In the Saddle with William Micklem: Building a Better Bridle


micklem bridle

The Micklem bridle has seen large success since its introduction, appearing on horses more and more frequently. Designed to fit the shape of the horse’s skull, the Micklem bridle is intended to be the most comfortable bridle for the horse, making it very effective. We were thrilled to be able to talk with William Micklem recently about the development of his bridle, what makes it unique, and what’s to come.

We love the idea of creating a bridle that feels more comfortable for the horse. What spurred the idea of creating your Micklem bridle?

William Micklem:
It all started with my late father, Dick Micklem.  He was an expert on horse’s teeth, therefore from an early age I was aware that the upper jaw molar teeth are much wider william micklemthan the lower jaw molar teeth.  But all we see from the outside is the smooth line of the skin going over the teeth.  As a result of this many horses can become uncomfortable due to tight cavesson or flash nosebands, which put pressure on the sensitive tissue on the inside of the mouth, between the protruding outside edge of the upper-jaw molar teeth on the inside and the noseband on the outside.  As a result of this, a huge number of horses can become uncomfortable or even in pain.  I wanted to design a bridle and noseband that overcame this, and other problems.  For example, I knew about the sensitivity on the poll but I didn’t know about the nerve points on the side of the face. All these challenges have been overcome by the Micklem bridle, which is truly designed from the inside out, from the anatomy and physiology of the skull.  My Father would be smiling and having a celebratory drink! 

How long did it take you to perfect the design of the Micklem bridle? Where there any roadblocks or particularly difficult hurdles along the way?

William Micklem:
The first basic design was, in fact, very close to what is now used. However, I also tried a huge number of variations to confirm the most effective solution.  My office and house were littered with variations.  I also wanted to use it as a lunge cavesson, because I two_micklem_bridlesknew the Spanish Riding School used a dropped noseband type of cavesson but it was always a struggle to fit comfortably over a bridle.  In fact, I was well aware that there was no comfortable lunge cavesson on the market.  Later on I also wanted to use it bitless!  So my ambition to be flexible was the biggest design delay.  As I always say, the primary use of the Micklem is as a bridle. This remains the case, but without doubt the Micklem Multibridle is also the best lunge cavesson you will find and good lungeing is a hugely important training tool.  The key point is that it is a lunge cavesson and bridle as one unit with no need to try and fit a bridle underneath.  The bitless options are also useful, for example, when a mouth is sore.  This is what I wanted, but for many it was both too good to be true and too much to take in.  This was a roadblock in terms of bringing it to the market.

Therefore, despite having a wonderful product that produced obvious huge benefits I failed to interest equestrian wholesalers and retailers….for approximately fifteen years!  My own horses, however, continued to benefit from the bridle, including my two Olympic homebreds Mandiba (Karen O’Connor) and High Kingdom (Zara Phillips).  All their early work and first riding was done in a Micklem bridle.  I also used the bridle throughout the photography for my book, the Complete Horse Riding Manual (Dorling Kindersley 2003), even though the bridle was not yet on the market.

Finally in 2007 Tom MacGuinness of Horseware Ireland saw the potential and was brave enough to give it a chance.  The reward was immediate with awards, plaudits and solid sales.  The decision to market a Micklem Competition bridle, to be used only as a bridle, was also a crucial part of its commercial progress.  Without Tom and Horseware I might have just remained a frustrated inventor, albeit with some happy and comfortable horses at home.  But I always believed 100% that it would take off at some point because provably it was a better product and a better design, and as I always say, “a good idea has to give way to a better idea”.

What are a few of the key features that make the Micklem bridle unique, and what are they aiming to accomplish that a traditional bridle cannot do as effectively?

William Micklem:child micklem bridle
The shape is obviously unique and it takes some adults a little time to get used to it.  What is interesting is that we now have a large group of children who have been brought up with the Micklem bridle.  To them the Micklem bridle is the norm and traditional bridles are ‘strange’!

