A Double Dose of Dressage: Lesson Recap, PART 1!
If you follow me on social media, you know I've recently made quite an exciting purchase. Behold, Dino's and my very first double bridle:
After our last lesson at the end of August and subsequent encouraging schooling rides on my own, I decided I would start earnestly trying to put a double bridle together again. It seemed our contact troubles were behind us for the most part, and we were back at a point where starting to learn the double wouldn't be detrimental to Dino. So, it was time to start trawling the internet for just the right thing! Somehow, this brand-new, brown, cob-sized, absolutely gorgeous brown rolled Schockemohle double bridle that I had seen for sale on Facebook months before was still available, and I ended up practically stealing it for $200. (retail price is.. almost double that.) To complete the set up I miraculously nabbed a used Nue Schule "Mors L'Hotte" Weymoth bit in 4.75" for the insane price of $75, and scored a sad pair of curb reins at my local consignment shop for $20 that just needed a little love and leather conditioner to be beautiful again. Add to that the bradoon snaffle and reins that I already owned, and voila! A double bridle! I couldn't believe I ended up putting together this absolute dream bridle for so little money!
I had hoped to get everything put together and at least walk Dino around in the bridle once before our lesson, but as the timing worked out, everything was shipped to me just barely in the nick of time, and lesson day was the very first time Dino had even held the bits in his mouth.
I'm going to say this a lot in this post, but you guys, my pony is so, so good to me. He is the most generous, most forgiving, most wonderful creature on the planet. Here I go shoving two bits in his mouth and asking him to go to work, and he just says, "Okay. Sounds good to me!" and tries his little heart out. I really don't know what I did to be so blessed.
In any case, what I expected out of this lesson was to have Ashley help me fit the double correctly and teach me how to hold the reins, maybe do some walk work in the double, and then swap back to the snaffle for the bulk of the ride. Dino, however, does not take his title of "Wonder Pony" lightly, and he was HERE. FOR. IT. when it came to working in the double! He had pretty much zero adjustment period to going with two bits, and we ended up using the double for our entire lesson in walk, trot, and canter.
Again. He is amazing. I am not worthy.
But first things first, I had Ashley check over the fit of the bridle and bits before I got on. Luckily for me, I had done a pretty good job of setting it up without professional help! That was a win. I had selected narrow gauge bits to fit in Dino's tiny mouth, had adjusted them to appropriate heights so they were close together but not interacting, and everything else about the bridle fit was good. Ashley just shortened my curb chain a bit, and I'll have to trim off some links later, but all in all everything fit and we were good to go!
Once I got on, I had to figure out the best way to hold the reins and get used to handling them all. If you have ever googled, "how to hold double bridle reins" or read about it in a book, you will know there are approximately seventeen different ways to do it. You can hold them like you would a Pelham, you can hold the snaffle like a driving rein, you can hold one snaffle rein and two curb reins in the same hand! YOU CAN HOLD ALL THE REINS IN ONE HAND! THE OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS.
I chose to start out by holding the reins like I would those of a Pelham bit - it was something that felt familiar to me and I knew how to handle the reins fairly well in that configuration. So, snaffle rein between middle and ring finger, curb between ring finger and pinky, with my thumb holding everything down over my index finger. We did some work at the walk with this hold, just getting used to everything, while I figured out just how light I could be with the reins in the double, and what Dino's responses felt like with this finely-calibrated tool.
And he felt... really good. Despite my early fumbling with all the reins, and my fear that so much hardware in his mouth would cause him to back off the contact, Dino marched right into the connection and worked through his body in a really lovely way. We, of course, had to have a few discussions about "leg means go", but for the most part he was delightfully light and round in the double.
|IS THIS REAL LIFE?!|
After a brief warm up holding the reins like this, Ashley had me make an adjustment to my hold. She had me hold the snaffle as a driving rein - so straight through my fist without going between any fingers or flipping up over my index finger - and holding the curb rein between my ring and pinky fingers and flipped up over my ring finger as "normal". This helped me in a couple ways - it gave me a bigger separation between the snaffle and curb reins, so I could more clearly choose which to engage, and it allowed me to have a firm-yet-elastic feel of the snaffle, creating that strong channel for Dino to move his body and energy through.
The difference in the contact was dramatic with this hold! While Dino was good before, he was a bit tentative about the connection with the first rein hold I tried. I found myself hesitant to take too much contact for fear of him backing off, which felt imminent even when he was taking the contact well. With the driving rein, Dino happily stepped up solidly into the connection, and responded to my shortening of the reins by stepping UP in his wither and sitting DOWN in his hind end in the most dramatic way I've ever felt!
As we felt each other out in the double, Ashley encouraged me to notice how with this equipment, the feeling of the energy generated by my leg and seat aids coming from the hind end being channeled and passed off to the hand was so apparent. That "circle of energy" feeling we all strive for felt SO obvious in the double, and even though there was a lot of hardware in Dino's mouth that I had to be tactful about engaging, I could clearly feel how when I had a firm, unwavering hold on the snaffle rein, I could capture his energy and recycle it into collection. There could be no throwing away the contact with the double, which made so much sense once I felt it, but intellectually was a bit of a cognitive leap. After all - I wanted to be soft and gentle and not be banging all this metal around in my pony's mouth! I started out handling the reins a bit like I was holding a bomb. But it turned out that the firmer and steadier contact I had, the more comfortable Dino was, and the more through and engaged he became in his whole body.
