Team Speedy is nothing if not determined.
At 15 years of age, Speedy knows how to be bridled. I've had quite a few different bits on him over the years - some for endurance racing, some for dressage, so he's very well schooled in getting tacked up. With that said, bridling him with the double bridle didn't go as smoothly as I expected.
Most of the trouble was mine. Figuring out how to get all of that hardware in his mouth and all those straps on his smaller head was quite a challenge. Small horses and ponies don't have as much room on their faces for all of that gear. Bigger horses like Izzy, and his head is just horse-sized, have more room for all of that leather. It took Speedy and me some time to figure out how to get all of that gear onto his small head.
When Izzy started refusing his snaffle bit a few years ago, I developed a technique to encourage him to open his mouth. It worked Just as well with Speedy. Just before I bridle, I pop a candy in his mouth. Hard candies work great because once crunched, they stick to the teeth and encourage the horses to move their jaws while keeping the mouth wet.
In the beginning, Speedy would pull back as I tried to slip the crown piece over his ears. It took me a while to figure out why I couldn't pull the bridle up; I wasn't opening the noseband wide enough. Unbeknownst to me, it was catching on the bit straps and pinching Speedy's face and mouth. Once I fixed that, things went a lot more smoothly.
While Speedy sucks and chews on his peppermint, I also discovered that he prefers me to pull the crown piece over his near side ear first. I've always done the off ear first (which he doesn't mind with a snaffle bridle). If I do the near side first, the bridle is at least partially secured so I can walk around his nose and check to be sure that all of the other straps are free. Only then do I pull the other side up over his ears without pinching him.
Once everything is on over his ears, I always stop and give him a second peppermint. While his eyes go to half mast and he contentedly chews and sucks, I buckle the throat latch, tighten the noseband, and clip the curb chain. I've also started giving him a third candy once everything is in place.
Speedy is a really good guy. He only complains if it's legitimate. And even though I've been bridling horses for 40 years, there was a learning curve to putting the double on him. Since he fussed about it, I knew that I was doing something wrong. It has taken a few weeks to get each step right, but now he's opening his mouth again, trying to grab the bits to "help" me.
Now that I've had time to condition the leather, it should start to get softer and more pliable. Even so, it's still a lot of bridle to put on a little face. I think we've finally worked it out though, Speedy and me. It's helpful to have a teammate who offers such great feedback.
Team Speedy is nothing if not determined.
This is turning out to be tack week ...
I've had a lot on my mind lately, damn you, middle age, so I spent a lot of time with my tack over the weekend. Cleaning tack is one way for me to organize my thoughts and process "stuff." Vacuuming does the same thing.
After installing a new saddle cover and padding my saddle rack, I realized my saddle was looking a bit dusty and grimy. Saturday was warm and sunny, so I hauled my saddle outside and set to work. With a funky playlist setting the mood, I worked on removing the gunk from my saddle and clearing away some mental cobwebs.
A clean saddle wasn't enough though; middle age gives you a lot to analyze, so I pulled out Speedy's double bridle. Even though I've had it for nearly two months, I hadn't yet given it an initial conditioning. It took so long to get it to fit correctly that I was reluctant to take it apart to clean it. Knowing how long it took to put together, I realized that unless I wrote down each buckle's placement, it was safer to clean it without taking it completely apart.
First, I dropped both bits with their reins. The curb bit has beta reins, so that whole section went straight into a bucket to soak. The snaffle has Thinline reins, so I only soaked the bit, and later wiped down the Thinline portion with a damp cloth. Then I took all of the buckles out of their keepers. I unbuckled one buckle at a time to clean it, but then I re-buckled it immediately. It's a much longer process than than just laying everything out, but this bridle has too many parts for me to remember on what hole everything goes.
When I was finished, I stepped back to admire how pretty this bridle really is. It's not a fancy pants bridle, but it sure looks nice when it's all cleaned up. Even after unbuckling and re-buckling 400 straps, my mental housekeeping still wasn't done, so I dragged out Izzy's bridle.
I will never again complain about cleaning a snaffle bridle. After tackling Speedy's double, this thing was a breeze to clean. In fact, it was so quick that the next day I did my other two bridles - Speedy's snaffle bridle and Izzy's bridle with the correction bit.
My tack certainly looks better, and I felt better for all the work, but damn, middle age is a real pain in the butt.
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like, a mattress for your saddle. I saw this on Facebook, and was quite intrigued.
I use a pretty standard saddle rack, the kind that you can carry easily to shows. I keep it padded with two old saddle pads.