The Micklem bridle has a padded widened head piece with no narrow noseband strap going underneath to create poll pressure.  It also avoids any pressure on the protruding upper-jaw molar teeth and the exit point of the motor and sensory nerves on the side of the face.  In addition, the fitting of the front nose piece is high enough to avoid pressure on the delicate nose bones on the lower part of the face.  With other types of nosebands, that fit much lower than my bridle, these bones are sometimes fractured, particularly with young horses.

When schooling it is also possible to add clips to attach the bit directly to the front nose piece.  This reduces pressure on the tongue and avoids the tongue being strapped against the narrow bars of the mouth.  Excessive pressure on the tongue is a major cause of discomfort and resistance especially with young horses.  These simple clips can turn a nappy horse into a happy horse in minutes and they certainly protect the mouth, for example when a horse is being ridden by a novice rider.

Can you share a particular success story where you swapped a traditional bridle to the Micklem bridle and saw a difference in the horse?

William Micklem:
There are many examples:  Joseph Murphy, our Irish Olympic rider, was riding a horse called Chuckleberry at Boekelo, the CCI 3* horse trials in Holland.  The horse was not comfortable in the mouth on cross country.  So the next day Joseph tried a Micklem bridle and then used it immediately in the show jumping.  The horse took to it immediately and jumped a beautiful, clear round.

micklem bridle eventingEven more dramatic was a young, stubborn horse which I was shown and asked to improve when I came to Equitana USA in Kentucky.  I watched this horse generally refuse to go forwards.  So I l first lunged him in a Micklem bridle and then put the rider back up.  He behaved himself perfectly.  So we then put the original bridle back on and the old, bad behaviour immediately returned, to an extent that surprised me.  We then changed back to a Micklem, and once again he went forwards without resistance!

Not every horse is going to make such an obvious change, but the bottom line is that if a horse is more comfortable, they will be happier and likely to perform better.  The daily difference may only be small, but accumulated incremental change makes a big difference in the medium and long term.  This is why those such as German Event chef d’equipe and trainer Chris Bartle use it, and why it is becoming the bridle of choice in novice dressage. To see such legends as Andrew Nicholson, Niklas Lindback  and Harry Meade use it in international eventing brings me out in goose bumps!  Not to mention top jumping riders such as Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Rodrigo Pessoa and Andrew Bourns.  When USA training and competition gurus such as Marsha Kulak use the Micklem on all their horses I know it works, and I know my Father would be in permanent party mood …. not because of my success but because he loved horses and wanted them to be more comfortable.

What is the key to fitting a Micklem bridle on a particular horse?

William Micklem:
Fit it high enough. The front nose piece should be about four fingers above the bit, or even a little higher.  In addition, the vertical cheek pieces have to fit behind the protruding cheek bones; then everything fits as it should.  The fact that the cheek pieces fit behind the cheek bones (zygomatic ridge) is what gives the Micklem Multibridle stability when used for lungeing.  The two back straps should also be snug and not loose, as though you were holding someone’s hand. 

Are there any variations of your bridle in the works? Such as different leather or design styles? Or any adjustments to the physics of how it fits the horse? 

William Micklem:
jumping micklem bridleYes, always progress!  In particular, we are producing a very smart-stitched jumper and eventer bridle and a ‘bling’ dressage bridle, which will both be available through Dover.   In addition, we are making the Multibridle slightly heavier to suit young horses better and give a bigger bearing surface for when it is used bitless.  We will also be making strap extensions available so that horses with unusually large cheek bones can be properly fitted.

Of course I have a restless mind and many other ideas for more comfortable and better products.  Horseware Ireland will be bringing these new Micklem products to the market in the near future.  Wearing my hat as a trainer and coach I am excited because it is truly a win win situation with my job being made easier and horses being made happier.  As I often say, the Micklem bridle is loved by trainers and loved by horses…and it’s true!

Let us know your experiences with the Micklem bridle in the comments!

