From Endurance to Dressage
Last fall, after spending a lot of time agonizing over the decision, I moved Speedy into a double bridle. It took some time to not only get it adjusted to his petite face, but I also had to find a set of bits that he actually liked. I've been riding him in it all winter, and so far, we both seem to be pretty comfortable with it.
Speedy's never been one to fuss about tack. He's never balked at a specific saddle or girth, but if I really listen, he lets me know when he has a preference. For girths, he definitely prefers mohair or fleece over neoprene or leather. For bits, I ultimately settled on a baucher. It wasn't that he hated any bit in particular; he was just lighter in the hanging snaffle.
For the double bridle, the first set of bits I tried were obvious failures. He was quite clear that there was nothing he liked about them. I did a bit of research and landed on this German Silver Short Shank Curb & Bradoon Set. Speedy was happy in the set from the very beginning.
While Speedy worked well in the double bridle, getting the whole thing on him easily, took some time. The double bridle isn't really designed for horses with so little facial real estate. In the beginning, I think it made him feel a little claustrophobic. To ease his trepidation, I started by giving him a peppermint candy to get his jaw working, and once the bridle was on, he got another one.
Just this week, I realized that the process of bridling Speedy with the double is finally just as ho hum as with his snaffle. He still gets a peppermint before I slide the bridle on, but he no longer panics and flies backward. For quite a while he insisted that I slide the crown piece over his near ear first and then walk around before tucking his off ear under.
I am not sure when it happened, but one day I noticed that he was once again lowering his head so that I could actually do his far ear first followed by the ear closest to me. Of course, he still gets his candy when the bridle is over his ears.
As he crunches his candy contentedly, I buckle the throatlatch and noseband and hook the chain. He still likes to let me know that he's permitting me to put it on - he raises his nose up rather haughtily, but as long as I am respectful, he agrees to lower his head so that I can slide the crown piece over his ears without pinching them.
While I wish we were showing, this forced hiatus has allowed us to smooth out some wrinkles. By the time we make it back into the show ring, Speedy will be long past any tension caused by the double bridle.
There's always a silver lining.
The USDF Region 7 Championships were held recently at LA Equestrian Center. The CDS Championship show is held in conjunction with that show. We didn't go this year, but I followed along a bit on social media. I am never really one to be "in the know," but I do like to check in now and then.
I did catch one bit that I found interesting, and the reason it was so interesting was because it was "a thing."
I am not opposed to double bridles at all. You all know that I put Izzy in a double for a few days to see if it would help me get control. I got control all right, but he wasn't ready for that much communication, so I searched for a bit that gave me some brakes without so much hardware. No, it's not the use of the double bridle, it's the widespread use of the double that I find interesting.
Speedy and I made it to four shows this summer showing Third Level. I paid close attention to what bridle riders were using at Third Level and above. Third Level is when riders are permitted to use a double bridle. I don't recall seeing a single other rider using a snaffle. I was the only one.
When we were preparing to make the move to Third Level, I asked my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, if I needed to move to a double bridle. I figured since everyone else uses one, I would probably need one as well. Her answer was a solid no. She didn't think we needed one ... yet.
As we moved through the season at Third Level, I've given the idea of the double bridle a lot of thought. Third Level is not that much harder than Second Level, so why the instantaneous need for a second bit? My reason to switching to a double would be to get control of a hot, forward horse. Or maybe one that is getting overly strong in the bridle at the medium and extended gaits. If that were true, you would expect to see a healthy mix of snaffles and doubles at Third and above. That doesn't seem to be true though.
I think that the main reason riders make the switch is that the double serves as a rite of passage. Third Level is no longer part of the lower levels. It's a big step towards the upper levels, the FEI, the Big Dogs, the Big Time. It's a Big Deal to move out of Second Level, and riders want to celebrate that success.
At least, that's how it looks from here.
If you made the switch to a double bridle at Third, why did you feel it was necessary? I would really like to know.
We may need to move to a double bridle eventually, but I am going to hope not. Instead, I am going to work towards riding a Grand Prix test in a snaffle. Speedy's a hard worker, and he likes his job. He enjoys the challenges I present to him, and he tries his heart out for me. So far, the snaffle is working well.
Besides, snaffle bridles are a lot cheaper than a double. If nothing else, staying in a snaffle is a cost saver.
A year or so ago, we tried putting Izzy in a double bridle to see if that would make things more clear (and more comfortable) for him. It was an amazing success for about three days. Of course the wheels fell off the bus very quickly, but the whole experiment gave me some good information in general.
Now that Speedy and I are tackling Third Level, we're finding things to be hard again. I can't get him sitting enough, or soft enough, or pushing powerfully enough. During one particularly tough ride, it occurred to me to stick him in one of Izzy's ported bits. I didn't, but at that moment I realized why riders use a double bridle at Third.
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came for my most recent lesson, we talked about how Speedy was bridled. She agreed that a double was likely in our future, but not yet. We both agreed on that. I suggested adding a flash, and she agreed.
