From Endurance to Dressage
One of the things that I really enjoyed about endurance riding was the fact that I could clean nearly all of my tack by dropping it in a bucket of water. I realize now that it wasn't because I didn't like to clean leather, because I actually do. It was because endurance tack gets really dirty after every single ride. Depending on the distance and the soil, your tack could end up being encrusted with salt, mud, clay, sweat, and foam. It was hard to keep clean.
Now that my tack doesn't get that kind of dirty, I have discovered that I actually enjoy cleaning my bridles each afternoon. It could also be that I have finally discovered a system that works for me. Let me introduce you to Effax's Leather Cream Soap. This stuff has become my absolute favorite leather cleaner and light conditioner.
I can't claim to be a leather snob because I simply don't yet appreciate the highest quality leather. I like mine soft, but I am not willing to pay $350 for a bridle to get that buttery soft leather. And, I am far more interested in function which means that the styles I prefer (currently the Micklem bridles) don't come in that super soft leather anyway. Even so, I try my best to keep my leather as soft and healthy as possible.
Here's the system that I've been using for the last several months.
1. As I fill my feed buckets with beet pulp and top them off with water to soak, I also fill my little red bucket.
2. When I am finished with my ride, I grab the soap and brush, which are hanging from my bridle rack, and the sponge which stays in the bucket.
3. I swish my bit around in the bucket to knock off all of the foam and slobber and then give it a quick scrub with the sponge.
4. I use the brush to clean the buckle of the flash. Sydney's gets really crusty from cookie slobber.
5. Once the sponge is damp, I squirt a generous portion of the soap onto the sponge and quickly wipe it all over the headstall, rinsing the sponge and reapplying soap as needed.
6. Once I've gone over the headstall, I quickly wipe down the reins with soap as well.
7. I use the towel at the very end to remove any last traces of dirt or excess soap. Since this soap is like a lotion (no suds), it's not necessary to wash it off with water.
And that's it: my five minute system for keeping my tack super clean and soft. When I am finished, my leather feels clean and soft with no sticky residue. Once I got in the habit of doing it after every ride, it was sort of self-perpetuating. I love coming out to the barn the next day knowing that my bridle is glowing with good health and ready to use.
And seriously. It takes me five minutes to get my bridle clean and conditioned. Every month or so I like to take it apart and do a more thorough job, but even that has become super quick since my bridles are always so clean and conditioned already.
I am always looking for quick and easy tack cleaning products. What do you use?
Poor Speedy. No bling (yet) for the gray pony. The browband, which turned out to be quite pretty, is just a smidge too big. I chose this one, even though it didn't come in cob, because several reviewers said it ran a bit small. Uh … no, it didn't.
It looks great on Sydney though, so it's a keeper. I am on the hunt for a new browband for Speedy and have one in mind. It's pricier than this one though, so it might be a month or two before I go ahead and order it.
In the mean time, here's Sydney's new browband!
Yep. I went from eyeballing the bridle skeptically for nearly a year to owning two of them in less than two months.
Speedy's Micklem arrived the other day. Fitting the bridle the second time was much faster and easier than the first one. This one arrived a bit stiffer than Sydney's did, but it could simply be that I've conditioned the heck out of Sydney's which has made it quite soft and pliable.
Speedy's has gone through "softening boot camp," and it's rounding up quite well, but it still needs some use along with regular conditioning to really soften up.
I've hacked Speedy in the Micklem twice, but I can't say whether he was softer or more relaxed in it. I didn't really buy it expecting any change in his way of going. I really just like the ease of cleaning this bridle, and truth be told, it looks more comfortable for the horse. I should be able to put in a good schooling ride today. I'll let you know how Speedy does in it.
By its second use, I knew the bridle was a keeper. By the third ride, I was beginning to be a believer. I wish I could explain how these few pieces of leather strapping can change the way your horse moves while under saddle, but I can't. Maybe I've simply become a better rider at the right time for him. Either way, I know Sydney likes it and is moving better in it.
Now remember, I've only ridden him in it for about a month. In six months, the novelty might wear off, and we might be back to playing the same game of how hard can you pull? But even in just a few dozen rides, Sydney feels different. He hasn't turned into an upper level horse or anything, but he is definitely softer through his neck and poll.
When I have to really use my hands, like in a hard halt, or exaggerating the bend, or slowing down from a big gallop, I feel as though I am touching his whole face and not just his mouth. The reins feel as though they are connected like how an octopus grabs onto it's prey - touching everywhere.
I read one reviewer's comment, and at first, I thought it sounded like a harsh use of the bridle, but now I get it. She said the bridle gave her more 'leverage.' That is a really good way to put it.
Another improvement that I've noticed over the past few weeks is that Sydney no longer flips his nose when he's anxious. With his other bridle, he would flip his nose like there was a fly bothering him. I am not sure if his previous bridle's crank noseband caused him to be itchy or if it put pressure somewhere, but he is no longer doing that little head flip. That seems like a good thing.
So for now, the bridle seems to be working as advertised. Even so, I like it for more reasons than that. It looks really nice on him and fits him super well. I am also really happy with how easy it is to put on. It has two simple straps: one under the jaw and one at the bit.
The leather has also relaxed nicely. We're now on the third hole at the jaw strap, and I was also able to move to the third hole on the flash. I like this bridle so much that I just ordered one for Speedy.
More to come ...
