Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Double Bridle, initial thoughts

If I remember correctly, the double bridle that I ordered for Nimo came in late October.  I already had a lesson scheduled for the first weekend in November, so I didn't do too much with the bridle except do an initial fitting to make sure it was in the ballpark, and it was.  I couldn't really figure out how the curb chain was supposed to work, though, and rather than risk fitting it improperly and potentially causing Nimo discomfort or pain, I decided to wait until my lesson so I could have my instructor take a look at it.

Before my lesson, she made a couple of minor adjustments, and everything seemed to fit well.  Here's what the contraption looks like:

That is a whole lot of stuff on my horse's head!  Note that my curb reins are black and thinner so I can tell them apart from the snaffle reins.
My expectation for the lesson was that Nimo would wear the full double bridle, but that there would be no reins on the curb bit so Nimo could get used to the bit before it was engaged.  My instructor felt that would not be helpful because without reins the bit would not be stable in his mouth (there is a huge focus on stability in the Science of Motion work).  Luckily, I had anticipated that possibility and had brought an extra set of reins with me.

The first thing we worked on, of course, was how to hold the reins.  I think there might be 101 ways to hold them and everyone is a strong advocate for whatever way they use.  But, my instructor actually had me hold them in such a way so that they felt as natural as possible.  I continued to hold the snaffle reins as I normally did (through my ring finger and pinkie) and then added the curb reins one slot up, so to speak, so that they ran between my second and ring fingers. 

Then we basically did our regular lesson, with me constantly checking to make sure I hadn't over-engaged the curb bit.  Nimo did well, but no angels sang.  The heavens did not open and shed Holy light on our ride.  And miraculous improvement in Nimo's way of going did not occur, either.  While I can't deny the theoretical possibility that changing a piece of tack could contribute to an immediate and significant improvement, I have never really seen it with Nimo.  Both of us are the same in the respect that we tend to withhold our assessment about new things or maybe even specifically don't like new things (even if they are better) until after we've gotten used to them.  So, I wasn't expecting miracles, one of the reasons I had been reluctant to try the double bridle is that I wasn't looking forward to the learning curve and the time for both of us to adjust to something new.

And I was definitely still skeptical that the double bridle would do anything for us that a snaffle (or hackamore) couldn't, but I also wanted to give the bridle a reasonable opportunity before judging it.  So, over the next six weeks, I used it when I could.  But I admit to actually not riding sometimes because I didn't want to deal with it.  After the first 2-3 rides with it, Nimo started being difficult about letting me put the bridle on, so I ended up having to separate the two headstalls and put the snaffle on first, then the curb, and then attach everything back together, which only takes 5 minutes, but was a pain as the days got shorter and I was mostly riding at night.

I am still not sure if Nimo's reluctance is/was because the bridle is causing discomfort or because it is just a lot going on.  When I started putting the bits in one at a time, he definitely improved and as long as I don't try to put both bits in at the same time, he's mostly good now.  Which makes me think it is less about the double bridle itself and more just about it being too much at once.  But the jury is still out...

After some particularly chilly days and nights earlier this month, I ended up switching back to a hackamore because I don't like the idea of putting one cold bit in Nimo's mouth, much less two.  And having to add Warming Up the Bits to the whole process of getting ready to ride was too much for me.  So I decided the hackamore was in order.

There are some people who are pretty emphatic that switching between the double bridle and a snaffle (or probably even worse, a double bridle and hackamore) is confusing for the horse and shouldn't be done.  Nimo is ridden in a hackamore so much for training rides, though, that I couldn't imagine he would be confused.  Also, I've heard Jean Luc Cornille (founder of Science of Motion) say over and over that SOM is not about the bit.  It's about the way a rider uses her body to communicate with the horse.  The bit is a part of that, of course, but it's not everything.  (Yet, I will say that the double bridle is so frequently touted as The Goal that I think there is some conflict on this point within the SOM methodology.  Either it is about the bit or it isn't, it can't be both...)

As it turned out, I had the best ride I've had in quite a while on Nimo with the hackamore the first time I used it.  He lifted his shoulders from the very beginning of the ride and gave me some really lovely trot work.  Prior to that ride, I'd noticed that he was engaging in the exact same evasions that he had used with the snaffle bit - moving too quickly and tucking his chin. 

