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.|
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:)