How to (Kind Of) Assemble a Double Bridle

DSC03239

So this winter means that Ike and I are beginning our introduction to the double bridle. Yep, I have never used one before. It was debated and discussed for a number of months before we decided that it could be helpful. I struggle due to lack of experience with dressage beyond First Level, and I lack the physical strength to half halt effectively in certain situations.  There are also Carpal tunnel in both wrists and my fibromyalgia that can make riding a struggle some days. My drive to learn and to escape the lower levels keeps me going, and the double bridle can hopefully give me just a little bit of extra oomph to teach Ike the skills to progress beyond First Level.  I will still ride in my normal bridle most days, but will use the double bridle during some of my lessons. [read – under the eagle eye of Ms. C so I don’t do anything stupid inappropriate.]

I found a very nice double bridle (it can convert to a snaffle bridle if necessary) and inexpensive bradoon and Weymouth bits through Schneider Saddlery (http://www.sstack.com/English_Bridles/Dress-Conv-Bridle-W-pat-Bead/$%7B(%20%20)#32871%20FS%20BK}) for a very reasonable price. Of course, assembling the pieces was not quite as easy as clicking “purchase” on the website. So, without further ado, I present to you “How to assemble a double bridle.”

  1. Stupidly smile at box when it arrives because it makes you feel like a big kid rather than a beginner.
  2. Open box. Remove the packaging and sniff the new leather.
  3. Lay out the various pieces on the counter to make sure all parts are present and accounted for.bridle on counter
  4. Look in box for some Ikea-style pictogram assembly instructions. Grimace and then mutter expletives when you realize there are none.  my look of horror
  5. Pour a large glass of wine.
  6. Retrieve laptop so that you can find a photo of the assembled bridle on the website.
  7. Attach the bradoon and Weymouth bits and admire your handywork.
  8. Remove the bits when you realize you forgot to attach the browband.
  9. Curse your ineptitude and take a big swig of the wine.
  10. Slide browband into place.
  11. Reattach both bits.
  12. Realize that the headstall is backwards because the throatlatch is in the front.
  13. Mutter more expletives as you remove both bits for the second time and then the browband.
  14. Have another large sip of wine.
  15. Curse the inventor of the double bridle.
  16. Pour more wine.
  17. Yet again study the photo of the assembled bridle and reattach the browband first and then the bits.
  18. Attach the noseband.
  19. Breathe sigh of relief when you realize you finally attached everything correctly.
  20. Attach the reins to the bits.
  21. Call your trainer to confirm each set of reins are attached to the correct bit.
  22. Admire fully assembled bridle.
  23. Find a keeper on the floor. Pick up before it is consumed by a curious canine.
  24. Scratch your head when you realize you cannot figure out where it goes.
  25. Shrug and put it in your wallet just in case you have an epiphany.
  26. Admire your accomplishment again as you envision riding down centerline with your horse wearing the bridle…one day….
  27. Finish the bottle of wine.

I am happy to report that Ms. C gave my efforts a passing grade.  Ike was a sport as we adjusted the fit.  And I have to say (please pardon my proud horse mom moment), that I think my boy looked pretty smart wearing this new bridle.  Wish us luck!

alison

 

From The Horse’s Mouth

Ike November 2014

Happy Fall Everyone!  I’m again taking over to fill you in on my life in my words.  I’m pretty sure that I should have my own blog by now, but Mom says that I’m not ready for such responsibility.  Sheesh!  What a mean Mom.  Seriously, how am I supposed to rely on her to give the full story?

I’m pretty sure that I did a very good job at the regional competition.  Mom had that silly grin on her face and tears in her eyes when she realized we got one of those big ribbons with the long streamers.  I gave one of the streamers a taste and I have to say that it was disappointing.  I will stick with apples and horse treats.  It was cool to have people cheer for me when Mom and I went into the big indoor.  People called it a “koliseeim.”  I say it was a really big indoor with lots of chairs and few windows.  How do I get one of those at the farm?  Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas…

Being at the show was a lot of fun, but by the end of the weekend I was really tired of being inside all the time.   We horses need to start a union and get some better benefits – stalls with attached paddocks will be on my list of demands.  An internet connection at the barn, a private apple orchard, and a climate-controlled barn will also be discussed.  And none of that pay-for-performance stuff.  I get my pay and benefits regardless of the color of the ribbon.  But I digress…My friend Winslow was there as were Roo and Flori.  Dad came along as well as my canine brother Tim.  Ms. C was there to cheer for me on Saturday.  It was big fun to have Miss Melana visit me at night.  We had fun sending photos to Mom.