The first few times I'd ridden him in the double bridle, he did not move too quickly or tuck his chin.  In fact, he moved so slowly at the walk, I was fearful that putting him in the double bridle had actually sent us backward.  In reality, though, I think it was just that at first, he was more focused on the newness of the bit and probably some different sensations in the way we were communicating, and once he connected those sensations to the same work we'd been doing, he went back to his usual evasions, although he also did lots of good work.  I don't mean to say that our rides were any more or less challenging than when we were using the snaffle alone.  I'm just trying to point out that it didn't seem to make much difference, and I have no way of knowing what, if any, contribution the double bridle may have made.

Anyway, the more I rode in the hackamore, the more Nimo went back to using quickness of stride as an evasion.  He does not typically tuck his chin in the hackamore, though.  Rather, he tends to pull downward a little. 

Then, this morning, I went to another lesson and put him back in the double bridle (the high was expected to be 65 degrees so no worries about cold bits!).  We had a lovely ride, although the quickness and chin-tucking came out a bit at the end, probably because he was starting to get tired.

My conclusion is that there may actually be a benefit for Nimo if I switch his headgear from hackamore to double bridle and back again.  It could be that mixing things up helps keep him focused more on the work because of the change whereas keeping things the same means he gets bored or complacent.  It's a conclusion that I'm going to test repeatedly over the next few months because even if he did work best in a double bridle, I'm absolutely not putting two cold bits in his mouth on days when the temperature is much below 40 when I ride.  And also because if SOM really isn't about the bit, then as long as I keep my body consistent, I should be able to communicate effectively regardless of what Nimo wears on his head.

That said, I really don't like the double bridle.  It is cumbersome and heavy on Nimo's head (the thing must weigh 8 pounds!).  I also don't like having to manage four reins.  While I do think I have more of an incentive to keep my hands still with so many reins, I don't feel any of the subtlety of contact that so many people have claimed comes from a double bridle.  I just feel awkward and like I either have too much contact with the snaffle or not enough.  The contact never feels "right" and I spend a huge amount of time fretting about the contact with the curb bit.

And I don't like the curb chain system...at all.  In fact, one of my experiments is going to be taking two sets of pliers to the curb bit and removing the curb chain altogether.  I really feel like the chain engages too soon and too much, even with the lightest of contact because the chain has to be kept a little tighter than the usual two fingers length so it doesn't hang too low and pinch.  Plus, the metal clips that hold the curb chain on to the bit seem like they could rub or get caught on things.  I think it is a major design flaw (and not one that I can fix with duct tape!), so I'm going to explore either not using it at all or coming up with a different fastening method.

If you do ride in a double bridle, and like it (or not), please feel free to express your experience below.  I'm not trying to condemn the use of the double bridle, but I do think it is a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment that requires a well-educated rider and horse to see its full potential.  I also just don't see the cost-to-benefit ratio in a favorable light right now.  It's a lot more work to put on.  It's heavy and awkward.  It takes a lot more focus to ride with and even assuming that I am getting an improvement in Nimo's balance and coordination, I don't think it is enough to justify the Pain-in-the-Ass factor at this point.  But I am going to keep plugging away with it at least until I feel like I understand it and use it better or until Nimo tells me that it is too uncomfortable for him (e.g. he starts getting more reactive about bridling or fusses a lot under saddle).

One thing that I think will be particularly helpful for me is watching our rides and using both the double bridle and the hackamore.  To that end, I'm hoping to start filming rides next week.  Normally, the barn I board at has lessons until just after dark, so I either have to try to work around them to ride in the light or I have to wait until after dark to ride.    Either situation isn't that great for trying to film our rides, especially while I'm still learning how to do it, but I have a narrow window of opportunity next week while lessons are on break for the holidays to try out my SOLOSHOT3.  I will try to post at least some of what I capture so that those of you who are interested can make your own judgements:)

10 comments:

  1. I've never tried a double bridle (mostly because Mimi's mouth is so small I can't imagine finding a set-up that would actually fit her) but I have played around with single bit/double reins on a pelham and that's been interesting. Would hate to manage four reins on the trail or during an endurance ride, but for arena schooling it's kind of fun to have some different toys to play with.

    That said, I switch up between a hackamore and bits a lot with Mimi -- and switch bit types between a kimberwick, an eggbutt snaffle, and the pelham, all different varieties of Myler mouthpieces. And I definitely see a difference when I switch around, especially between bit and hackamore -- I get much better hackamore work after I've done some bit work previously.

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    1. I'm trying to imagine what I've got on Nimo on your petite mare and I can't see it working well either. There are some weymouths that are thinner in diameter now, but they are expensive!

      And I could definitely see using a Pelham. Honestly, it seems like a much better solution for people who want to be able to separate the curb action from the snaffle action.