After reading about the Saddle Mattress, I decided to look at my saddle closely to see if there were any pressure points.
Both sides of my saddle have an indentation where it rests against the saddle stand.
Fortunately, the pressure points hit my saddle just below the saddle's panels, but still, the pressure points can't be healthy. I have my saddle's flocking adjusted at least once a year, and so far, the fitter has never mentioned the "indentations." Over the weekend, I asked her about the Saddle Mattress, and she loved the idea. She also suggested padding the rack with fleece or pool noodles, which I had already planned to try.
The Saddle mattress is a great idea, and using one can only be a healthy option for your saddle. As soon as I saw the product, I knew I wanted one, but at $100, it's kind of pricey for what is basically a piece of foam covered nicely in cloth. In the meantime, here's what it looks like with a pool noodle instead.
I sent my saddle fitter the above photo. I asked her to evaluate the width and overall efficacy of my cheaper solution. Her response was very positive. She thought it all looked great.
I use pool noodles a lot for P.E. with my students, so I have had some experience in cutting them to size. I simply measured the length of the saddle rack to determine how much noodle I needed and then sawed off the desired length with a hacksaw. I took a pocket knife and sliced down through the pool noodle so I could slide it onto the saddle rack. I thought I might need duct tape to secure the noodles, but so far, they fit snuggly without sliding around or falling off.
While I really like the idea of the Saddle Mattress, and I may eventually just get one, I thought I'd try this out for a while to see how it holds up.
We have a pool, so I buy new pool noodles every year anyway. Now I have a use for last year's pool noodles. Out of curiosity, has anyone tried a Saddle Mattress, and if so, do you like it?
My saddle cover was a nice one. It had a soft, fleece liner, sturdy polyester fabric on the outside, and it had velcro openings in the side to allow your stirrups to come through. It's no longer nice.
I was actually embarrassed by it at the last show I did. You can see why.
I have been looking around for a new one for quite some time. I know there are even some bloggers who make custom saddle covers. The thing is that I am not that great at dealing with too many choices. If I can't even pick out a browband by myself, how am I expected to custom order a saddle cover? I can't, so I didn't.
I am not even sure where I saw the ad, probably on Facebook, but LeMieux makes a saddle cover that checks off all my boxes. It's made of a durable polyester outer with a soft fleece inside, it has an adjustable elastic drawstring, and as an added bonus, it has a sleeve to store the girth. And it's black which means no agonizing over a color choice. My birthday was coming up, so I sent a link to my husband.
Guess what I unwrapped over the weekend? At right around 35 bucks, it was a win-win for everybody. My husband got off pretty light, and I got something I've been wanting for a long, long time. It is just as nice in person, too.
The edges are really stretchy, so they enclose my saddle perfectly. As the elastic wears out, there are drawstrings up near the pommel to make it fit more snugly. I also love, love, love the sleeve for the girth.
For every day use, I hang my girths on the pull handle of my other saddle stand. At shows though, my girth is forever sliding off my saddle as I tote it back to the trailer for storage. I am too poor to get a tack stall, so I schlepp my saddle and bridle back and forth each day from my trailer to my stall and back again. That ingenious little sleeve is going to make that task a whole lot easier.
While I don't have a lot of experience with the LeMieux brand, I do like the one pair of breeches that I own, so I expected the saddle cover to be of at least equal quality. It does not disappoint. The fabric on the top feels very durable, and the fleece on the underside is soft and smooth.
The cover has an added feature that some might find helpful, but I can't see that I'll use it much. There is a lower slot through which you can run your billets. I suppose that for traveling, it will help secure the cover to the saddle, but for day in and day out usage, that would be a bit unnecessary for my barn. My tack is very secure where it is with no one bumping my saddles or sliding theirs past mine. For carrying my saddle back and forth to the trailer, this might be a handy feature, otherwise, not so much.
Overall, my first impression is that this saddle cover earns an A+ for both quality and value. I can't say how long it's going to last, but my guess is that it will be around for a while.
I haven't had many lessons this past month or two. Speedy's recent abscess had everything to do with that. I had a lesson on a Tuesday, and two days later he was lame. The rain didn't help any either. Although, here in Central California we never lament a rainy day since we have so few of them. It took two full weeks for the abscess to heal up, and then I spent another week or so getting him back into riding fitness. This past Tuesday, Speedy and I were finally able to get another lesson.
