I'll keep the background story brief about me and my horse Jobi for now. I'm sure it will develop itself with more posts. I owned him for many years and brought him up through advanced work in dressage using French Classical methods, life change forced me selling him only to later have the opportunity to buy him back. He was returned to me a very different horse and we are unweaving the many bad habits, resistances and new quirks.
Among those has been his complete inability to relax and stretch down into the snaffle while being ridden. Instead every effort to encourage him to stretch down and out has only resulted in further dropping of the back, raising of the head and neck and lateral resistance.
Here is where I inject the idea of incorporating the double bridle in an unconventional manner. To this point I had only ever worked him in a snaffle, even through collected work as that was all that was required. Now he distrusts the snaffle and any action made through it, so how do you break through a mental/emotional barrier with a horse and reestablish communication, trust and ultimately relaxation?
I decided to make the attempt by incorporating the double bridle. My reasoning went along these lines :
Generally speaking the double bridle is for many considered the coveted step towards further collected work and even the Grand Prix. For me it has become something outside the box, an effort to reach my horse through all of the baggage he is carrying.
I rode him for a time in the double without touching the curb reins, and even just on the snaffle rein alone the addition of the mullen-mouthed curb seemed to settle him some. Still, he refused to stretch down and out. His gaits could only progress so much and his physical conditioning could only improve to that limit as well.
Finally, I picked up the curb rein. I rode him holding the reins in the Fillis style, with the snaffle rein held between the thumb and index finger and the curb rein coming up through the bottom of my hands. I wanted to be able to influence each rein as separately as possible so to keep any confusion for him at a minimum with the new bit coming into play.
They say the curb bit in the double bridle acts on the skeletal structure of the horse, directly influencing the joints. Whereas the snaffle is influencing the muscular structure. The curb is a powerful addition to communicating with the horse, and also very important to be judicious with its use since it is a leverage force and therefore what amount of pressure you hold in your hands will be multiplied in the mouth of the horse you can easily overpower them.
Jobi's initial reaction was to bring the head higher - but still no different than his attempts to resist the snaffle rein. The difference with the curb however was the shortly after raising his head he made a different response and lowered his head, stretched his nose down and out and chewed the reins softly. A first since he has been back at home with me.
It is well documented that the curb does not act on the horse's mouth in a way that encourages lateral suppling or flexion. I do however want to make the argument that a horse who is in resistance and head-high is also void of lateral suppleness and flexion, be it through action on the snaffle, curb or a bitless bridle. It is important that the horse be able to work in a place of relaxation, one of the base principles of dressage to begin with.
We have had several rides such as this, a few of riding solely on the curb rein at walk and trot. Our latest ride however was on the snaffle alone and I am very happy to report Jobi is making the connection and we've broken through much resistance. His walk has improved to such a degree that it is like night and day. Transition into trot is energetic and still relaxed, and the trot itself is missing the pogo-stick bounce which is tell-tale of a hollow back.