And it's not just me who thinks so. Louisiana and I met up again over the weekend for a two-hour trail ride through Hart Park and around Lake Ming. She even thinks my horses are awesome. And if she was only agreeing with me to be nice, at least she has enough class to pretend!
Lousiana showed up at the barn on Sunday morning, right on time. We checked the fit of Speedy's new girth, and then finished loading her saddle and lunch. Both boys hopped into the trailer without any fuss and we were off!
My plan was to park at the barn at Hart Park, ride east around the lake, and then head back. The park has a great trail system that allows you to loop around on different trails. You might be able to see all the way across to where you just rode, but at least it's on a different trail. My only concern was that it is very a much a there and back trail. I worried that as soon as we made the turn for home, Sydney's RUN button was going to be pushed; I needn't have worried.
By the way, I took ZERO photos so what you see are satellite images of the area.
As we made the turn up the barn's gravel road, I was dismayed that some kind of cycling event was happening in the space next to the barn. Cyclists were riding a course that was marked by flapping caution tape. I eyeballed the trail and figured that I could always lead Sydney by the mess if I had to.
We unloaded the horses in temperatures that were in the low 30s, but both boys were pretty quiet considering that it was a busy day at the park and cold to boot. We tacked both horses up and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to mount up, or at least I did. Sydney wouldn't stand still, and there was no mounting block. I had brought my little step stool, but it wasn't wide enough to use for a horse who is side-stepping all over the place. We finally located a large boulder, and I popped up with its help. Speedy was much more obliging for Louisiana.
We had to ride alongside the fluttering tape of the mountain bike course as mountain bikers flashed by us, but fortunately, both horses barely glanced at the hubbub. As Sydney walked away from the barn, he was jigging and his head was sky high, but I rocked the reins and urged him forward. By the time we crossed the highway and got down on the river trail, he had started walking but was still the looky-loo.
By the time we passed the soccer fields (with multiple games being played), Sydney finally took a deep breath and dropped his head. While he occasionally froze to stare at something moving in the distance, he mostly just power walked down the trail.
Most of the trail from the soccer park to the lake is wide and sandy, but there are a few places to the south where the trail becomes a narrow single track with some rocks. Sydney took a few faltering steps, but for the most part, he was pretty solid.
By the time we got to the lake, he was on the buckle and having a great time. Speedy, clearly poorly named, was doing his best toe dragging slow down! saunter. Louisiana spent the first hour asking him to trot to catch up every minute or so. What I loved about Sydney was that after the first time Speedy trot to catch up, he never flicked an ear at Speedy or tried to keep the lead even when Speedy overshot us and got ahead.
As we neared the eastern end of the lake, which is also the turn back towards home point, Louisiana and I braced for a fight. As we made the turn, Sydney asked if we could pick up a trot. I looked back at Louisiana, who agreed, and we were off. While Sydney wasn't in a perfect frame, he kept his head and listened to my half halts. He stretched out into a lovely, elevated trot that was relaxed and fun to ride.
When we finally came back to the walk, he did so willingly and returned to his methodical march. I dropped the reins down to the buckle, and announced to the world that I have two amazing horses!
From the lake, we rode the narrow stretch between the mountain and the river and popped out into the campground. There were only a few campers, so we just marched through the middle of the campground until we returned to the trail. Rather than returning on the same trail, we took the left turn to the south, you can see it easily in the satellite photo below, and followed the trail to CALM.
We did a fair amount of trotting from the campground to the zoo, and each time we needed to walk, Sydney was back on the buckle. He never argued with me once. After we left the zoo area, we took advantage of the sandy footing and wide open trails for some galloping. Both boys got a little strong, but they were easily slowed down. And again, Sydney willingly walked on the buckle even after galloping.
Once we finished our last gallop, at the west end of the soccer park, Sydney was once again on the buckle even though he knew we were almost back to the barn. Speedy was a big jiggy, but that was mostly because Sydeny walks so darn fast. From the end of the soccer park, we stayed along the river hoping that the water trough was still filled. When we discovered it had been removed, we stopped along the road where Sydney happily marched through a large puddle and got a big drink. Speedy's a bit picky and passed on the puddle.
The last hundred yards were spent nibbling on grass as we left the park proper and ambled again past the fluttering caution tape and the struggling cyclists. Both boys were happy to be back and looked around eagerly for their lunch. After pulling tack, Louisiana and I doled out beet pulp and rice bran and then covered both boy with fleece coolers.
We grabbed our own lunches and a couple of blankets that I keep stocked in the trailer and headed to one of the picnic tables for our own lunch. Both boys munched happily on their beet pulp and dug into the hay bag.
The trip home, a mere ten minutes, brought us all back to my barn in fine shape. I could not have been happier with my boys. Speedy was a steady ride for Louisiana (who is still getting used to galloping in the wide open), and Sydney exceeded my expectations a thousand times over.
I should mention that this was the third ride in the Micklem bridle. I loved how I was able to really take a hold of him at the beginning without him bracing or getting tense. Within just a few minutes on the trail, he was walking and enjoying himself. I know that's not all thanks to the bridle, but when we went to the fox hunt, slowing him down took all of my strength. With the Miklem, I just rocked the reins a bit and sat tall. That's all it took to get a slow down.
And the rubber reins? Loved them for the trail. I am definitely keeping them for a while.
Louisiana is off to visit family until the end of the month, but I am pretty sure she'll call when she gets back. We have a lot more trail to ride this winter!
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 the lower levels. 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%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: