Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Double Bridle!!

Penn started working in a double bridle!!

Big boy bridle!

Horses can use double bridles at third and above. So far, I've kept Penn in his snaffle because I felt like he would never ever be able to go in a double. There's a lot of metal in a double bridle, and I figured it would back him off the bridle and he'd be afraid of it. I didn't think he had enough push from behind to work well in the double.

It's always been in the back of my mind to try it- I tried it once over the '16-'17 winter with Mikey's bits and Penn was like "Holy hell, I can't do this" and couldn't even canter. I put the double away (plus GP Trainer finally had me understanding he wasn't ready for Third) and was content to work in his snaffle all year long. We did get to Third by July 2017, but thoughts of the double weren't in my head at all.

A spontaneous visit to Austen's house in December sent me home with Guinness' weymouth bit, a 5.25", 5" shank, NS Thoroughbred. When the time came to try the double again, I knew I wanted to try her weymouth because it is so much thinner than Mikey's was (12mm vs 18mm), so she sent me home with it!

First up was recovering Mikey's double bridle.
It had been living in the school horse tack room with the pelham.

First Ride


I meant to write this post a long time ago, so I can't remember the exact details of our first spin in the double (it was about a month ago, Dec 17-19). But I do know both Penn and myself were excessively polite to each other. He wasn't afraid of the bit and would meet it. I was afraid of the bit so my hands became very very quiet and I paid so much more attention to how I used them and where they were. I was afraid of over facing Penn!

No matter, I had a set of eyes on the ground to make sure I didn't creep up on my curb rein (a favorite pastime that I did to Mikey... my goodness that horse was a SAINT), and off we went. My set of eyes reported politeness, not too much curb contact, but Penn was a bit fussy in the mouth. I think that's to be expected, it's a lot of metal. I also gave Penn a mint while he had both bits in and he couldn't work out how to chew it... so I know he was sucking on it instead. We kept the ride short, sweet, and positive. Overall, I got a very good feeling from working in the double. The double requires a big motor behind, and I finally felt like I could say, "Let's roll!" and really push him up to the bridle without his first reaction being, "Let's dig a hole to China with our face!"

He foamed in his first ride in the double!

Second Ride
I had a vacation day to burn at the end of the year, so I took a half day on one of the last beautiful December days (12/21/2017) and went to the barn to ride in the double outside, which let me use my new SoloShot3 to get video! More on the camera later, but in short, I will not be hurting for media come summer!

For the entirety of the ride, see the below video (just under 20 min long, and there's an excellent spook at 8:20):

My goal was to just ride basic figures- circles, figure 8s and serpentines, and hit all the gaits. He was great! We did a lot of walk to get used to the two bits, and then he was very enthusiastic about the trot work (no dragging toes!) at first. As we worked through the serpentines, he started to want to lean, but I think that's because he was simply tired from putting so much effort into his work. He's not usually that up with suspension.

I remember thinking as I was riding the walk and canter, "Move your elbows! Follow! Even if it feels like you're moving way too much! Don't make him feel trapped! YOU are in charge of making this a good experience!" It felt like I was wagging my arms around like airport control. Watching the video... man, if I hadn't been moving my elbows as much as I thought I was, I'd be restricting him!

Halt needs to be prompter, but it was square and polite.

The last thing we did was a medium canter, collect, half pass to centerline. I was so pleased with him! The medium canter felt so much bigger than it actually was- it had jump and the start of suspension. The half pass felt better than it looked, maybe because of the camera angle, but he didn't stall out in it or get too straight on the diagonal line. He did fall on his forehand at the end, but that's ok. He held it together for longer than he usually does.

It wasn't our best work, but it was a positive experience. I wanted a positive ride for Penn's confidence in the double, and being a sympathetic rider was more important to me than getting steller work.

Lesson 12/23/17 (Third Ride)
By this point, I wanted a lesson to double check what was going on and to make sure I wasn't entirely off base. The local Dressage Trainer was coming out to our barn to teach and she's fairly conservative about things (erring on the side of caution I think), so I took a half hour lesson. I told her it was his third ride in the double, it seems to be going OK, but I wanted someone to double check the fit of the double and my use of it. I don't think my first education in it was all that great. She thought the fit was good, and off we went.

She praised his trot- it was very good. She put us through our lateral paces: shoulder in, haunches in, shoulder in to renvers back to shoulder in. It was a new level of lateral work for him. I could really push him forward to the bridle in the lateral work to keep big steps coming, but he wasn't falling on the forehand out of balance.