      And I'm glad to hear that you switch out bits and hackamore too:) I'm kind of warming up to the idea of doing it more based on what we plan to work on, temperature, and past performance (e.g. If Nimo is pulling a lot with the hack, then swapping to a bit to refocus).

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  2. I've only ridden with a pelham with two sets of reins and loved the feel of it in my hands, like you I always worried about the curb: ) I appreciate your discovery posts like this, the honesty. And how you describe how you prefer split reins to the one-sidedness of the extra that has to hang down on normal reins. It always bothered me if it hung on the "wrong" side. I cannot handle split reins, I'm always afraid I'll drop one, so like a child, I tie them together. Your double split reins would be my worst tack nightmare *lol*: )

    Oh, and I love your openmindedness to new tack ideas. I mean, who goes from double to bitless and back?

    RE: your new saddle - I had no idea Barefoot was a German company! I just see a lot of it here, and love my Physio bareback pad soooo much! Doh, you should have ordered their ultra cool bitless thing: http://barefoot-saddle.com/de/en/Horse/Bitless-Pieces/Barefoot-Bitless-Bit.html

    My mom sent me a cookbook recently and customs actually sent her a bill because she went over the 20$ limit for gifts without custom-penalty. Hm! I was so glad when Specialized Saddles under estimated the value of my saddle so my fee was reduced. Funny that you and I have had saddles going both ways in the mail: )

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    1. Thank for your kind words, lytha:) I can understand your feelings about split reins. I initially felt the same way when I first thought about going back to using them, but I have actually found that they are long enough (8 feet each!) that I have fewer issues when I Nimo lowers his head and neck all the way to the ground to stretch. He's so big that no off-the-shelf reins are long enough to allow me to stay fully seated when he stretches. But the split reins give me lots more room and I haven't dropped one yet!:)

      And I really am trying to be open minded about the bit thing. There was a point when I thought I would never go back to using one, but here I am, trying again. I try to constantly remind myself that it has been all my questions that got me to this point and if I hadn't asked them, I might still be stuck where I was several years ago. I'm definitely going to keep trying to explore new things!

      I did see the Barefoot bitless "bit," but by then I already had two different ones, so I figured a third might be overkill. That said, it might still end up in my tack box at some point...

      And on the saddle, I heard customs charges can be outrageous. One lady on a scrapbooking forum I belong to was explaining how random they could be and how the customs charge is sometimes almost as much as the price of the product. Crazy! I was very happy not to have to pay the VAT or a customs charge on the Barefoot saddle.

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  3. Are you using your usual snaffle, or a thinner bridoon snaffle?

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    1. Hi d. Safin! I am using a Baucher snaffle, which is Nimo's regular snaffle. I have ridden Nimo in a couple of different Myler snaffles too - one was a D-ring with the MB-2 mouthpiece, I think? And the other had the same mouthpiece but with the "hooks" for attaching the headstall and reins. I liked the hooks a lot, but of course, Mylers are considered "gimmicky" by SOM folks and the Baucher snaffle is considered the standard snaffle. I like the Baucher because, interestingly enough, much like the Myler with hooks, it allows a stable attachment for the headstall that is separate from the rein attachment. The Baucher I'm using has fairly small rings for the rein attachment and the mouthpiece is a reasonably small diameter so I don't feel like it is too thick. The curb, on the other hand...Anyway, let me know if you want more specifics on the Baucher:)

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  4. In my experience with double bridles, I have always moved to a bridoon. Staying in your normal diameter snaffle PLUS adding a Weymouth is too much metal in a horse’s mouth...IMHO. A normal snaffle is expecting to have all the surface area, you now need to be getting two bits in the same area, without pinching, binding and giving clear signals to the horse.

    Remember the baucher works on the poll slightly when contact is picked up on the reins...but now you will be getting that action EXPONENTIALLY through the Weymouth.

    I would recommend you start with a plain bridoon. If he is more heavy, go down in size, I personally like to wrap a thinish bridoon with a layer of latex when introducing the double to make it friendlier and encourage contact. If they need to back off contact, remove the latex.

    It is often a bit of playing around to see what setup they like best.

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    1. Thanks for your advice!:) Luckily, Nimo is such a big guy that he probably has more room than an average horse, which helps give me some flexibility. After I read your comment, though, I actually went out to the barn and measured the bits I'm using just to get a sense of where I'm at in terms of size because sometimes what the eye sees is more relative than actual. The snaffle measured 12 mm at the widest and 9 mm at the narrowest. The curb was 17-18 mm.

      So I definitely want to get the curb down in size first, I think. I do have a thinner one, but it is a bit too wide, and I don't like the way it attaches to the headstall as well as the one I'm using now.