We also had a bit of a chat about my love for throwing away the contact when Dino got behind the leg. Ashley pointed out that while in the beginning of our training with her last year, "Give Me Forward Or Give Me Death" was a necessary conversation I had to have with Dino, it might not be the best most productive way to talk about moving off the leg with him now that we've gotten to a point where we're working on refining our basics instead of just installing them. In essence, I need to keep the contact and stop throwing away the reins and opening my fists. I worked really hard on closing my fist around the snaffle rein and keeping it solid while I asked for forward, and was rewarded with a pony who stepped energetically UP into whatever I was asking instead of getting longer and flatter.
Wild how correct riding works.
|This walk was absolutely delightful. Note that I am still scared to bend my elbows.|
At one point, Ashley directed me to shorten my reins EVEN MORE, and even though it felt to me like they were short enough already I followed directions and WOW. My pony felt like he grew a hand and inflated under his withers and across his topline! Just having a minor increase in contact on the curb did magical, magical things for Dino!
Once I was comfortable with the driving rein hold, getting a sense of the energy from the hind end moving through my body and hands and out to the bit at the walk, we moved up to the trot. Again, I had some adjustments to make in figuring out how to handle the reins and how short to keep them so that the bits would be still in Dino's mouth.
The double allowed me to push Dino UP through his withers into the trot, and he felt INCREDIBLE in the trot! The energy was being used and cycled through his body in the most efficient way it ever had been, and I felt like I was sitting on an upper level horse! I think it was at this point that I started grinning like an absolute fool and didn't quit smiling for the rest of the lesson.
We spent the lesson just letting me feel out the contact, and my main issue continued to be dropping the connection in the snaffle rein instead of providing a steady channel for Dino to move through. When I kept my hands consistent, Dino felt like he could canter down centerline at Grand Prix. It was incredible! The couple times I touched the curb too much by accident, Dino was SO gracious. He just stopped, threw his head up, let me apologize, and then we continued on. His reaction to the moments where he would hit the curb, or lose balance, made me so much more aware of how my end of the contact affected Dino, and encouraged me to be quieter with my hands . The double did a lot to make me more accountable for a consistent contact and stronger in my core when half halting or asking for downward transitions. It took me a while to get a feel for the appropriate length of rein I needed, but a short, solid feel on the snaffle kept me off the curb and kept Dino comfortable in the contact.
Dino was going great in the trot, so we just hopped straight into the canter. And it. was. MAGICAL. It was SO easy to get him fluffy and collected in the double, and it allowed me to help shape Dino's body without so much movement in my hand as I would have in the snaffle. I felt like I could just retire from dressage right there and then. He was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
|UGH I'M OBSESSED.|
After feeling things out in the canter, we took a quick break to talk about my awareness of my own body in the saddle and different tools that I might use to help make me more cognizant of when my leg scrunches up and my seat comes up (Franklin balls, rider bands). Dino got all the neck pats and scratches and "GoodBoys" before I picked him up again to go do some forward and back in the trot and canter.
Again, short reins were the name of the game and were the key to Dino growing up through his wither vs. getting long and flat when I asked him to create more energy in his hind end. Our first transition up into the trot after the break was.. not pretty, but it was mostly because I let go of the snaffle too much. Once I kept it steady and firm in my hand, the up transitions got a lot more through and round, with less inverted head-tossing involved.
Once I had established a good working trot, I practiced moving Dino up into a lengthened trot. Ashley wanted me to keep his neck the same length, keep the contact steady, and keep the snaffle rein firm when I asked for the lengthening so that instead of getting flat and fast, Dino lifted through the wither and base of his neck and sent the power up through the front of his body. She wanted me to think about riding the first third of his neck and his wither instead of lengthening his entire frame. When I got this right without touching the curb by accident or opening my fist and letting go of the snaffle rein, Dino moved uphill into the lengthening and opened up his stride from a place of collection instead of getting long and quick in his body, and it felt SO COOL! It was a fine-tuning of the medium gaits that I'd not been able to achieve to that degree before. Dino, you are amazing, my friend.
We took another walk break and then moved into some canter work. Again, I needed work on stabilizing the snaffle rein while getting started and re-establishing forward and round. I feel this will be the theme of all my work in the double bridle!
Dino was getting a little tired at this point, and so the canter lengthenings weren't quite as fabulous as the trot work, but I was still able to get a good feel of when he lifted through his wither vs. getting flat. Especially going left, I had to be extra aware of getting his right shoulder out of the way and counter-flexing him a little bit to really allow him to go through, but when I got it right the canter felt PHENOMENAL! We ended the lesson right there, as Dino had worked so hard and been so perfect!
Never in a million, billion years did I think I would be schooling this pony in a double bridle. Never in a million years did I think I'd be learning to use one! I am so, so grateful for Ashley's instruction and encouragement, and the opportunity to learn to use this tool. I'm thankful that I have a trainer who constantly reminds me to be tactful with my hands in the double, that it isn't a "quick fix" for training problems, and that the double bridle increases my responsibility to my horse because it's a huge chunk of metal in his mouth that I am in charge of moving. Dino remains the most gracious, lovely, generous, hard-working, beautiful, perfect pony in the entire universe. I plan to ride in the double a couple times a week, and my hope is that I can use it as a tool to refine the connection and help build strength in the collection for Dino, as well as train me to have quieter, more subtle rein aids. Plus it's just REAL PRETTY.
I was fortunate enough to have TWO lessons in a row this past weekend, and as you'll see in the next post, one ride in the double REALLY helped Dino perform well when we switched back to the snaffle. He was quite possibly EVEN MORE AMAZING during our second lesson! Wonder Pony, indeed. Thanks for coming on this journey with us, friends!