William Micklem says IT’S WORTH THE WAIT

There is no doubt that early intervention is the efficient way to tackle learning difficulties and weaknesses. To nip a problem in the bud leads to both accelerated progress and happier students. This applies to both mental and physical challenges and to both humans and horses. Any behaviour or way of going that is undesirable is much more difficult and time consuming to change if it has become habitual.


This particularly applies to a horse using their back, or what is often described as ‘coming through’ in the back. A small proportion of horses find this easy but even these horses can quickly tighten in their backs and become less athletic when ridden badly. A lackof connection through the back inevitably reduces the potential and useful working life of a horse. There are even many horses whose physical discomfort through the back eventually makes them unwilling to work and as a result they are labelled ‘difficult’!

This is why I don’t ride any of my young horses until they are first coming though in the back on the lunge and going in such a way as to be easily able to carry the weight of the rider and keep going in the same ‘connected’ way. What people have to realise is that it is NOT difficult to back (mount & ride away) the vast majority of horses. What IS difficult is to gain the skills to ensure a good quality way of going from the start. This is why I take issue with those who take great pride in getting on their young horses within minutes or a few hours work yet have little expertise in getting their horses through in the back and beween the aids. I would go as far as saying that many young horses are prevented from being efficient and happy athletes by being ridden too early and that this is a major challenge for the horse industry.


My two home bred event horses, Mandiba and High Kingdom, that have done so well internationally with Karen O’Connor and Zara Phillips, are good examples of my use of lungeing to get a young horse through in the back. Mandiba found it very easy. Here he is as a three year old after three days on the lunge, after which he was ready to be ridden away with a progressive riding programme:





No gadgets are used apart from side reins and the bit is connected with the clips to my Micklem bridle so there can be no strong pressure on the tongue or bars of the mouth. Then here he is this year at Rolex coming second in the dressage:




However High Kingdom was a different story. It took three months of lungeing to get him to the same stage, as he was disconnected and went with a restricted step. However once going in this manner he was able to make rapid progress under saddle:





I have no doubt that if we had lost patience High Kingdom would have had an average trot habitually and we would have lost out on the stunning sight of him last weekend being placed fourth in the dressage in the World Cup class at Tattersalls International last weekend:





It was worth the wait....worth the wait of that three months on the lunge. Onwards! William




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Comment by Wiola Grabowska on June 8, 2010 at 6:41pm
Thank you for that, I will suggest having a play with a bitless bridle and see what happens.
Comment by William Micklem on June 7, 2010 at 5:16pm
Yes Wiola I have...you are right about the tongue wind sucking ...a change of environment may help here and keeping her with another horse or two (not in a single stable) but it may be too late for this. Regarding the tongue out when riding, try bitless and see what happens....am actually helping a rider with this problem at the moment...tongue out all the time with a bit but tongue in when bitless...so we are going to work him bitless for 3 months and get him coming through his back better...then hope that the tongue in position will become habitual. In my experience this problem is created by riders on a one sided horse hauling on the bit that side...they then move the tongue out to protect the bar of the mouth on that side....it's one of the reasons I use the clips on my Micklem bridle because it stops any major pressure on the tongue or bars. William
Comment by Wiola Grabowska on June 7, 2010 at 4:50pm
Very interesting - I love seeing the photos of the horses in their basic training and then at the top of the game. Fascinating.
Now, talking about different options and training...
I've got a question...one young event rider I know has a mare who habitually sticks her tounge out. She does it both in her stable and whilst ridden. When in the stable it seems that she does it to perform some odd version of windsucking on her own tounge; she makes a sound that can be likened to a combination of a teeth grinding and quiet winsucking in about 2-5 seconds intervals for 5 or so minutes at a time. About 15cm if not more of her tounge is out on the side of her mouth when she does it. She isn't an obviously stressy mare and is in fact very cuddly, calm, easy going and placid horse.
When ridden she also pops her tounge out in a similar way and it flies about like a flag in the wind! It costs her a lot of marks in the dressage.

She has been tried in variety of bits, jointed, straight, Myler ported bit and is currently in a losenge KK with not the greatest of results.
She otherwise works well at Pre-Novice level, consistent double clears, and rider is aiming at Novice next season. She has generally quiet head carriage and works correctly. She does, however, tends to lose focus at times mid test which again costs her marks (often the beginning is for consistent 8s, then all comes down to 6s). She is fit and well but isn't carrying much condition, I guess you could call her lean and eventing fit. She's 7yrs old, about 15.2hh Polish warmblood.

Have you ever encounter this sort of problem? Any ideas how to solve it? Thank you.
Comment by Julie on June 7, 2010 at 2:29pm
I had a losking stifle problem and was encouraged to work the horse on lunge / longlines to build muscle. I also have your bridles - fab for lunging and youngsters!
Comment by Montgomery White on June 7, 2010 at 9:34am
All very interesting. I've just ordered one of these bridles having seen your video:

Comment by helen whittle on June 7, 2010 at 9:08am
WELL SAID!! We would not be picking up so many spoiled'difficult' horses, some of which now cannot be ridden if more people took their time & treated each horse as an individual!
Comment by William Micklem on June 6, 2010 at 10:07am
Dover Saddlery are the agent for it in North America...do get one...it is terrific and I use nothing else it is so successful....both Mandiba and High Kingdom started with it as have so many other youngsters and it prevents mouth problems ever arising...good to hear from you Gail...William
Comment by Gail Rogers on June 6, 2010 at 6:46am
Excellent article, as usual William. thank you.
Is your Micklem multi-purpose bridle available in Canada, by any chance?
Comment by 4XChestnut on June 5, 2010 at 7:14pm
Over here (NA) there is a terrible push for young horses to be doing this that and the other by a certain age in order to impress potential buyers. Too often there is the assumption that there is something wrong with a horse if he's a little older than "he should be" for his level of training. This breeds the need for quick fixes and gadget based training to cover up issues rather than taking the time to correct it.

It is worth the wait, and taking the time the individual needs. Thanks for stating the case so clearly.
Comment by SillyFilly on June 5, 2010 at 10:50am
Brilliant, thank you for your reply! This has been a source of angst for me because I have been trying to determine the best way to lunge that would be nice and inviting for my girl.

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