If you find yourself reaching for a stepladder every time you try to bridle your horse, CHARLIE BRISTER has some advice to help make bridling blissful ¦ for both of you.
Most people who ride use a bridle. So it’s fair to say that there’s likely to be some of you who might need a little help making bridling a better experience. It’s easy to think that the horse is at fault if they’re difficult to bridle, when in reality we need to realise it’s up to us to make it easy for the horse, not for the horse to make it easy for us.
Like most things with horses there are a couple different ways to approach it. Sometimes what works for one horse doesn’t always work for another.
Even before you put the bridle on, notice what your horse does when you put a halter over their head. If that’s hard to do, then you are most likely going to have even more issues when it comes to bridling.
Horses are generally trying to protect themselves from things that cause them discomfort, or things they are uncertain about. So make sure that any gear you’re going to use will fit correctly and cause as little discomfort as possible.
Two common problems are either the horse putting their head up in the air or not opening their mouth easily for the bit. Let’s focus on these two issues. This can occur with young horses, but also older horses who have been competing successfully for years. Some people don’t see it as a problem or don’t address it, but it’s probably one of the easier things to work on with your horse, requiring only patience and good timing. Sounds easy, right!
Start with your horse (or pony) in an area where they feel comfortable. That could be the stable or a paddock. If the horse is anxious and fidgety it’s probably not worth dealing with the bridling issue until you’ve looked at what’s causing them to fidget.
Relaxing the poll
While your horse is wearing their halter, stand on their near side with the lead rope in your left hand. Run your right hand up their neck along the mane. If your horse is quite sensitive you might not even get close to the ears before they’re already putting their head up. This is a sign that they aren’t a fan of what you’re doing, so don’t go any further with your hand until they relax a little.
When you can successfully rest the palm of your right hand on their poll, apply a small amount of downward pressure on the lead rope with your left hand. Let your right hand just rest there, not pushing down. Sometimes if you push they will resist against the pressure. Be softer in the beginning and with patience they will come around with less resistance.
After the horse lowers the poll from the gentle downward pressure release the pressure on the lead rope and give them a whither scratch to reward the good behaviour. When your horse lowers their head smoothly and doesn’t raise it as soon as the pressure is removed you know you’re making progress. Then you can try gently rubbing their ears. When the bridle comes over their face they need to be comfortable with the ears being moved around so make sure you practice it. If it causes them discomfort and there’s an adverse reaction take a step back to what they were comfortable with before you started touching their ears and work your way towards them again after they’ve relaxed.
This next step is really important. Getting your horse comfortable with you rubbing all over their forehead, ears and poll will make a big difference! The emphasis here is on being comfortable – some horses are tolerant but not that relaxed about it!
Once you have the horse to where they lower their head and are comfortable with the ears being rubbed, check to see if they will accept the bit. Do this by gently pushing your thumb or index finger between their lips on the side of the mouth where there are no teeth to bite you. If they keep their mouth clenched, gently rub the inside of the gum until they lick and chew. As soon as they do that take your hand away and give them a whither scratch. Repeat this until they open their mouth easily when you place your finger between their lips. It’s also important that they don’t raise their head when you do this, which would be another sign that you need to do more work before putting the bridle on.
Putting the bridle on
Do you lift the noseband up? Do you leave the noseband down? Maybe you don’t even ride with a noseband. For me, it never gets in the way. If you loosen the cheek straps of the bridle, that’s one of the best ways to ensure that it goes on smoothly.
Ask your horse for a slight lowering of the poll. For the green horse, take the bridle over the ears but have the bit under the chin. This gives you a chance to check they are still comfortable with their mouth. Take the bridle off then go again. Holding the top of the bridle in your right hand you can hold the bit in your left and use your thumb to encourage your horse to open their mouth.
When you put the bit into your horse’s mouth, be gentle. Banging a metal bit on the horse’s teeth is a good way to annoy them.
If they lift their head after the bridle is on, calmly ask for them to lower their head again. If you have plenty of time on your hands, repeat the entire process until you get a little bit of improvement.
Taking the bridle off
This is just as important. Gently removing the bridle will make sure the horse finishes on a good note for the day. Ask for a little head lowering before sliding it off over their ears. Use both hands so you can prevent the bit from banging their teeth on the way out.
I’ve mentioned lowering the poll quite a few times. As well as making it easier to bridle, it also helps to lower the horse’s heart rate and encourage general relaxation. Having your horse really well trained to respond in this way can also help when it comes to other things, such as when you worm them.
If your horses moves their head around a lot, try leaving the halter on while you bridle them. This will allow you to keep slightly better control, and it’s easy to undo the halter once the bridle is on.
Imagine if you were running late for your competition and you hadn’t trained your horse to be comfortable and keep their head down for bridling. A situation like that can easily raise stress levels and cause you to get frustrated with the horse. Or, if you’re going to sell your horse to someone who’s vertically challenged, you can be pretty sure they won’t want to buy a horse they can’t get the bridle on. All the more reason to get your horse more soft and accepting of this at home.
Just remember though, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
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Our VIP’s members have a video tutorial for bridling where Charlie runs through his methods and training of a difficult to bridle horse he has been working with in his stables. Subscribe to our magazine for your access!