In retrospect, I feel like this post has been a long time coming, and so it's a little embarrassing for me to admit how long it's taken me to put all the pieces together. In short, I've been having some nagging issues with Ringo on the flat all year. I know I got all riled up about how unfair the judging was at the show I took him to this spring (and it mostly was), but I was watching a tape of us going second level last September, and it was a sobering moment to realize that he looked in general better then than he does now. What had gone wrong?
For the past few months, I've been having the following concerns: Ringo had been feeling progressively behind my leg, somewhat sour, very stiff (especially to the left), and progressively more dead and difficult in the bridle. I originally linked all the last three symptoms to the first, thinking that the being behind the leg was causing everything else. This is why, after the Hossmoor disaster in May, I took a step back and hacked out, rode in jump tack, and rode in the hackamore for an entire month with the focus of thinking FORWARD and leaving the confines of the dressage arena. He went beautifully in the hackamore, which I felt confirmed my diagnosis, and so I avoided the double bridle because I was sure it would lead down the path of backwards sourness again.
At the end of the month, he felt better... a little. But not very. I admit this was a little disheartening. I was so busy with graduation at the same time that I didn't allow myself a lot of time to think about it, and used my spotty riding schedule as a convenient excuse for his continued lackluster performances (which certainly, the schedule wasn't helping!).
Finally when I got to Virginia, I decided to try the double out again just for funsies. Why not? I was getting a pretty disheartening vibe in the snaffle, and so maybe the double would be a good change of pace. And dangit, it WAS. Ringo was amazing when I rode him in the double: relaxed, confident into the bridle without being strong, supple, FORWARD, and even-sided. Excellent! We'd gotten our groove back!
(lookin studly in his double again)
(I also wanted to ride him in the snaffle to give him a break from the hard work of the MEGAHEAT we've been dealing with for the past week - temps over a hundred every day and humidity like woah - Ringo and I have both been sweating up a storm)
(On the upside, this is what it looked like during said horrid ride. Shabby, right? Oh Virginia, you so purdy)
Suddenly, the lightbulb went off. The bit. The bridoon in my double is essentially a normal loose ring (there's nothing fancy about it, and the ring is very big for a bridoon). The bit on my snaffle bridle is a D ring. I chose the D ring a year ago, when I was having a really hard time getting him to go out into the contact at all. What if the stiffness in the bridle was the result of the D ring, and the behind the legness was the result of being stiff in the bridle? All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and seemed very, very clear all of a sudden. I quit the ride as soon as I could reach a somewhat passible point, got off, and promptly searched the trailer for the first nice heavy loose ring snaffle I could find.
So this evening I returned, armed with Dually's old German-gold KK french link loose ring. And god lord, it was magical. Every single problem I've been struggling with for the past six months essentially vanished immediately, or was drastically, drastically reduced. He was forward, supple, and happily chewing the bit pretty much from start to finish. I was able to ride more flexibly in my elbows than I can remember doing in a long time, because I wasn't locked with worry of 'keeping him on the bit.'