Once I got home from the show, I had a whole week of doing nothing but hanging out in my paddock.  Mom came to visit, but there was no riding.  She said that I had earned my vacation.  I’m trying to figure out how to have vacation every day like my brother.  He won’t tell me the secret to full-time vacation.  I think he is afraid Mom might put him back to work.

But now that I am back to work, I have to say that things have become much HARDER!  What?!  I did really well all year, so how can the work get harder?  Mom and Ms. C have introduced me to this medieval torture device they call a double bridle.  They stick not one, but two bits in my mouth.  Two!!  What was wrong with one?  It has something to do with the work getting harder.  I keep hearing the word “kollekshun” used more frequently.  It basically means that I have to use my hind legs more and more.  There is also talk around the barn about some sort of Second Level.  The only other level in the barn is where they keep the extra hay.  I’m waiting to see if we will have horses moving in up there.  Mom and Dad have a second level at their house, so maybe my brother and I are moving.  None of the other horses are telling me much, but they all like to smugly stand along the rail while I have to work with all that metal in my mouth.  Luckily, I don’t have to use it every day.

You might be interested to know that my mane is finally growing back.  I really didn’t mean to scratch out as much as I did this summer, but the tick bite was really itchy.  My mane is at the length now that it looks like a Mohawk.  Cool, huh?  Maybe we can introduce that as a talking point at the union discussions this winter.

If you know anyone who wants to help me with my union formation, please send them my way.  It is awfully hard to type on Mom’s laptop.

Ike

Ike Has a Few Things To Say

Sporting my new blanket!

Sporting my new blanket!

Howdy Everyone!  Mom has a lot going on right now, so I thought I’d step up and fill you in on how things are going at the barn in recent days.  You might as well hear things directly from the horse’s mouth rather than Mom’s sanitized version with her slanted point of view.

I have to say that I am liking the weather of late.  All this cold wind and cold temperatures and rain and ice mean that I don’t have to do much except be a horse and play with my brother.  Mom is a weather wimp.  She says that I am one too, but I would like it to be known that I was out in the sleet this morning while she hid in the house.  Oh, yeah, wait, she made it out to the barn long enough to pat my head and give me two Stud Muffins.  Only two?!!  Doesn’t she know that two is really nothing more than an amuse-bouche?  Not amused, but I did forgive her because when I did return to the barn, she had put an Uncle Jimmy’s Licky Snack in the holder.  Clever woman remembered to put the top on the holder this time.  Darn her!  It takes a lot more work to eat it with the lid.  I can finish it off in about two nights without the lid…

As you can see, I managed to get a new blanket for the winter.  I told her in the spring that she should go ahead and order me a new one, but, Noooooo, silly woman waited until the cold weather had already arrived this winter.  She actually tried to convince me and herself that I could get by with the 84 inch size.  I quickly pointed out that it wasn’t going to work and the blanket would look more like a scarf all scrunched up above my shoulders.  I hear they went to a happy home so I won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of wearing too small clothing.

I’ve been working hard under saddle to learn what I need to know to be a dressage horse.  There are all sorts of new words and movements they are making me do.  I even tried a walk pirouette last week.  Mom and Ms. C are also teaching me how to move sideways and forward at the same time.  Phew, it is hard to move that way.  They have had me do it at the walk and trot and even a little in canter.  I am very tired after those lessons.  Ms. C told me that I’m starting to look like a horse.  What?  What did I look like before?  A big dog?  Maybe it has something to do with my old blankets no longer fitting.

This growing stuff is awesome.  I keep growing and working hard; Ms. C keeps handing me treats while Mom keeps buying me new stuff.  Score!  So far I have amassed a new bridle, a couple of new bits, a turnout sheet, a medium weight blanket, new saddle pads, and some new polo wraps this year.  Best part is that Christmas is just a few weeks away!  I’m hoping for a new saddle (Humph, I have to use my brother’s stinky old saddle!) and a new boot to hang in my stall.  I like to play with the boot at night and it is the penthouse suite for the local mouse population.  It is close by my feed bowl, so it is convenient to dining.  Had to interview some new tenants recently though, since the old one went on a date with the barn cat and never came home.

