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We Are Flying Solo

December 8, 2012

A Skeptic Takes On Micklem

I hope they don't mind if I borrow their illustration.
You know the one -- the brainchild of William Micklem and Rambo, the bridle that thumbed its nose at centuries of status quo & promised that our horses would "love the difference" & would turn your fussy-mouthed, head-rubbing gelding into a soft, steady dressage masterpiece.  Ok, that last bit might be exaggerating a bit, but there certainly was a lot of magic implied.

I've been watching these for three years.  Blog posts, personal conversations, trainer testimonials, I even thoughtfully handled the one hanging in the CANTER MA facility where I found Encore.  But it remained a $200 bridle.  Watched through the eyes of a horsewoman who has three bridles -- that were all found or free.

And it had a flash-type strap.  And I hate flash straps.

The Fall Purchase

A certain unnamed person who surely had evil intent gave me a gift certificate for the new Dover store in Raleigh & I drove down to happily purchase a big jar of horse treats & perhaps a pretty shirt.  Yet I found myself standing front of the bridle display, the Micklem competition version in my hand, running my fingers over its sturdy, yet pleasant leather, putting it down, picking it up, putting it down again, touching it again.

Ever since we started really asking Encore to work up into the bridle, he has a tendency to develop tension.  He will grind & chomp his teeth, he will cock his head, he will shake his nose from side to side.  Not constantly, but more often when he is out of practice or in a particularly anticipatory mood.  Now that his physical issues were resolved (oh, I just jinxed myself, crap), I wondered...would it really matter?

Shut. Yo. Mouth.
Much of the information provided by the makers touted the distribution of the bridle's "weight" across the horse's poll (it's a 1500 lb horse, how much does a bridle REALLY weigh?), the curved cheekpieces which avoided facial nerves & preventing pressing the insides of the cheek against the teeth (do horses really bite their cheeks if you are not cranking nosebands to Vader death-grip?), and the versatility of the design, allowing the bridle to be used bitless or with hanging clips that took the bit pressure from the horse's bars & transferred it to the nose.

I can't take it anymore.  I want to know and if it is indeed all hype or just not for my horse, I can sell it on eBay.  I handed over my gift card & the cash balance & then sat at the farm with a pile of leather straps, trying to figure out how to make them bridle shaped (HEY, William Micklem, if you ever read this, ha, some directions would be really nice.  REALLY nice.  At least a diagram???  I did appreciate the ONE label to at least let me know which way the crownpiece was supposed to face).

It actually looks rather handsome on him.
The Moment(s) Of Truth

It was a bit of a strange size (I purchased the full/horse size) -- it took a bit of fiddling to get the nosepiece where I wanted it & it would still be nice if the jaw strap was significantly longer (it bareeeely fits on the last hole).

But on the plus side -- SOMEONE FINALLY MADE A BROWBAND THAT FITS MY FAT-HEADED HORSES COMFORTABLY.  No more brain squishing!  I didn't use the rubber reins -- I've always found them too bulky & heavy in my hands, just a personal preference.

Are you still holding your breath?

Because I'll be damned, I think the thing actually works.

I can only ride bareback at a walk right now (damn knee surgery), but I immediately noticed that Encore was softer in the bridle, less ready to lock the left side of his jaw, & appeared to very much like the bit-stabilizing effect of the chin strap (which I kept very loose, he can still open his mouth, chew, chomp).  It was not a lightning bolt, but a definite change in feel & a lower level of tension at the end of my reins, when no other variables have changed.

Worthless Cripple Must See More Evidence

I couldn't wait until our most generous friend, Foy (recent winner!!!! aka badass at the East Coast Adult Team Challenge with her endearing and amazing Irish ex-steeplechaser, Point Clear, or as we know him, Louie, who not too long ago was declared unable to ever event again.  YEAH!  Longest parenthetical statement ever.) came out today, as she has been giving Encore the occasional educated ride while I rebuild myself.

On The Longe

I longed Encore while she was on her way, slipping the vienna reins on so he would be warm & stretched & she could just hop on when she arrived.  I have NEVER seen this horse put his nose on the ground on the longe or in the round pen (although it's Solo's signature move).  He will stretch about to his knees, even in the reins, & move through his body, but he never completely lets go.  Observe:

Under Saddle

I eagerly watched (post-Encore tantrum that the end of longeing did NOT mean the end of work) & questioned what she felt.  She too, felt that he was softer & more willing in the bridle once he got to work.  We did try the bit clips that transfer pressure to the nose:  Encore notes, NO LIKEY.  I don't think he'll be a hackamore horse, ha!

Foy is taking it easy on him (maybe I am a mean mom?) & gives him a lovely, patient ride; she made his butt sweat!!  I don't think I have ever achieved that without the aid of 95 degree heat, I'm dying to know what I am doing wrong.  Oh & my commentary was so ridiculously dorky, sorry about the music.  Trust me, you thank me.  And don't judge the lil guy too harshly -- he lost most of his hind end strength in injury & layup, but we're working on it.   

