From Endurance to Dressage
I brought the bridle home, took it back apart, and conditioned the heck out of it (along with my other bridles).
Even though I've bought my share of bridles, I am still looking for one that is butter soft out of the box. Even my Stübben required some conditioning to get it buttery soft. The Micklem was no exception. It wasn't super soft, but it's better than many of the cheaper bridles I've purchased. One reviewer, and I can't remember from where, described the bridle perfectly. She said something like, 'you're paying for a design, not the leather.' I thought this was a perfect explanation.
The bridle is quite pretty out of the package, but I did spend some time conditioning it, especially at the bit ends. I hate those hooks; they're so hard to open and close when the leather is stiff. The padding on the crown piece and nose band is nice and feels as though it will hold up well. Over-all, the leather has a nice thickness and width. I am very satisfied with the quality and workmanship of the bridle and with some regular conditioning, I imagine it will get softer and softer.
The rubber reins are nice enough, but the rubber is quite thick. I love my Passier laced reins, and I've worked hard to get them super soft and drapey, but I am trying the rubber reins for now. I may switch back. I can tell they're going to be great if I go fox hunting again; that rubber doesn't slip at all!
Sydney is quite a large boy as far as TBs go. Not that I have oodles of experience with his breed, but from what I can see and from what others tell me, he's rather large for his breed. Maybe it's the New Zealand breeding. It's not like he's a giant, but he's really thick. His head is wide and moderately long. I waffled for some time over which size bridle to order. It comes in Pony, Cob, Horse, and Large Horse. I went with the Horse size which seems to have worked out.
Many reviewers complained about the jaw strap being too short; I have to agree. For the "cheek" piece, I have it set 4 holes from the top with 5 to go, but for the jaw strap it's on the very last hole. The flash's fit is similar; it's on the second to the last hole, but I am certain that will stretch.
Ease of Use
Whether it solves any of Sydney's tension issues or not, I still love the bridle. The design makes it super user-friendly. You simply unbuckle the jaw strap and the flash and the whole thing slides off. Putting it on is even easier. You don't have to hold the caveson open or widen the crank noseband, and there's no flash attachment to drop. And conditioning it was fast; there are fewer pieces to dissemble and clean.
If you're looking at this bridle to buy, I would recommend you buy it first because you like the design, second for the quality of construction, and lastly for it's tension reducing abilities. I am glad I bought the bridle, and I think that it's a quality piece of tack for the price.
More to come ...
I have lost count of the number of bridles that I have bought in the last four years. There are at least eight that I can recall immediately. My Stübben show bridal was perfect, and the most recent bridle that I purchased for Speedy, the Plymouth Dressage Bridle by SmartPak, was also a nice fit, but the other six have not been what I wanted.
I never even bothered to buy Sydney his own bridle. Why would I when I had half a dozen left overs from which to choose? And since he hasn't shown at any fancy shows, the dressage bridle that I had pieced together for him was fine.
For the past year though, I've been studying the Micklem Competition Bridle. I do not believe that any piece of tack will turn your horse into a model citizen. Replacing ill-fitting tack might certainly make him behave better, but a piece of tack is not going to train your horse. Even so, the premise of the bridle was intriguing: ergonomically designed from the inside out to fit the shape of the horse's skull; comfortable, flexible and effective.
So I researched. I read every review on SmartPak, Dover, and COTH and any other reviews I could find. And then I waited a few months and read them again. I searched other riders' blogs and read what they had to say. And then I waited a few more months.
I finally came to the conclusion that the bridle didn't have to work any miracles. If it fit Sydney, was of nice quality, and didn't bother him, then it would be a justifiable purchase as I wanted a bridle that was chosen just for him anyway. But if it did improve his way of going even just a little bit, then the purchase would really be worth it.
Enter SmartPak. The Micklem Competition Bridle is listed at $189.95 for regular shoppers, but USEF members get it for $180.45 with free shipping (both ways). My decision was made, the order was placed, and the daily stalking of UPS began.
I didn't take a picture of the bridle in its package because I was in a hurry to get it out and see it, but if you do purchase the bridle yourself, know that it does not come assembled. It's not overly difficult to put together, but it does come with some extra pieces (bit clips and extra bit hangers) that did confuse me for a few moments. You should also know that it doesn't come with directions either, although SmartPak has three very good videos (available in the additional views area on the item's page) that will walk you through the bridle's assembly and fit.
Even though I had watched the videos several times, I did have to watch one of them again as I was fitting the bridle to Sydney. I just didn't like the fit the first time I put it on him. But after watching Micklem himself explain it again, I got a fit I liked.
So here's what I think of the bridle so far (I will be reviewing it several times over the next few days, weeks, and months.)
My initial reaction: like it. Sydney's initial reaction: love it! As I was adjusting it, Sydney started sucking and chewing the bit like it was candy. His mouth got all foamy in the cross ties, and I couldn't keep his head up to adjust the bridle. I finally knelt on the ground at his feet to finish buckling it together.
This is a horrible photo as I was fitting the bridle in the near dark, but you can see the foam around his lips that formed just during the fitting.
Since it was getting dark, I threw my saddle on and rode him for a few minutes just to see what I thought. I've learned a lot myself in the last few weeks about bending Sydney more correctly to get a better right lead canter, so it could simply be that my aids are suddenly more effective, but I really think he went better in this bridle.
It just felt that he resisted less and that he was more through more quickly. He was softer in the poll with less bracing in his neck and jaw. I hate even writing this as it could have nothing to do with the bridle, but I think it might have been more comfortable for him.
More to come ...
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%