I told Debbie that I was going to alternate giving the halt aid with the bradoon and the curb. When Bingo resists the halting hand aid with the bradoon he sets his jaw hard, he gapes his mouth, and he does not slow down at all, it is VERY obvious that he is not yielding to the aids.
The next time I wanted to stop I gave the bradoon rein aid with both reins simultaneously when his head came up (the normal head movement at the walk,) then I relaxed my fingers completely. The next time his head came up I twitched my little fingers on the sagging curb reins, relaxed my fingers, and he slowed down a little bit. After some brief praise I then repeated the sequence and he stopped after the curb rein aid, no gaping, no hardening of his jaw and I did not have to set my hands at all, my contact was light and supple throughout the process. I then praised Bingo to the skies because this was the lightest halt I had gotten since I started riding him again. My curb rein aid was light on the sagging reins and I do not think the curb chain engaged at all so he did not stop because of pain.
After letting Bingo rest a few moments I started walking again and experimented with slowing down his walk. I will be emphasizing the super slow walk (the “counted walk” for dressage people) because it is a method of strengthening the “sling muscles” from the scapula to the sternum. As these muscles strengthen Bingo's forehand should come up a little bit more than usual and get him off the forehand. My slowing down aids for the walk are LIGHT and timed to the forward swing of the hind leg. With the snaffle I alternate the reins always applying them when his head comes up, when I use the curb rein I do light twitches of my little fingers, both at the same time, when his head comes up. Bingo slowed down a little bit but he “told” me that he really did not want to do a super slow walk that day so I contented myself with a little bit.
The last thing I did to introduce Bingo to using the curb bit to signal for backing up. Bingo was not totally sure at first as I alternated my light legs and my twitching little fingers. By the third time he tentatively backed up on step, then the other diagonal, and I stopped and praised him.
After walking another minute I got off. I had successfully introduced Bingo to the curb bit action without triggering any resistances or upsetting him at all. It was definitely time to stop my ride!
I have gradually come up with the hypothesis that while it is possible with a very good rider to get the horse to react to the snaffle as he does with a curb bit, I do not think most horses like this. If the horses did like it there would be absolutely no need for drop or flash nosebands, or for heavy contact and hand aids. I have noticed this on several different horses including those whose head/upper neck conformations make it easy to flex the lower jaw and poll (Arabs, part-Arabs and Tbs) and with horses whose head/upper neck conformation make it hard to flex the head joints (Bingo and my Paso Fino mare.) I can get a much better lower jaw/poll flexion when I tweak my little fingers on sagging curb reins than I can with the snaffle bits with both light or strong contact and rein aids. Since tweaking my little fingers on a sagging rein does NOT engage the curb chain (make it tight against the curb groove) the horses do not stop because of pain from the curb bit, they stop because the signal from the curb bit is more UNDERSTANDABLE and comfortable for the horse.
As we walked back to the stable Debbie listed all the things I did right. My contact was light and supple (good hands, her words) and I used my legs a lot (alternating and using just my calf.) On Bingo I have to use my legs a good bit because his favorite speeds are the halt and a shuffling crawl, refusing to keep good contact. So I use my legs to send him to the bit and to get him into his best approximation of a flat-footed walk (both on and off contact.) I make good and sure not to use my hands and legs at the same time so my aids are not conflicting. The result is that I avoided most of Bingo's ingrained resistances because he was COMFORTABLE and found no reasons to resist my hands.
Right now I believe that if riders with an independent seat and hands switched to a double bridle when their riding teachers start talking about dropped/flash/crank nose-bands, those riders would end up with better results with less resistance from the horse. Using a double bridle is not rocket science, and if the bits are fitted, placed and used properly the horse stays comfortable. I was really expecting for Bingo to react badly to the double bridle, but to him it has been a total non-event and definitely nothing to get upset about even if he does have two bits in his mouth instead of just one. I think he LIKES that I can be more subtle with my rein aids instead of having to set my hands hard.
Bingo will never end up with a “pretty headset”. His face will never be vertical to the ground. Bingo will never be “in frame.” Even so Bingo has improved his responsiveness to my light hand aids when I use the appropriate bit. Bingo has these severe limitations but even he can improve with the proper use of the double bridle.
Have a great ride!