Rethinking Double Bridle Curb Bits

When I first envisioned riding in a double bridle again I studied Francis Dwyer's book “On Seats and Saddles, Bits and Bitting” where he talked about double bridles and curbs. Dwyer noted that a lot of mouth problems in his light cavalry troops came from curb bits that were too wide for the horses' mouths. So I got me a bit measure and measured Bingo's mouth, and when I bitted him with the stainless steel double bridle bits I followed Dwyer's recommendations and I had few problems with getting Bingo to accept the double bridle, which was nice because I really was expecting major problems from this horse. Since Bingo has a rather long mouth, with the corners of his lips further up his head than his curb groove, everything seemed to work well.

Then I got into the Fager titanium double bridle bits. The results, when I bitted him according to his mouth measurements, were a little bit better. Then, after I got such superior results with the Fager “Bianca” three-piece snaffle with a roller in the middle, I decided to try using the “Bianca”, with the regular sized rings, as a bradoon. But something was off so I went back to just using the “Bianca” by itself as a snaffle. Bingo is so wonderfully responsive with the Bianca I just cannot see depriving him of the one bit out of all the bits I tried on him that he actually LIKES.

Recently I e-mailed Louise Fagerson, the owner of Fager bits, asking her opinions about how I could use the “Bianca” as a bradoon, basically if I special ordered a Bianca with bradoon rings could it work better as a bradoon? She replied that she thought my problems came about because the Weymouth curb bit was not wide enough, as in wider than the bradoon (or the regular ringed snaffle used as a bradoon.)

In an earlier e-mail she had told me that she found that if the curb bit was wider than the bradoon that the upper branches of the curb bit did not interfere with the action of the bradoon in the horse's mouth. Referring back to what I learned from reading Dwyer's book I was puzzled. After a few months of thinking about this off and on it finally occurred to me that both Dwyer and Louise Fagerson could be correct, because Dwyer was talking about regular PORTED curb bits with riders who used only one hand to hold four reins, and Louise Fagerson was talking about a MULLEN mouth curb bit with riders who ride with two hands, each hand holding two reins. Little tiny details like that can make a HUGE difference to a horse!

When I had my lesson on Friday I talked about this with Debbie. She told me that what Louise Fagerson wrote sort of made sense to her at a gut level, as in Debbie never really liked how the double bridle bits looked on the horse. Debbie was all for me trying a wider curb bit on Bingo to see if it would work. I now have to buy more curb bits from Fager, luckily with the lock down and social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic I have not spent a lot of money for months so I may be able to afford all these bits!

I said bits because it might be time for me to move on from Bingo. His moon-blindness is getting worse and the poor horse is learning to cope without being able to SEE reliably, each day may bring about a difference in his ability to see clearly. It was mildly foggy for my lesson on Friday, the ring was super sloppy, and I had to use more leg to keep him moving, he did not want to extend his stride, and every puddle was cause for alarm. Bingo has learned to trust me, at least somewhat, so I was able to get him through all of this without much mental anguish on his side, he's just adjusting to not being able to see very well. Poor Bingo!

My ride went pretty well as far as my position is concerned. Debbie no longer complains about my lower legs being weak and moving all around the place, she says they look stable and strong. It is amazing to me how making one muscle a little bit tense (the rectus femoris muscle on the front of my thigh) has had such far reaching effects on my riding position. For riding all these picky little details can make a huge difference in how I look on horseback, and how the horse reacts to my aids.

After my lesson Debbie wanted me to look at one of her horses she is thinking about putting me on. His name is MJ, after the brand on his right haunch which is MJ, and he is a chestnut QH gelding around 15.2 hands high. She said they got him a few months ago, before then he had been a riding school horse for years, he has the beginnings of navicular disease in his front hooves, and she can only use him on the flat as a WTC horse. He has been shod so that his navicular bone does not get too aggravated as long as he stays on the flat. I do not know if his lips are really as long as I like for the double bridle, but that would be a while because I am sure that I will have to get him accustomed to my somewhat peculiar riding style and hand aids. I'm going to condition my Micklem horse sized nose piece because MJ's head looks like it is bigger and longer than Bingo's head (I use the horse size crown piece and pony size nose piece on Bingo.)

I am looking forward to riding MJ. Debbie says he has a very smooth canter which is good since I get so exhausted riding six strides of the canter because of all the increased motion of the horse's back even when I stay up in two-point or ride in a half-seat. I hope with a smoother canter I will be able to do a few more strides at first, and hopefully build my strength up so I can canter longer during my ride. Because of my wonky balance I've been having some difficulties transitioning from the trot, where the horse's back is pretty much not flexed to one side, to the canter where the horse's back IS flexed more to one side. I USED to canter a lot decades ago, heck I used to gallop a lot too! I definitely miss the speed and the bounds of the canter and it would make my rides less boring for me and the horse.

We have had a good bit of rain this spring, which makes the riding rings quite sloppy before the sun is up long enough to dry them up. At Debbie's I try to avoid the ground both in front of the jumps and where the horses land. It is hard to get a long straight line for developing the three speeds at the walk, trot or canter. All this rain often makes Shannon's ring too wet to ride in, plus she has had some trouble getting the farrier out to trim Cider's hooves. A decade ago both Shannon and I would have been able to rasp Cider's long toes down, but age has caught up with both of us and neither of use can do the hoof trimming any more. Sometimes growing older is a hassle.

May you all get to ride again soon. May all of you stay well, this new virus sounds extremely nasty to me.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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