      I did spend some quality time at a tack store recently to compare different weymouth bits, and I could really tell a difference in the weight of the more expensive bits - they were much lighter! I did see one that was 11 mm, but it was pricey, so I may have to wait a bit before getting it. Or I may even explore getting a western-style mullen mouth curb instead, because western bits tend to be cheaper (but still well-made and the mouthpieces often have a smaller diameter - I have two western curbs and both are about 10 mm).

      And I'll keep an eye out for different snaffles as well, although I don't know that I can gain too much with a special bridoon. Plus, my instructor is really attached to the Baucher bits. I think it would be a discussion if I switched it out. Which I would be willing to have if I thought I found something better, but I also try to follow her advice when I can because she has a lot more experience than I do, and that is why I'm getting instruction from her.

      The final thing I wanted to mention is that when I initially researched the Baucher, I found an article that was attempting to disprove the notion that the bit acts on the poll: https://bitbankaustralia.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/the-truth-about-the-baucher-snaffle-bit-rattling-the-cage/. And I have to admit that when I tested the bit with the contact I normally ride in, I didn't feel any additional poll pressure. So at this time, I'm not going to worry too much about possible poll pressure from the Baucher. I think it will be more of what you described - "playing around" - to find a good combination. I think there is a balance that is probably different for each horse and it can take experimentation over time to figure out what the best set-up is. Or I can just use a hackamore and not worry about it...:)

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  5. I can see the poll pressure the baucher has. I had on mare duck when ridden in it because she is So sensigve to poll pressure.

    Is a lever, just a very mild one. When you apply pressure , watch how the top ring of the baucher comes forward. Why else would you want it?

    Many of the biggest horses I have ridden in a double needed the smallest bridoon, either because the had such a small palate, big tongue or because I find the large horses often have a small bars and mouths in comparison to many purpose bred Wbs.

    One if my favorite friesian stallion friends had the smallest mouth and he was a big boy. My friesian has a small mouth too compare to all my other horses. Especially compared to the rest of her long face.

    I will butt out now. Just love bit physics. Happy holidays!!!

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    1. No worries:) I actually appreciate the discussion! Especially because it is clear you have a lot more experience than I do with double bridles and Friesians:)

      In terms of why use a Baucher if it doesn't apply poll pressure (even though I understand that you've had experiences that lead you to believe it does apply pressure), I think the reason for me is because of the stability. With a bridoon, there is no fixed connection to the headstall, and I admit that I do like that part of the Baucher (or any other snaffle that offers it, like some of the Myler bits). The idea of stability is what drives a lot of the equipment recommendations in the SOM methodology, and I think that is why the Baucher is the preferred snaffle by so many. That reasoning makes sense to me, although I do understand your point about possibly applying poll pressure through two different bits, which can seem like too much. I will definitely investigate a little further with Nimo and play around with the bit to see if it seems to produce poll pressure with him. Now that I have a way to video my riding, maybe I'll be able to see more of an accurate picture of the bit action than I can see from my view in the saddle or an attempt to re-enact the bit pressure from the ground.

      And horses are so individual about their mouths. As you've pointed out, the size or breed of the horse may not be a good indicator of the best configuration of a double bridle. I do believe that Nimo does have a decent amount of room in his mouth, but I'll admit that I don't have a way of comparing it to other Friesians, so I'm just going by my perception. Even so, I think the idea of reducing the amount of metal in the mouth is a good one to pursue. My only concern with focusing on the snaffle component with less regard for the curb component is that at least right now, the snaffle is still my primary means of communication. I try not to put direct contact on the curb reins, although I try to keep them from being loose (if that makes sense?). So, I'm relying on the Baucher, although even "relying" might be too strong of a word, given that in SOM work, the goal is not to use rein aids unless absolutely necessary. Regardless, I do remember that Nimo did not like a regular snaffle bit (and I'm assuming the bridoon would probably act the same way?), but when I switched to a bit that was more stable, he was much happier. So I do have to keep that in mind as well when I'm thinking about the set-up. On the other hand, that was several years ago, so he may be fine with a regular snaffle now.

      And no need to butt out - I may seem like I'm not agreeing with what you are writing, but I am still reading and thinking about it. So, everything you write will be in my head and I may remember it at a useful time and change my mind based on what I see in practice with Nimo. I'm trying not to just follow the SOM standards, but also think about why people might do things differently and do some experiments of my own to see if what I see reflects more conventional methods or fits better with SOM methodology. Or doesn't fit with either...:)

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