Normally, when Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, shows up, Speedy and I have been warming up, and we're ready to get to work. Not for this lesson. As soon as Chemaine walked up, I told her that I wanted a "double bridle tutorial." While I had hand walked Speedy for a week in the double and then ridden him 3 or 4 times, I knew I wanted some direct, explicit training in how to correctly ride him in the double bridle.
The first thing she did was check the bridle to see how everything fit. While most everything looked good, she did have me tighten the noseband one hole and attach the curb chain differently so that it rested against Speedy's chin at a different angle. Once that all looked good, I hopped up and put Speedy on a 20-meter circle. As we walked, Chemaine watched my hands and overall rein length.
I am going to be honest here: riding in a double bridle is not rocket science, but it's also not "easy." There's a lot more to it than just holding a second pair of reins. While I enjoy figuring things out on my own, I also recognize when I need a professional's advice. For the first few rides on my own, I experimented with how exactly to hold two sets of reins while keeping each one at the appropriate length. It's not easy.
I had already decided that my Thinline reins were going to be used for the snaffle, and my old Beta endurance reins would serve as my curb rein. The Thinline reins have stops while the Beta reins are smooth all the way down. This works for me as there isn't anything to snag the curb rein. Chemaine liked the set up and commented that the Beta reins drape nicely.
She did have me make one major change though. She suggested I pick up the snaffle rein first and carry it between my pinkie and ring finger with the curb rein above it, carried by the middle and index fingers. She explained that I would need the leverage for the snaffle rein, but by carrying the curb rein higher, I could use more finesse and a lighter grip with the middle and index fingers. It took me a bit to get comfortable with that grip, but she was absolutely right. It felt much more comfortable.
With everything fitted correctly and my grip situated, we moved on to using the curb rein. First, she had me take up the curb and play around with it until I could feel it in Speedy's mouth. Up until that moment, I had been reluctant to actually use it. By the end of the lesson, I was well acquainted with the curb and much more comfortable using it.
She also had me practice a few things like simply relaxing my grip on the snaffle rein to quickly access the curb rein when things were going haywire. She explained that this can be a great tool to use if a flying change gets too wild for example. By allowing the snaffle rein to slide through, I could access the curb rein more quickly.
After shortening both reins a little, she explained how if both reins are nearly the same length, simply coming above the snaffle, like in a transition, will cause the curb to engage, reminding Speedy to soften. She also had me teach him a little about the curb by asking for a more "abrupt" half halt accompanied by a bigger than normal release. He quickly started seeking that release by giving to me quicker and deeper.
She also had me think about his response to the curb. If the response was slow, I needed to ask more firmly and quicker. If Speedy's response was more immediate, I could then get him to come more through from behind because I wouldn't be holding him back so much.
Another thing she had me think about was keeping the gas peddle on because Speedy wants to slow down instead of jumping through and collecting. When I got him soft in the bridle and reaching under, I got this trot to canter transition.
Overall, Chemaine's main question to me was this, "How light is he? Use the curb to make him lighter." No matter how light I thought he was, she insisted he could be lighter and for longer.
I really loved this getting back to basics type of lesson. By the end, I felt much more confident about the double bridle and ready to start schooling him on my own. I definitely have my homework for the next few months, but I think the double bridle is finally right for us.
We're still just one score away from a USDF Bronze Medal, but I think we're getting closer!
Okay. The browband works. The bits work. After a few tweaks, the whole thing has been given the nod of approval by my trainer. I think I can say that Speedy's double bridle is now officially in service.
This thing has taken me several months to put together and get just so. I am never taking it apart again. I'll unbuckle each strap to clean, but there is no way it's coming apart completely.
The bridle itself is the "Grand Prix Double Bridle," a Harry's Horse brand, purchased from The Dressage Pony Store, whose proprietress is my good friend Valerie. It retails for $135 plus shipping, a real bargain for the quality that you get. I wasn't sure I would like the patent noseband, but it actually adds just a little bit of fancy that I didn't know I needed. The rolled cheek pieces and tapered crank noseband also help the bridle fit Speedy's smaller face.
The browband is also from The Dressage Pony Store. It retails for around $90 which is an outstanding bargain especially since it was a custom order from Europe. The crystals are Swarovski, and they do not disappoint!
The weymouth and bradoon are from Marcel Toulouse. The set retails for $74.95, which if you've looked at bits recently, is a fraction of what one bit frequently costs. I got both of them for that price.
It has taken me some time to decide which reins to use. Ultimately, I decided that I love the Thinline Reins so much that they serve as my snaffle rein. They're also from The Dressage Pony Store. Valerie's price, $95, beats everyone else's by a mile. For the curb rein, I am using an old pair of Beta endurance reins that I had hanging around. They're super soft, flexible, and drape really nicely. I paid around $30 for them, but that was more than 10 years ago. I have no idea what they go for now.