I’m still very happy in Virginia with my family.  I am very thankful that I have the family that I do and have a nice barn to call my home.  Mom takes very good care of me even if she is stingy with treats sometimes.  I get to go to a bunch of new places during the warmer months where I’ve overheard people tell Dad how happy they are that Mom has a horse like me to ride.  That makes me try really hard to be good, but I still get scared sometimes at the new places.  I hope that doesn’t make me get in trouble.  I asked my older brother about that to see if he had any insight.  He told me not to worry; he says that Mom will be our Mom forever.  I think knowing that is the best Christmas gift of all.

Ike

What The!?!

The Big, Bad Horse

The Big, Bad Horse

So I go out-of-town for a week of sand between my toes and I came home to an ENORMOUS horse.  I swear that Ike added 6 inches in height and at least 100-200 pounds while I was gone.  How is this possible?  What did Ike eat in the 7 days I was gone to bulk up that quickly?  I checked around the barn, but did not find any secret stash of steroids or evidence of weight gain powder residual in his food bowl.  Of course, I am certain that he really didn’t gain any height or weight in one week, but the mind sure can play tricks.

While I didn’t do much besides play in the surf and soak up some rays, Ike had to face the daunting task of performing for Ms. C on two days.  Luckily he was his usual stellar self for both of his training sessions.  She put Ike through his paces and confirmed that indeed, he is ready to move to harder concepts.  She played with pushing Ike forward and then bringing him back to a working gait.  There are more gears yet to be discovered.  Oh, dear.  While an extended canter does nothing to faze me, a huge extended trot is enough to give me the vapors.  Thank goodness that you can now rise the trot even at First Level.

Knowing that our (okay, my) next big hurdle is sitting Ike’s trot while keeping him together and keeping my legs from shooting out in front of me, that is what I worked on for my ride on Sunday.  Why not go full-out my first day back in the saddle!?  I used my SOS strap as best I could to help keep my ass in the saddle where it is supposed to be.  Also used all my yoga breathing techniques to keep me from holding my breath as I am prone to do.  Had limited success with the SOS strap since I then would forget to half halt and Ike would lose his connection and raise his head.  Arrrgh!  Oh yeah, as I was forgetting to half halt, I also managed to let my reins get too long so Ike was left to wonder what the heck was going on in the saddle.  He did his best at interpreting what he thought were my aids, but were in fact just me flopping around like a fish out of water.  And no, there is no video.

Today was a challenging day.  Ike must have woken up on the wrong side of the stall, because he was recalcitrant from the moment I retrieved him for the farrier appointment.  He tried to bite me.  He tried and almost succeeded in biting his farrier (he must have forgotten what happened the one time he did bite Phil…).  He then tried to bite me again.  Once the shoeing was done, he pawed the shavings in his stall until there was a hole near the door.  I yelled.  Ike then turned around and pushed with all his might on the stall door which got him a poke on the butt from me.  He then tried biting me while pinning his ears as I wrote the check to the farrier.

I decided to tack up to see if the mood would carry over.  Why yes, it did.  He tried to bite me as I tightened the girth.  He spit the bit out.  He even spit out his peppermint.  A squeeze from my leg resulted in an ear-pinning, cow kick to which I responded with a tap from my whip.  I got an ear-pinning, “I’m going to bite you” look from that.  Ike then sucked back and would not connect.  Then he decided to play giraffe and blow through my half halts.  After 30 minutes of arguing, we FINALLY had 10 minutes of pleasantness.  I considered that a success and dismounted.  Tomorrow is another day.  Hoping Ike has a better night’s sleep tonight.  Vacation is over!

And We’re Moving On Up, On Up…

005Well, okay, we are not moving into a penthouse suite, nor are we moving to the top of the training scale.  Only in my dreams do we piaffe and passage with the best horses and riders.  No, we are moving on to the next level of Ike’s dressage education which means we will begin schooling first and second level concepts in earnest.

