Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Double Bridle

In addition to our conditioning work, Nimo and I were still doing our Science of Motion (SOM) work too.  I had mentioned previously that my instructor thought we were ready to transition to the use of a double bridle.  I was reluctant (why on earth do we need to stick TWO bits in a horse's mouth???), but I had promised my instructor that I would think about it, and I did. 

I thought about it a lot, and I quizzed several riding friends who told me they had used the double bridle at some point in their riding careers.  They represented three different disciplines, from saddle seat to jumping to dressage, and all of them believed that using the double bridle was not that difficult and felt that there were no negative implications from its use. 

One friend in particular spoke quite highly of the double bridle and talked to me for quite a bit about how it was used, even with children, in the French riding school that she had taken lessons from while growing up.  This particular friend grew up in another country, which is what gave her the opportunity to learn at the French riding school.  Many of the things she said were pretty similar to the things I've been learning while working on SOM, including that piaffe is considered a more introductory-level gait instead of a Grand Prix-level gait, as it is here in the U.S.

I also spent a lot of time on the Facebook group for the SOM students, reading about others' experiences with the double bridle.  I think all of the experiences were positive, but I was wary because I think there can be a tendency among passionate students to follow their teachers' beliefs and practices and view the results through a lens that it is positive even if someone from outside the group would see it differently.

In the end, I decided to fit Nimo for a double bridle, but exercise great care in its use.  I viewed the use of the double bridle as an experiment, rather than a definitive course of action.  My first step was to procure a Weymouth bit.  Weymouths are "special" curb bits that are designed to be used as part of a double bridle (or possibly torture devices for hapless humans who try to get them to fit their poor steeds).  When I first looked at the bits offered by places like Dover Saddlery, Smartpak, and Dressage Extensions, I was horrified by the prices (think $200 and up).  Considering that I wasn't sure what size Nimo needed and that bits are generally not considered returnable and also that $200+ is highway robbery, I felt pretty frustrated.  But my instructor recommended a much less expensive bit that I could get on Amazon (seriously, is there anything you can't get on Amazon these days?).

Unfortunately, I couldn't get the size I wanted for Nimo (5 3/4) at that time, so I ended up ordering something similar from  I was able to take advantage of a first-time customer discount, so the bit ended up costing under $40.  Here is a link to that bit:

When the bit came, it seemed a little too big, though.  Which really confused me.  My understanding was that Weymouth bits were supposed to be sized a quarter inch smaller than the snaffle.  Nimo's snaffle was 5 3/4, so I assumed that I would need to get a 5 3/4 inch Weymouth and then upsize the snaffle to 6 inches.  When I put both bits in his mouth, though, the sizing made more sense.  The reason for the bigger snaffle was not to somehow accommodate the addition of the Weymouth.  Instead the Weymouth needed to be smaller because the Weymouth hung lower in his mouth, which was narrower at that point.  Probably the standard is a quarter inch smaller, which is why I kept seeing that advice.  In Nimo's case, though, his mouth was a bit narrower than the standard difference, so I ended up buying another bit that was sized at 5 1/4 inches.  This one I did get off of Amazon:

Once I was reasonably satisfied that I had a bit that fit, I expected to rig up a double headstall for Nimo until I knew for sure whether I would be using the double bridle on a more permanent basis.  However, none of the headstalls I had could be adjusted long enough for the curb bit portion of the double bridle.  I debated buying a new headstall, but anything western seemed too bulky or too boring or wasn't the right size and anything English seemed overpriced and also boring.

I should note that I've been riding Nimo in a western headstall and split reins for quite some time now.  I can't remember exactly when I made the switch, but it was sometime in July or August of last year.  I found that using the western reins really helped me get out of the "dressage" mode I'd been in, which left me with fidgety hands and an unstable seat.  By going back to my roots, so to speak, I helped change the way I thought and felt in the saddle and my muscle memory from all those old 4-H clinics and shows kicked in and helped still my hands and my seat.  (Also, I adore the lighter-colored leather, buckstitching, conchos, latigo strings, and all the other awesomeness that you can do with western tack that is just NOT DONE with English tack.)

Because of the mental help from using the western tack (and my aforementioned love of bling), I really wanted any double bridle I used to be western in nature and I really wanted to keep using split reins.  (Also, dressage double bridles are crazy expensive - I think I found one that was under $500.)  I find split reins to be infinitely easier to manage than the closed reins that are the standard for dressage work.  (I despise the loop of extra rein that feels asymmetric and catches on things.  Split reins feel symmetrical - depending on how you hold them - and if they are a good weight - heavier than regular dressage reins - they will drape nicely and I think actually improve the way the contact with the horse feels.)

After searching the internet for days, maybe weeks, I finally came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as a western-style double bridle (months later, I did finally find one by accident, but I'd already purchased something else).  And it occurred to me that rigging something up might not give me the same results as an actual double bridle, fitted correctly for Nimo.  So I researched some companies on Etsy and found one that did reasonably-priced custom work and asked if they would consider making me a double bridle.  They didn't know what a double bridle was, so I mocked one up on Nimo using equipment that I had, and sent a picture, along with measurements and my preferences.

I used Nimo's old keuring headstall for the snaffle and punched a hole in the last possible half-inch of space on Nimo's western headstall for the curb and rigged up something that would look mostly "right."  Please note that I have the curb chain adjusted incorrectly because the curb bit was too high in Nimo's mouth to allow me to properly attach it under the snaffle.  Also note that I opted to go without a throatlatch for reasons I'll explain in another post.
I'll write more about how everything came together in another post and include a picture of the final result as well, but at this point (early September), I was still in a very clueless phase. I was definitely learning as I went, but I have to admit that Nimo was being pretty cooperative about the whole thing.  Especially when I was messing around with different size bits and trying to figure out headstall adjustments, I had to put bits in his mouth, fuss with them, take them out, and then put them back in.  He was remarkably patient through it all, which helped give me confidence that using the double bridle wouldn't upset him too much.

So stay tuned to find out how it all worked out...

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