So what did the whole thing cost me? Around $425, but I am not counting the endurance reins as I've had them forever. I really didn't have any idea what the total was until just now. When you spend a hundred here and a hundred there, it doesn't seem like much. Even so, $425 is pretty low for a double bridle. Many double bridles will cost that before adding in reins and bits and fancy browbands.
Now, we just need to break it in.
From nearly the first moment I tried the double bridle on Speedy, neither of us liked the bits I had. In all honesty, the weymouth and bradoon that I had on hand were ordered for Izzy simply as a "let's throw this at him and see if it helps." The experiment was useful in that it told me that Izzy wanted a ported bit. Once I made the switch, the weymouth and bradoon got tossed into my bit box. When it became clear that Speedy needed to go in a double bridle, I just dragged out what I had to see what he did and didn't like.
The first thing that I didn't like about the weymouth was that the shanks, including the bit's purchase, rotated. I did a little research and discovered that some horses prefer the movement. I found it to be a pain in the butt. It seemed that every time I looked, the shank had rotated so that my reins were hanging from the front of the bit which also meant the purchase or cheek piece was rotating. I don't know if it rotated while I was riding, but there's enough managing of the reins without the added annoyance of the shank causing the reins to hang funny.
As far as the bradoon, Speedy was not a fan. Not in the least little bit. I've never ridden him in a single jointed bit. I know some horses need it/like it, but not mine. I only rode him in it a few times, but he was having none of it. I quit riding him in a loose ring French link because the loose rings pinched, and he didn't like all of the movement. Which means he probably didn't like the rotating shanks on the weymouth either.
Taking those experimental rides into consideration, as well as my budget, I did some googling and landed on a set of bits that seemed like they were just what Speedy needed. Marcel Toulouse makes the Sanft German Silver Short Shank Curb & Bradoon Set. At just under $75, I was willing to give the combo a try.
As soon as I unpackaged both bits, I knew they were a better fit for both Speedy and me.
The weymouth has short shanks that are fixed. As soon as I picked up the reins, I could feel the difference in the connection. Everything was much clearer with less movement.
While I am not sure if the old weymouth was an issue for Speedy, I know the bradoon definitely was. He was instantly happier in the double jointed bradoon, which I knew he would be.
Making the switch to the double bridle turned out to be a much bigger ordeal than I thought it would be. How complicated can two bits be? Apparently, very. For now, Speedy seems happier in this sets of bits than he was in the last pair. He's still adjusting to having so much hardware in his mouth, but now that comfort is no longer an issue, I think we can start getting to work.
I'll keep you posted.
At a show this past October, I met up with Valerie, owner of The Dressage Pony Store. I was on the hunt for a sparkly browband for the big brown horse, but after seeing what she had to offer, I decided that Speedy needed one, too. While Valerie has many beautiful browbands in stock, she helped me custom order exactly what I wanted. Her supplier is in Europe, so it took a while for the browbands to be made and then shipped, but they finally arrived!
They are so pretty in person, but it's hard to get a good photo of how sparkly they are. It hasn't helped that my horses are jerks; they both refused to look happy to have new jewelry. It's also been cloudy, so I haven't been able to really see them on a sunny day.
If you are looking for a sparkly browband, you really need to talk to Valerie. My total bill for two custom browbands loaded with Swarovski crystals was a paltry $153.86, and that included shipping.
I could not get either horse to pose with a decent expression on his face, but these were our best effort at showing off their new glam.
Now we just need to get through winter so that we can starting showing again. And if not a show, maybe some sunshine so that I can appreciate our new look. If you're looking to add some sparkle to your gray days, check out what Valerie has at The Dressage Pony Store.
Because, hey, it doesn't cost anything to look. Am I right?
Holy freaking hell, people. This double bridle thing has simply been exasperating. I cannot, CANNOT, tell you how many times I have dismembered that double bridle in an effort to get the p e r f e c t fit.
And poor Speedy. He has earned himself some HUGE bonus points for putting up with the endless pinching, tugging, pulling, and conking that he has endured this past week.
Since we've been battling that abscess, I've taken the time to get him accustomed to the feel of two bits in his mouth before he has to work with them in his mouth.
Speedy loves his interactions with me, so when he is benched for any length of time, he's quick to feel left out. Bringing him out every day to not only check his abscess but play around with the double bridle lets him feel important. He doesn't really care what kind of attention he gets, so long as he gets some.