The game changer was last Tuesday when Ms. C rode Ike.  She now knows exactly where Ike stands with his training.  Poor Ike can’t hide behind my poor technique or lack of skills anymore.  Ms. C likes how Ike responds in the Neue Schule bit; he is not too heavy, nor does he avoid contact with it.  She believes that he will have excellent lateral work.  She also said that he now has the physical and mental strength to handle the greater demands that he will now face.

Soooo, that meant that during my lesson on Saturday and my lesson today, I had to be focused and mentally ready to really ride my horse every single stride.  As I’ve stated in past posts, I have a tendency to turn on the cruise control and forget to half halt, shift my weight, move my leg, or do anything to improve Ike’s way of moving.  Ms. C yelling, “why are you letting your horse flatten?” or “where is Ike’s shoulder headed?” usually bring me out of my cruise mode and back to reality.  I’d say that having the ability to focus and ride every stride are probably two of those key elements that separate the talented riders from the rest of us.

So first on the list of skills to master as we embark on this next phase of our training is focus – I knew how to do it when I ran hurdles as part of my high school’s track team.  I could run by bleachers filled with screaming people and not hear a thing.  Nothing.  Nothing but the sound of my shoes hitting the pavement.  Not sure when I lost that ability.  Is it part of the aging process?  Maybe I need some ginko biloba to increase blood flow to the brain and thus, the brain’s capacity to think and stay focused.

The next skill to master is relaxing my arms and legs so that I can improve my sit trot.  If we are moving on with Ike’s training, then I need to be able to keep up as he masters the new skills.  What good is it to have a horse that is ready for Second Level when the rider is still struggling to keep her ass in the saddle without shooting her legs out and bracing.  This isn’t water skiing.  My sit trot during my lesson today was better than on Saturday.  I’ve noticed that there are times that it is still better to rise than to hunker down and fight for the sit trot.  With Ike, when I ask for a trot lengthening, it is better for me to get off his back…at least at this point in the training.  Today I would sit the short ends, lengthen the long sides, and then go back to sit trot.  While it might not have been the prettiest, I do think that we did okay with our efforts.

I’m very excited with where we are with Ike’s training.  I fought for seven years with Cigar and barely made it out of Training Level before his career ended.  He challenged me every step of the way and at times, I would get very demoralized.  I pretty much decided that I had no idea what I was doing.  Ike has helped me regain my confidence and realize that progress is possible.  It might even happen faster than I anticipated…

Way Too Hot For Woman or Beast

007The month of July is underway and it has been a hot one thus far.  It hasn’t stopped me from riding, but the length of time I typically ride is severely curtailed.  Just can’t seem to get motivated to ride more than 30 minutes when the sweat is pouring down into my eyes.    And who doesn’t love pulling their helmet onto their head and realize that it is still soaking wet with sweat from the day before?  Awesome.

July also means the reappearance of the flying green beetles and an unidentified flying bug that typically hovers about a foot off the ground until it decides to dive-bomb the horses when they happen by.  Just like the cicadas, these bugs apparently have poor maneuverability and often run into my helmet or the horse’s neck.  Horse flies have also made their annual debut.  You know they are present when you see one of the horses bucking around their paddocks.  A few of the horses also utilize the stop, drop and roll technique – I guess they are hoping to squash the offending fly during the roll.  Can’t blame them.

Although our rides are short, I have no complaints with Ike’s work.  Ever since we purchased a larger bridle and changed the bit, our work has progressed more rapidly than I could have ever anticipated.  Ms. C continues to school our shoulder in, leg yield, and walk-canter transitions.  I attempt to replicate the work when we practice on our own.  I’m still learning not to shoot Ike to the moon in the walk-canter transition.  We don’t really have a canter-walk transition to speak of…we still need some trot steps or we practically fall flat on our faces.  We have even played with shallow canter loops with limited success.  Some days Ike can hold the canter through the loop, other days we falter before we make it back to the rail.  It’s all good.  I’m just so tickled with what he can do and how hard he tries to please.

We don’t have any shows scheduled until next month.  We have our entries mailed for our last three attempts at qualifying for the regional finals.  Can it really be that hard to achieve at least one more score of 63% or higher?  Keeping my hopes up that we will.

