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.
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 ...