Like all double bridles, this one has what seems like an infinite amount of adjustments. After ruling out the baucher as the snaffle bit, the hanging rings made everything just too busy, I decided to use a regular bradoon as the snaffle. The next thing I had to decide was which bit to hang from the removable strap that goes over the crown piece.
My first instinct was to use that piece as the bradoon hanger. After more research though, I saw that many bridles that have this removable piece use it to hang the weymouth. So I gave that a try. That was an epic fail. I switched the bit back around so that the bradoon hangs from that strap and the weymouth from the fixed strap.
I also spent several days raising and lowering the snaffle and another few days raising and lowering the curb. Finding that happy medium where the snaffle rests just inside of the curb has not been easy.
The weymouth bit itself is a tricky beast. With shanks that rotate, it is very easy to slide the leather of the cheek piece into a shank that has rotated 180 degrees. If you're really inexperienced, like me, you might find yourself asking why the rein is attached to the front of the bit instead of the back.
Like most bridles with a crank noseband, convincing the noseband to maintain a round shape is not always easy. Every afternoon, I may have cursed a few times as I've tried to wedge the noseband in between the cheek pieces to "train" it into maintaining a round shape. The booger just won't stay where it's supposed to.
A week later, I think I finally have everything adjusted to where I like it. Of course, things may be different once I start actually riding Speedy with it. He may hate it. I may hate it. If so, we can always go back to a regular snaffle.
I don't think that's going to happen though. Speedy's a pretty good egg who tends to go along with whatever new thing I've come up with. For a few cookies, he's usually in.
Last week I told you that I ordered a double bridle for Speedy. Yes, I know that I had said we would continue on at Third Level in a snaffle bridle, but Speedy didn't get that memo. And as someone recently said to me, "What are horses for, if not to prove us wrong at almost every turn?"
I also told you that I ordered the double from The Dressage Pony Store which is owned by my friend, Valerie. I don't get any kickbacks from promoting her site by the way, but honestly, if you need something, check out her store. While her focus is on smaller equine athletes, she does carry a lot of stuff for the big guys, and her prices are truly hard to beat.
As soon as I unwrapped the bridle - Valerie always packages everything so prettily, I started oohing and ahhing. For $135, this bridle is a steal. It's from Harry's Horse, a European tack supplier that carries absolutely everything ever made for horses and riders. I can't speak to the quality of the rest of their products, but if they're even half as nice as this bridle, I'd definitely try some of their other stuff.
Admittedly, $135 is pretty dang cheap for a bridle, especially a double, and at that price point you can't expect much. Even so, this bridle delivers. The leather is much softer than I was anticipating, the stitching is tight and even, and the buckles and other hardware are stainless steel.
The crown piece, crank noseband, and browband are all nicely padded. The crank noseband tapers along the side, which is perfect for ponies and smaller horses. I ordered the cob. The noseband is also finished with patent leather, something I wasn't too sure I'd like. But as Valerie reassured me, it's actually pretty subtle, especially since the noseband is tapered.
The noseband, both bit hangers, and the throat latch are all rolled leather, which helps keep the bridle from overwhelming a smaller face. If you have a big guy, you probably don't even think of these things, but with ponies, Arabians, and other smaller breeds, the double bridle can cover a lot of real estate, something these smaller guys don't have a lot of.
The bridle also came with two sets of reins, one for the curb and one for the bradoon. I never expect a bridle's "free" reins to be anything worth keeping, especially so when the bridle costs about as much as a nice pair of reins. I was pleasantly surprised by what came with this bridle. Both sets are leather, and one set is lined with rubber grips. Both sets of reins are ¾" wide, and the final 18" - 19" are rolled to match the cheek pieces.
While the bridle is quite lovely, fit is really the key. So how did it fit Speedy G? Take a look.
Poor Speedy; he was not a fan. He didn't fight me over anything, but he worked those bits furiously. All double bridles have a lot of buckles, but when you're not experienced at positioning everything, the process takes a while which didn't make it any easier for Speedy.
I actually quite like the gray stitching which pairs nicely with Speedy's white coat, and the patent leather on the noseband is subtle in a good way. I am not sure whether I'll use the baucher as my bradoon which is how I have it set up now, or a traditional bradoon which I also have.
I'll feel better when Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has a chance to make adjustments. For now, I'll spend the week just putting it on and taking it off so Speedy can get used to having so much hardware in his mouth.
And of course once the new browband comes in, it'll look really nice! Thank you, Dressage Pony Store!