One of the ways he's been "getting away from me," is by gaping his mouth hugely to avoid the contact, especially when asking for the flying change. He's always opened his mouth a little bit when he's being fussy, but it was never enough for me to clamp his mouth shut with a flash.
Chemaine put it this way: I've always been very nice to Speedy by riding him in a loose cavesson with no flash. Coming from an endurance background where comfort is king, I've never chosen my dressage tack based on what is "normal." Even though a flash is pretty standard for most dressage horses, I didn't use one. I reasoned that if Speedy didn't need one, why use it? I always figured that if you use all of your tools from the start, you run out of options pretty quickly. Well, now Speedy needs a flash.
From the first ride in the flash, I had much better control, and Speedy wasn't able to avoid the contact. I could see him really thinking about things rather than trying to just bolt through it all. For now, I have the cavesson and flash set as loosely as they can be while still doing something, but I am certain both will need to be tightened.
I'd rather wait as long as possible before moving to a double bridle, and If I am the only rider doing Third Level without one, it won't bother me in the least. I am sure Speedy won't mind either.
Well that didn't take long. The first few times that I used the double bridle, Izzy took it willingly, and then worked better than ever. The next few times I tried it, he started to show some resistance to bridling again.
Over the weekend, I spent time just bridling without the added pressure of a ride. Yesterday, he had a full on melt down over the bridle and gave me an impossible to ignore NO.
I did get it on, but he flew backwards each time I tried to bring it over his ears to secure it. And no, it's not an ear issue; he just knows over the ears means it's on.
Once I finally did get it on, he stood there practically trembling, but not quite. His entire body was rigid, and a near panic filled his eyes. No way was I going to ride him looking like that. I gently removed the double, gave him a reassuring pat, and let him stand and recover.
A few minutes later, I pulled out my original bridle with the correction bit attached. He gave it the hairy eye ball, but stood quietly as I slowly drew the crown piece over his ears. The dude knew the difference.
When I bought Izzy, his first owner told me that he was very expressive about his dislikes. Her experience came with a poor fitting saddle. According to her, Izzy had a complete fit about using a saddle that he didn't like. She couldn't get it off fast enough.
This is twice now that he's shown an obvious dislike for a bit. For the first, a thick and gentle double jointed snaffle, it took him months to convince me that he didn't like it. This time, he decided to be more persuasive; it only took him a handlful of bridling days to convince me that the double is not for him.
Before anyway suggests dental work, believe me, I've thought of it too. My horses get their teeth done by my veterinarian once or twice a year. Izzy's teeth were done this past March. While it is possible that something has changed in his mouth since then, I have felt around in there and even taken a quick peek. Nothing seems to be amiss, but I will let my vet know we've had some bitting issues.
The main reason I don't suspect a dental problem is because he seems to like the Myler Correction bit. He packed it around for three solid weeks without complaint or resistance. And in fact, even after having a melt down over the double, he stood quietly and let me put that bit on.
I am ordering a dressage legal Myler bit today. If I am going to have a tack issue, which I'd rather not, but if so, I'd much rather it be bits than saddles. And no, Universe, I am NOT tempting you. Who all has been down this particular path?
I didn't get a lot done over the weekend, but it was nice to get back in the saddle. Of course, this week is going to be a little hit or miss as I have after work appointments two out of the five afternoons.
Over the weekend, I finally got to get back on Izzy and do some more work in the double bridle, but this time, I had to do it alone without a trainer in my ear. I don't know why the double intimidated me so much. On Izzy, it fees like the most natural thing. It is so much easier to have a conversation with him. It's almost like I ditched an old, staticky cell phone for one that has a better "connection."
He's still the same horse, that hasn't changed. But now, instead of arguing for 15 minutes about why spooking isn't the way to go, the discussion lasts for 15 seconds, and we move on.
We're still struggling with maintaining a steady tempo, but with the double, the variations in his speed are much smaller. We don't fluctuate between mach 10 and sucking back. Now, we go forward, and I remind him to slow down with a half halt, and he can hear me.
My homework was to work on keeping the tempo steady, but Chemaine also gave me a tip regarding the canter. Instead of thinking, Okay we're getting ready to canter, GET READY, OKAY NOW SHOVE THAT HIP FORWARD, she had me just lift my inside seatbone without all of the other fanfare. All of that preparing and dramatizing only ensured that the transition to the new gait would be a wild launch forward.
So, I worked on getting him deep and soft in the trot and then just (tried) slid my inside seatbone forward. That horse is super sensitive. He flicked an ear back at me and then bounced around a bit, but after organizing his legs, he rolleded into a less wild canter. We tried a few more times until he got it just right. When we switched directions, he picked up the canter effortlessly.
I can't say it enough: this double bridle is proving to be the most valuable tool in my tackroom. I feel like we can now really start moving forward. And on that note, I think we can finally say that we're no longer an Introductory Level team. While we haven't shown there yet, I still feel good about calling us a Training Level team.
Yea for progress!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read