She also nitpicked our right bend, which had become a struggle in December (and into January). She had me put him on a 10m circle in the middle of the ring, then do haunches in, and bring his shoulders around. She encouraged me to bring my right leg way forward, almost in front of the girth, to give him solid pokes to remind him of inside bend. He'd get the bend, step, and either straighten or his hind end would lead. We did the same to the left, but that was much easier for him.

This would have been OK except the stuck foot!

The right bend struggle shows up in half pass too. She had me go across the diagonal, and then haunches in, but not in a half pass way, just simply haunches in. He really really struggled with haunches in (which is probably why the half pass is broken!).

The last thing we did was check out the canter. She does not approve of the 4 beat canter that GP Trainer allows (until he's strong enough to not 4 beat), so on a 20m circle: she had me pick up canter, if it shifted to 4 beat, kick him forward. Big forward. Hand gallop. Then once forward was reestablished, sit on my tail bone (no hand), bring him back to collected canter (that imagery worked REALLY well for me!). As soon as he 4 beats, kick on. She reminded me to keep the jump coming in the big canter, but I think Penn was getting tired and he started to get low in the poll and curl a bit. She told me when he does that, make sure I don't have too much contact on my curb rein- as we got cantering I started creeping on that rein - and that it could be because of the double. I told her he was actually a lot better about it in the double than the snaffle in regard to curling, haha.

Overall, she approved of it, but I didn't really like her reasoning: he's competing third level and doubles are introduced at that time, so it's appropriate for his level of training. I'm like... yes, but is he ready for it? Sure, it's appropriate because of the level he's at, but I guess in my mind that doesn't mean he's actually ready for it. She did say not to work in it more than once a week, which I think is totally fair and aligns with my plans anyway. I do not want the double to become a band aid over bigger problems.

There isn't a band aid big enough for "suddenly horses in turnout"
Despite going around that end of the ring many times, he just saw the horses in turnout.

Saddle Fitter
By the time I had my lesson with DT, I had researched additional weymouth options. I found a website that described fleshy vs normal, small vs normal, and low palate vs normal mouths. The various bit descriptions are like, "good for horses with small mouths" or "good for horses that need tongue clearance" or "good for horses with low palates." Great, how do I know he has one of those? This website was helpful in how things look and feel when certain conditions are present. I basically determined that Penn has a small short mouth with a fleshy tongue and probably low palate.

DT thought the NS Thoroughbred weymouth fit him well, but I wanted to look at other options while various bits were available to me. The Saddle Fitter that came out at the beginning of January is a dealer for Neue Schule bits, and I had narrowed down the bit choices to the NS Thoroughbred or the NS Transform. I had her bring a Transform with her, and we popped Austen's Thoroughbred and the Transform in Penn's mouth and compared.

"Short smile" and fleshy tongue.

SF thought he would be more comfortable with the Transform, but thought both fit him well enough. Oddly, she wanted a narrower bradoon because the space in his mouth is so small. The official rules for double bridle bits are: 10mm for the bradoon, 12mm for the curb. I found several 12mm bradoons: NS makes one, the Team Up. The only two 10mm bradoons I could find (in an exceptionally brief search) are made by Coronet and Bomber Bits. But no matter, because I'm happy with the bradoon he has, a HS Aurigan Dynamic RS Ultra (14mm). I don't think thinner is the answer for him, even if it saves space in his mouth. He is enjoying a very generic Korsteel Copper Loose Ring on his snaffle bridle right now, and I measured that bit at a whopping 20mm.

SF had the best price on NS bits that I could find (in the USA), allowed trials, and specifically allowed a trial of the Transform bit (Dressage Extensions has the bit, but not for trials). I rode in it after she adjusted Penn's saddle, and I thought I would know an answer right away... but of course I didn't. I needed the full 2 week trial to make a decision...

I watch this, and all I can think is "prance prance prance"

This post is getting too long... so tomorrow, Thoroughbred vs Transform!


  1. I freaking love Penn. What a good boy.

    1. He is a good boy! And I freaking love him too, lol

  2. Pig has that super short mouth, too. When I look at Bast's in comparison, I sometimes feel like my baby horse has a clown mask. I imagine him sitting there saying, "Why so serious?"

    1. Hahaha, oh boy. But I bet he'll like Pig's double.

  3. I LOVE my NS and their performance pony bit is the only one I could find with a small diameter and small width (Katai needs a 4.5" wide) but I also just love their bits. The material and the way that they joint is so nice and Katai really seems to love it.

    1. Finding small bits is a nightmare!! NS was one of the few small enough for Penn.