The Verdict

On the whole though, this skeptic finds herself designating it as the new daily bridle.  This hater of all trends & she who deploys a heavy dose of scrutiny to, ok, pretty much everything, finds herself cautiously changing from skeptic to believer.

I still don't think it will have magical unicorn powers for every horse & I am curious, if it will fit Solo to see if he cares (as a rule, he doesn't; although there was that incident with the crupper experiment...).  But according to my experiences this week, doing my best to isolate the bridle variable, I think I found a keeper...  Further testing TBD.


  1. I had one. I really liked the design, but my horse was not at all fussy, so I eventually sent it on. So glad it worked for you!

    ;) Join us on the trendy side. We have pretty shit.

  2. Waaal, whaddaya know - thank you for the thorough report of the big experiment! I think it's pretty cool and he does, as far as I can tell, look quite relaxed (loved the stretching on the longe). Will look forward to more updates!

  3. Wow, y'all are fast!

    SB, I shall ever refuse to cross the trendy line. It is the stuff of my nightmares, ROFL!

    RW, you are welcome. I had a lot to say, I had to edit many times and I still couldn't get it shorter. I am intrigued though to see what will happen as he comes back to fit and I can actually RIDE.

  4. Haha, totally thought you were going to hate it! But neat, I just got one but haven't been able to test it out yet. Glad it got your stamp of approval!!

  5. I have been watching fellow bloggers start using these bridles and everyone seems to love them. hmmmmmm. Now I have another things I really want to buy for my horse I can't even ride yet.

  6. PS- I love SBs last comment. I would like to say that I avoid trendy but everytime some ridicuous looking helmet, or boots, or saddle pad comes out I hate it for second then I realize that I won't survive unless I have it. I am sure that makes me a shallow horse person but I don't care. I want to look cool while i am riding around with my head up my arse

  7. In the end, it's all about what works, isn't it! (spoken by a fellow trend hater with a Myler bit on her horse's everyday bridle because, hey, it was what worked)

  8. Fellow anti-trend skeptic here. Hey I find myself being skeptic of the skeptic...ha. But it works well for you I am happy.

  9. ROFL, SB always makes me giggle!

    Squeak, I agree -- Encore's bit is also a, errk, Myler. But it works.

    Amy, power to the skepticism. I had a bunch of disclaimers in the post, but it became so long, I deleted them. By no means does this replace training and rider skill. And to most observers, there is probably nothing to see. It is only because I know my horse and both Foy and I have ridden him in his other bridle under the same conditions, that we speculate.

  10. I, too, bowed to the trend and bought one (I got a pretty good deal on ebay, though). Haven't been able to try it out yet, but I'm hopeful it will work as well for Salem as it has for all the other trendster ponies.

    *whispers* There are some youtube videos on how to put the bridle together and how to adjust it on your horse's head, FYI.

    Encore looks great! Really soft and relaxed. :-)

  11. I, too, dislike trends. Give me a saddle with minimal rolls and blocks, a French-link snaffle, and a cheapo bridle.

    I do think the Micklem bridle has a nice design that seems very horse-centered, but I also agree with you that horse-centered care and riding cannot be replaced (i.e. do not clamp your horses mouth shut and expect a soft, mobile jaw).

    I just wish they were cheaper. The gift certificate is a nice compromise.

  12. Color me intrigued (and a fellow disliker of trends)...

    You had me at the BROWBAND THAT FITS MY FAT-HEADED HORSE bit. Val is also finicky about where his noseband sits.

    Thanks for the review! :D

  13. Frizz, haha, I found the videos.

    I'm with you Val, but it seems very nicely made, so I hope it will last a long time. And I KNOW, RIGHT? about the browbands!

  14. I got one last winter, totally changed the way my guy went into the bridle. Was a big step forward for us this year. My friend borrowed it for her new mare, and wouldn't you stopped some major fussing she has been having too. Love these bridles.

  15. Same experience -I was huge skeptic but at the end om rope. A year later and I am still sold. This bridle made a huge difference in my horse!

  16. I bought one last year, I was struggling to get to grips with my daughter's horse, who I had taken over (rather than selling him). It seemed to make a difference immediately, but like a lot of people, I'm a sceptic... it took me a while to say yes, it's the bridle, so I splashed out and bought a second one for my other horse. I didn't make such a profound difference on him, but my plan is to use it bitless on him when trekking.
    I totally agree about that STUPID chin strap, another inch of leather would have made all the difference.

  17. Dang it all to heck. I've been a (quiet) Micklem hater for awhile. Put off by trendiness, then a succession of fearful owners who felt their horses would become magically meek and docile with bridle purchase, I've not been willing to give it a fair shake.

    Now I want to try one. I know you are a fellow trend hater, and if you felt softness, it was there! Can't wait to hear more of how it works out for you, and what responses you continue to see. Thanks for the anti-trend, solid good-horsemanship review. ;)