Open Up and Say Aaah: The Quest to Find the Holy Grail of Bits

004We ask our horses to do this on an almost daily basis.  Please put your head down, open your mouth, and politely put this piece of metal in your mouth.  Just think about it, the closest we come to that experience is when we wear braces and, for some, the dreaded headgear.  Now think about how much thought you put into the current bit you are using?  No really, how much?  Was it the cheapest?  Was it used by the former owner who claimed it was the only bit that the horse would accept?  Did you find it on eBay?  Did you close your eyes and order the bit that your finger selected?

I don’t think any of us would trust ourselves to put on our own braces, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an easier answer for bit selection.  Selecting the correct/best bit for your horse can feel like heading out on a quest for the Holy Grail.  Checkout any website that sells tack and you will see page upon page of bits.  So many shapes and sizes.  Lots of different alloys and types of metals and polymers used in the mouth pieces.  Which mouthpiece size, thickness, or cheek piece is best??!!  Oh yeah, then check out the rulebook for your chosen sport to make sure the bit you have selected is legal for competition.  Calgon, take me away!

If you have followed Ike’s adventures, you know my struggles with giving Ike a correct half halt and Ike’s difficulty responding to my efforts.  He has had a tendency to hang on the bit and run through my aids to the point that it physically hurt to finish my ride.  We started with a JP Korstel loose-ring with a French link that quickly transitioned to a basic loose-ring snaffle with a medium thickness for the mouthpiece.  It seemed to work for a while, but the stronger Ike has become (read: bigger muscles and more stamina), the less effective the bit and I became at giving clear aids.  Where to go next?

Enter a Level 1 Myler bit with a loose ring cheek piece.  Now we were getting somewhere.  Ike was much more responsive and apparently can carry himself.  What a shocker.  Why didn’t I know about this sooner?  We still struggle to get the correct flexion and struggle even more at getting Ike’s body in correct alignment, but those are young horse issues, not a bit problem.

And then I was offered an amazing opportunity to try a European brand of bits that are just entering the US market – thank you to the Florida reps for the Neue Schule Company [German for New School and pronounced “Noya Shoola”] for allowing Ike and I to be American guinea pigs for your products.  I shared details of our adventures with the representatives – Ike’s age and training, what bits we have tried before, and how he feels while I ride.  Yes, I even told them that I feel like I have to carry him around the arena.  Based on the information I provided, they sent us their Verbindend bit to try: http://nsbits.com/global/index.php/dressage-legal/verbindend.html.

9010-12-140-_sr55_h_5The mouthpieces of their bits are made from an alloy called Salox® Gold.  For you science geeks out there (don’t take offense, I am one too), there is a great explanation of the science that went into the engineering the alloy used on their website: http://nsbits.com/global/index.php/technology/the-science.html.  Who knew you could combine your love of science with your love of horses?  Awesome.  What I have found thus far is that Ike salivates A LOT with this bit.

The Verbindend bit is designed to help those who have horses that tend to be heavy on the forehand.  I’d say Ike falls into that category when he allows me to carry him…not exactly the feel we are going for in dressage.  This bit is designed to “greatly emphasis the signals through the reins.”  The Verbindend bit definitely has helped me better execute a half halt and since using it, I’ve not had stabbing pain in my arms and shoulders during my rides.  Ike carries himself and I’m able to execute a range of half halts from two fingers to a full squeeze and feel Ike give a response to the aid.  Oh, so that is what an effective half halt feels like.  Ms. C even had us playing with working trot to trot lengthening and back to working trot and showing clear changes.  It is a new concept to Ike, but one that was made relatively easy since he was clearly hearing my aids.  We even toyed with walk-canter transitions with some success.

This guinea pig is a big fan of the Neue Schule Verbindend bit.  Can I say that it is the be-all-end-all for every horse and rider out there?  Probably not.  There are honestly too many variables in equine conformation, equine age, equine training level, rider skill level, and riding disciplines to say that there is one bit that is always going to work on every horse.  But I will say that you should consider this brand of bit if you are in the market for a new bit.  My best advice is to contact the company representatives for any brand you are considering.  They are very knowledgeable about their product lines and want you to be pleased with your purchase.  Be honest with what you tell them and you will find that there just might be that perfect bit for you and your horse.