I am going to be completely honest here—a friend of mine who half-leased Ax a few years ago used a Micklem on him and I was disgusted. Don’t ask me why, but something about putting my precious horse into a bitless bridle brought up a giant red X in my brain. I’m pretty sure I gave her a nasty sneer and rudely said, “Ew, why would you do that?” to which she probably should have slapped me. I’m sure you can imagine the satisfaction in her voice and the sheepishness in mine when I suddenly changed my tune a year later and asked her what size she had bought for his puny head.
Towards the end of last winter I was struggling with Ax fiddling with his bit and thought about just taking it completely out of the equation. Plus, I was about to have a half-lease on him and if she ended up being handsy I was fully prepared to take away the bit. A trip to the Smartpak attic later, I found one on sale and showed up at the barn the next day with what I had once sworn I would never put on my horse.
Our first ride was far from smooth and to tell you the truth, I dismounted feeling grumpy and ready to return the thing. Ax was completely on his forehand, distracted, and ignoring every aid I gave him. My legs flailed to no avail while trying to get him to bend, collect, or simply pay attention. The end result was me tossing the bridle into the corner of my room for a few days before I decided to give it a second chance. I hadn’t thought about how much a learning curve this would be. Wasn’t it the same thing, just without a bit?
Wrong. When I dusted the Micklem off and re-bridled Ax sans bit, I went about things a bit slower. I took the time to learn how the different pressure points effect his movement, worked on keeping his attention at each gait, and figured out how my aids had to be altered. Voila! All of the sudden I was riding a horse that was focused, correctly collected, and—best of all—happy. Because I couldn’t fiddle with his super-sensitive mouth, he was solid and consistent. There was no more head bobbing (not lameness, more of a my-mom-wont-quiet-her-hands bobbing which is thankfully now fixed), our lead changes were quiet, and our jumps were cantered to without the head-raised-and-bracing stance.
Now my Micklem has become a staple and hangs under my saddle for easy access, no more tossing it haphazardly into my tack trunk. I find myself reaching for it whenever I am going on a light hack or just need to simplify things (aka I am getting to handsy and Ax is an angry buffalo). Whenever I get a weird look and someone says, “are you riding bitless?” I say, “YES! My horse loves it.”
(P.S. – I offer no apologies for the amount of photos and videos in this post.)