We Introduce MJ to the Double Bridle

I had been worried about using a double bridle on horses during the summer heat since my body degrades so much. I was worried that my hands would not be good enough, that my coordination would be too bad, and that accidentally I would turn the double bridle into something scary to the horse rather than an advanced method of communication between horse and rider.

But I trust my riding teacher (yeah Debbie!) and when I finally got the wide enough Fager bradoon (Madeleine Fixed Cheek single jointed, 130mm) I just had to try my new double bridle bits. So I asked permission (her horse, her stable, her riding ring), reminding Debbie that it was hot now, and she had no problems.

Debbie trusts my hands.

So I put the double bridle bits on my Micklem bridle (the chin strap is cut off) with the bradoon hanger going over the headpiece, through the brow band loop and the loop at the top of the Micklem bridle. I attached the curb to the main part of the Micklem with the neat little bit straps. Of course I had a curb chain and lip strap on the curb bit. For once I “guestimated” properly when I put the bits on, we did not have to adjust the bridle. The mouthpiece of the curb bit was vertically right above his curb groove and he had one wrinkle with the bradoon (he has a short “smile.)

MJ is having “issues” about itching all over, especially his butt. I let Debbie deal with the grooming and tacking up. She was all for giving MJ something else to think about besides his itchy skin.

At first MJ seemed sort of puzzled having two bits in his mouth. It was obvious that this was the first time in a double bridle for him. He mouthed the bits with his tongue while Debbie led him to the ring and was mostly settled down about it by the time I mounted. I got up, adjusted my reins for contact with the bradoon, leaving the curb rein sagging a little bit, and we started walking and kept at the walk.

MJ took contact when I asked him to, but I could tell he was a little bit tentative about the two bits in his mouth. I started asking him to halt heading away from the gate and he stopped after the bradoon rein aid, no arguments, no “are you sure?”, no “are you really, really, really sure?”, he just stopped. Good boy.

Heading toward the gate the stops were not as prompt. The first time I just asked with the bradoon, the second time I asked with the bradoon and when he did not respond I tweaked the sagging curb rein with my little fingers, and the next rein aid he stopped. We had just a minor discussion about this instead of his usual “You want me to do WHAT?”, “I see no reason in the Universe why I should stop now!” then proceeding to setting his lower jaw making me set my hands to get a halt. With the double bridle MJ never hardened his lower jaw and I did not have to “set” my hands at all.

After a few minutes the heat was already getting to me. It felt like MJ was ready so I asked permission to keep contact with just the curb rein. Debbie said yes, I lengthened my bradoon rein so it had no affect on MJ, and I started keeping contact with just the curb bit, making good and sure to follow every movement of his head. MJ quickly relaxed into contact with the curb, kept his nose pointed forward, I did a few turns using my legs, walked a little bit more and halted. We had no problems. I like doing contact with just the curb bit early in the process of introducing the double bridle, it shows the horse that the curb bit is not an instrument of torture in my hands. This reassures the horses since they have absolutely no idea of what the curb bit is the first time it is in their mouths.

Afterwards MJ's contact improved as he relaxed. I played with the three speeds of the walk, I had to use a good bit of leg to get him to extend his stride but he only “offered” to trot once, and he slowed down softly when I said no to the trot. When I did the super slow walk I used mild hand and leg collecting aids, and he shortened his stride and slowed down.

Turning was sort of difficult. Apparently having two bits in his mouth distracted MJ from placing his feet properly. The large gradual turns were a little bit stiff, and the turns in place were at first full of confusion. He did improve during the lesson.

Backing up MJ was much better. I first asked with the bradoon, when he sort of ignored it I tweaked the sagging curb rein with my little fingers and he seemed to finally “get it” without the usual lengthy discussion. He did not set his lower jaw as usual, and Debbie and I were pleased with his obedience without any gaping or resistance.

Throughout the ride MJ was exploring the bits with his tongue in a very relaxed manner, no gaping, no frothing, and no signs of distress. As the ride went on he became more confident with keeping contact. He never got upset with me, especially since I gave him the time he needed to figure stuff out. He never set his lower jaw against the action of the bits, something he usually does multiple times a ride with just the snaffle, even with his favorite snaffle.

All in all, it was a successful introduction to the double bridle. I did not hurt his mouth with the bits, so he gained confidence even with the very strange experience of having two bits in his mouth. The most important thing is that he stayed CALM throughout our ride, and that calmness is what is necessary for a good memory of the ride for the horse.

Hopefully I succeeded in convincing MJ that the double bridle is nothing to get excited about.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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