Described as 'a kind and sympathetic bridle for horses that are sensitive in the mouth', Lottie Butler finds out how the Micklem bridle works

How did it begin?

Forty years ago, William Micklem (pictured, above), an international coach, speaker and author, began thinking about an alternative bridle and noseband for horses. Twenty years ago, he produced his first prototype. Now, the Micklem bridle is approaching sales of 1,000 a week.

There are currently two types available — the competition bridle and the multibridle, which functions as a bridle, a lunge cavesson, a bitless bridle and a headcollar.

What makes the Micklem bridle so popular?

Jenny Leggate, trainer and founder of Equibuddy, a charity that uses equestrian vaulting to help people with learning difficulties and disabilities, has been using the Micklem bridle on all of her horses for over three years.

“The Micklem bridle is fantastic as you can swap seamlessly between lunging and riding without a fuss. You can also adjust the bridle to be ridden bitless without removing it, and the design also enables you to share the contact when riding and leading.”

In addition to versatility, the design of the Micklem bridle takes into account the shape and physiology of a horse’s skull, avoiding potential pressure points that can be found on traditional bridles.

“When you fit the bridle, you are much more aware of how it sits on the horse, and can make many alterations to ensure it is the very best fit. They are simply much more comfortable for the horse,” says Jenny.

William explains some of the principles behind the design: “The horse’s top jaw is substantially wider than the lower jaw, and so a tight cavesson or flash noseband can squash the delicate tissue inside the mouth between the edge of their top jaw molar teeth and the pressure from the noseband. As such, horses that try to open their mouth while wearing a tight noseband can end up with bruising or lacerations inside the mouth.

“Cavesson nosebands can put pressure on the motor and sensory nerves for the lower half of the horse’s head. This can result in numbness around the nose and mouth, which is why so many horses rub their noses on their forelegs after work. Similarly, dropped nosebands sit on the delicate two ends of the nose bones, both no wider than a pencil. This can cause discomfort and, if a horse resists, serious damage to the bone.”

How does the Micklem bridle work?

A Micklem bridle avoids these sensitive areas by fitting higher up on the nose where the bone is thicker, and avoiding any inward pressure on the molar teeth. Pressure on the poll is also minimised as the headpiece is a single strap that is wide, shaped and padded. Similarly, the bit is attached to the nose-piece to avoid any pressure on the tongue or bars of the mouth.

“The Micklem is a very kind and sympathetic bridle for horses that are sensitive in the mouth,” says eventer Harry Meade. “It’s very good for a horse who drops or evades the contact. The bridle doesn’t have long cheek pieces, which means there is much less movement and the bit is very static, so it helps the horse to settle and accept the bit.”

Sharon White, an event rider based in West Virginia, has also found the bridle useful for horses that are sensitive in the mouth. “It is designed completely for the horse’s comfort, and puts equal amounts of pressure on all areas of the horse’s skull,” she says. “We have found it particularly good on horses who stick their tongues out or are generally fussy in the mouth.”

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American event rider Lauren Billys went from riding in a long shank pelham to a rubber D-ring snaffle for all three phases after trying her horse in a Micklem. “The horse had a wonderful movement, but was very tight in her jaw and struggled to be completely supple. She would also itch her head persistently every time I took her bridle off,” she explains. “Since I’ve started using the Micklem bridle, she’s much more consistent – steady and ready for each aid! And the head itching has stopped.”

What sort of horses are they suitable for?

Suitable for all levels and disciplines and approved by the FEI for international competitions, a growing number of amateur and professional riders are using the Micklem bridle — from Pony Club to National Hunt, British Eventing to Riding for the Disabled.

“Fitting bits and nosebands is a bit of an art, and so the Micklem is a very useful addition to our tackroom,” concludes Harry.