“Positive tension” and the return of the double bridle

I read this phrase awhile back on some bulletin board….someone was saying dressage horses should show “no tension.” And someone else responded they needed ‘positive tension.’ 
I agree. I think it’s a great way to describe the ideal dressage horse state.
Positive tension is what energizes the horse, makes it forward-thinking, forward-moving and able to respond quickly to light aids.
If a horse had NO tension – it would just be a lump of jelly. 😉
To me, a horse in positive tension is like a bow that is drawn back maybe 40% of its ‘maximum.’   The power is there, just waiting for someone to ‘free’ it.
I think about this because Faeryn is a horse that can look vastly different – depending on how much ‘positive tension’ she has.  She can trot forward and look perfectly pleasant, but fairly boring — or, I can use the ‘energy’ from when she spooks – or ‘create’ energy by really making her bend around my inside leg, activating her inside hind to outside rein. When I do this , I can ‘feel’ the energy I’ve created – her gaits get more expressive, she gets more suspension and she feels very powerful – but it’s contained energy.I do not have to hang on the reins – I can have slack in inside or outside rein.
I get the feeling that she IS that bow, with the perfect amoutn of positive tension – and I am ‘maintaining’ the degree of tension with my inside leg and outside rein.She becomes, in effect, the bow.  To me, THAT is positive tension. It’s is a wonderful feeling – and one I’m striving to find with each of my horses.
It’s been a week since Fling had her teeth done, so I got out the double bridle, dusted it off (quite literally – it’s probably been a year since I used it) and we went to work. After some initial protesting, I could really tell how much more responsive and attentive she was. Continued to work on getting her more sensitive to just my seat aids, especially for downwards. She ‘gets’ the seat aid for ‘go’ but it is the seat aid for halt halt/slow down/collect more that she is blowing through. Now with the double at least she cannot blow through the half halts anymore. The bending was better, too. The main trouble with the doub le is she tends to want to go a bit behind the vertical so I have to be careful to really use light half halts and then immediately release — of course, the goal is to be able to use my seat/abs almost exclusively for half halts – but we’re a ways from that. Most of the time I just tied the curb rein up and did not actually use it – but just wearing the double guarantees she is more sensitive to the aids.

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