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Double bridle for the short mouth?

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    I am limited to riding in the ring, at the walk and trot, for 30 minutes, and right now I can only ride my lesson horse once a week. I simply cannot ride for longer, though in the winter sometimes I can go 5 minutes longer. I cannot give the horses more variety like going out on the trails galloping or jumping, and there is no pasture that is safe for me to ride in because the pastures are well stocked up with horses. I am just limited to that boring ring.

    After a while the horses start getting BORED with me riding them, the same old thing every ride. One way I combat the inevitable boredom is to occasionally change the snaffle bits. But then I finally find that the horse greatly prefers ONE snaffle, the horse gets lighter in hand, keeps contact better without fussing at all, and obeys my rein aids better. Then the horses sort of resent me trying other snaffles they do not like as much.

    The double bridle is a break from the boredom for the horse.

    Most of the school horses I ride have come to the stable with some problems with the bit and contact. On most of these horses I can use their preferred snaffle bit to explain contact and the rein aids but it sometimes takes a while, especially when they are ridden by other people in lessons (like MJ was twice last week.) This has not been a problem with me when I ride Arabians, they tend to understand what I am "saying" to them quickly and we progress quite satisfactorily even when they had been ridden previously with riders with elementary level hands, like in a normal hunt seat stable that teaches riders who are mostly beginners who then progress in their lessons. The Arabians quickly understand that I am different and that I have slightly different expectations for work at the walk and trot, and usually they readily cooperate with me.

    However this horse, and my previous lesson horse are QHs, and these two do not have the Arab brain. They know that they were trained one way and they do not seem to understand that I am truly different from their normal riders. Both of these QHs came to me with either HARD mouths (Bingo) or slightly hard mouths (MJ), and both of them have shown me that they never really got to UNDERSTAND that a bit can be used for a higher level of communication between horse and rider.

    Take Bingo. He was SUPER resistant to any rein aid. He improved on the snaffle but I could tell that he really did not UNDERSTAND the bit. So I asked Debbie, my teacher, if I could introduce him to the double. Bingo has an extremely wide upper neck, around 1/2" wider on each side than his jowl bones. Bingo will never, ever be able to give his rider a graceful head carriage. He is the most unsuitable horse for dressage I have ever ridden in 50 years. I discussed this with Debbie, gave her my reasons (I wanted to see if I could teach him to be lighter in the hand and stop setting his jaw) and she told me to go ahead. Back then I just had the stainless steel double bridle bits, a normal ported curb bit and single jointed bradoon (he did worse in the double-jointed bradoon.) He started improving, stopped resisting the bit, started listening to my light hand aids, and he became more cheerful because he was finally able to figure out what the bit meant. On contact I could feel him comparing the bradoon to the curb bit, and somehow that lessened his confusion about the bit and rein aids. Then I got the Fager double bridle bits and he improved further, accepting contact, not resisting at all with his mouth, and obeying me much more cheerfully than before.

    When I went back to the snaffle with Bingo he was SO MUCH LIGHTER in hand, he stopped setting his jaw to HARD and started yielding to the rein aids. I finally found the snaffle bit he really likes (Fager Bianca double jointed snaffle with a roller, titanium) and he continued being responsive to the bit, responsive enough that I really did not "need" a double bridle any more. I was thinking about using the double bridle again on him this winter but his moon-blindness got a lot worse and Debbie took him out of being a riding horse until his eyes settle down (yes, he is under veterinary treatment.)

    So I had to change lesson horses. Debbie asked me to ride MJ, since I do not jump any more (my MS) and since MJ cannot jump any more (navicular disease) we have complementary disabilities. MJ started off rather hard in the mouth, not as hard in the mouth as Bingo was, but it was obvious that nobody had really taken the time to explain the bit to him in spite of having been ridden for 20 years or so. I also used the Fager Bianca snaffle on him, he really liked that bit but he did not soften his lower jaw much even though his tongue started relaxing more. I am sure that with a year or so more of riding him just in the snaffle that I could improve stuff satisfactorily, but by that time both of us would probably be bored beyond all reason.

    But, and yes it has just been one ride, he's started to see the bit as more than just a method of control (sometimes a brutal method of control). Today he started to "see" that there is more to the bit that the relatively crude hand aids he's been subjected to for decades. He became lighter in hand, he never "set" his mouth to hard, and Debbie said that at no time during the lesson did he seem upset with having two bits in his mouth. He stopped better, he backed up MUCH better, and when I asked him to slow down his walk I did not have to get into an extended discussion with him. Most of the time the curb rein was sagging and I rarely tweaked the curb rein so it was not because the curb bit hurt him more, it was because stuff was different and he was listening better to me.

    Also with MS and my age my brain is shrinking. I am trying to build new connections within my brain. Sometimes one of my nerves will just stop working and it really helps if there is another nerve pathway I can use. By using the double bridle I am building up my shrinking brain and increasing my coordination. Also, I have learned that if I use different tack than the lesson kids that the horse has an easier time remembering that I am not their usual type of rider. They find it easier to remember that I am weaker, more in-coordinated, have worse balance, I am a bit more demanding in my expectations for obedience, and at the same time they also remember that I do not go around hurting their mouth. No one else at my lesson stable uses a double bridle so they KNOW that the game is a little bit different when I ride with the double bridle.

    The next time I ride MJ he will not be bored. We will be exploring new knowledge together.

    My teacher likes the results I get from her horses. She likes that I teach her horses some new things. She likes that the horses I ride tend to get more obedient for her other riders. She enjoys seeing her lesson horses move better under me than a lot of her other riders. She also likes that I will happily take on horses that the vast majority of her better riders think will be a total waste of their time. And she REALLY likes that I spend each of my 30 minute lessons training the horse to become a better riding horse, one that can be a joy to ride instead of just a riding school shuffler who never has learned to enjoy being ridden.


      I have a Neue Schule (sp??) that is designed much like the Fager Sofia curb. When in the horse's mouth the port tilts forward towards the lips so well out of the snaffle way. My Lusitano has been going very nicely in it. It gets me a bit more respect when I say "dont use that stallion neck to pull me forward" and yet he is comfortable and generating a bit more spit too.


        Thank you for your report 2tempe.

        I had been wondering how that mouthpiece would work in practice, and whether the new types of Fager's curb bits would be worth my money, eventually.

        It would be cheaper for me to buy bits for just one horse. But with riding school horses I've run into mouths generally 4 3/4" on up to 5 3/4". I just like being prepared with bits that do not irritate the horses since I never know when the horse I ride will change.