Body Clipping and Types of Horse Clips

types of horse clips

As the evenings are dropping in temperature, your horse’s coat is likely changing and growing in thick for the winter.  If your horse is in regular work and tends to run hot enough to work up a sweat, you may be considering body clipping. Body clipping allows the horse to dry off quickly after becoming damp or sweaty, reducing the chance of it catching a chill and becoming ill. Not all horses need to be body clipped, and if you only ride your horse leisurely or not at all, he should be fine keeping his coat. There are a variety of types of horse clips to choose from, and depending on the amount of work you will be doing with your horse and how hot he runs, some may be more appropriate than others. Take a look at these popular types of horse clips to see what might work best for you: Continue reading

Visit Us At the All American Quarter Horse Congress!

dover quarter horse congress For the first time ever, Dover Saddlery is exhibiting at the Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio. The first Quarter Horse Congress horse show ran in November of 1967,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with over 5,000 riders attending. The event was considered an outstanding success and over 40 years later is still drawing huge crowds as the world’s largest single-breed horse show. Typically, Quarter Horse Congress has over 17,000 entries each year, with almost 6,000 Quarter Horses coming for the three-week long event.

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6 Types of Horse Blankets You May Need

rambo trade-in

With winter coming up, it’s important to ensure you have all the types of horse blankets you will need to get your horse comfortably through the cold and wet weather. First you should be careful to evaluate your horse’s living situation, as well as how she specifically reacts to temperature- does your horse run hot? Is she clipped? Is she older or does she have any health conditions that may alter how she is able to regulate her own heat? Then make sure your stock of horse blankets has the right layers to cover all the scenarios your horse may encounter this winter. Here are the six types of horse blankets you may find yourself needing:

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5 Tips for Reducing Horse Tack Clutter


horse tack clutter

Over time horse tack and other equipment can accumulate and make your tack room and barn aisles overcrowded. Barn clutter does more than just make a barn look messy. Extraneous items in barn aisles can get in the way, impede movement and cause potentially harmful situations. With winter and blanketing season approaching, the aisles can become even more chaotic as wet blankets are hung to dry and various blanketing layers are stored around stalls. Start with these tips to reduce the horse tack clutter around your barn:

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Fall Riding Apparel Essentials

fall riding apparel

After a summer of wearing the most lightweight riding tights and tank tops you could find to stay cool, the weather is finally shifting. The crisp fall weather has arrived, and with it the need for a change in riding wardrobe. Fall riding apparel is all about the layers. Having the right items will keep you comfortable while you’re getting ready to ride, and allow you to shed a layer as you warm up in the saddle. Make sure you have everything you need to be appropriately outfitted this season.

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Suffolk Downs OTTBs – From the Backside to Your Barn

BLOG_FACEBOOKIMAGEAfter a 79 year legacy of horse racing, Suffolk Downs has announced that it will be closing its starting gates at the end of the 2014 Season on September 29th. Many of the Thoroughbreds that have found their first careers at the track will be in need of new homes and jobs after the closing. While there will be a grace period after the track closes in order to allow horses to be matched with new owners, CANTER New England, a non-profit horse welfare group, expects that over 100 horses will need to be re-homed by mid-October.

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Fall Blanketing – Why You Need a Turnout Sheet or Light Blanket

turnout sheet

As we head into fall, many horse owners are starting to think about blanketing and which layers they will need to keep their horses warm and dry this season. A turnout sheet or light blanket can be important elements to add to your horse’s wardrobe to protect from mud and rain as the weather starts to cool, and is equally useful in the spring when weather is warming but still retains a chill. A turnout sheet is a lightweight, waterproof sheet with no fill, which is great for turnout to protect from mud, rain or wind. A light turnout blanket will protect from mud, rain and wind as well, with the additional benefit of having a light fill to provide additional warmth.  Each of these horse clothing options are not necessarily required, but are great options in certain conditions.

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Functional and Waterproof Boots for the Barnyard and Beyond

waterproof boots

As a rider, a lot of your time is spent wearing paddock boots or tall boots while riding your horse, but these footwear options are not always your ideal choice for days when you’re not riding. You’ll always spend a good deal of time working around the barn, hand-walking, cleaning stalls, scrubbing buckets or bathing and grooming your horse, when alternate, waterproof boots are better suited. It’s also likely that you may be coming from or going to other activities, such as work, errands or meeting friends, when having fashionable as well as functional footwear would be a great added bonus.

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