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My question is: How can I bridle a young horse.

I've recently purchased a now three year old Appaloosa Filly who had not been touched prior to purchase.

So far I've taught her to put on her own headcolllar, pick up her feet when asked, stand to be groomed/showered and be rugged as well as stand for vet inspections/jabs and medical care (bandages etc.) Among other things.

However, I'm struggling with ideas on how to get her used to the idea of being bridled. I have bridled her five times already (Not without its challenges). But, she's now beginning to put up a fight. (Throwing her head up in the air, spinning around the box.)

I don't want to manhandle her head into it every time as when she gets to 16hh+ It will become a battle I simply cannot win.

I have tried coaxing her in with treats but with one hand on the bit and the other on the bridle it's remarkably difficult to reward her at the right time.

Other things to note:

She will put her head down when asked and angle her head to the side/towards me without any issues. She is quite sensitive about the bridge of her nose.

My next idea is to cover the bit in some form of flavoursome syrup or liquid E.G salt lick residue and get her used to getting the bit in her mouth without the bridle, then the bridle on it's own and then the combination.

If that fails I'm curious to see if anyone has any different methods of starting a young horse in a bridle?

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    I do not have a lot of experience with young horses, but I would also try to remove the piece that annoys her most and try without it. And maybe also keep the bridle on for some time to get used to the feeling? – SerenaT Jan 23 at 15:45
  • I'd really like to give an answer to this, except I do not like bits. They cause discomfort at best and pain. So my answer would involve going bitless. It will make things between you and your horse a lot better. Don't do anything on the back of the horse you cannot do with the horse on the ground. – user6796 Jan 24 at 10:48
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    I totally agree and I'm actually in the process of training her at liberty at the moment. However, in the UK I'm unable to even attend a show with a bitless horse and so until that changes I'm left with very little choice. With that being said it'll also give me peace of mind should I ever have to sell her that she will at the very least tolerate the bit. People these days would rather label her as a problem horse than figure out what is wrong unfortunately. Thank you for the welcome! :) – SimplyRedAppaloosa Jan 25 at 17:04
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Dealing with my own young horse ATM (she had basic training a while before I got her, but she was left in the pasture for a long time, and decided she'd rather not work), and here is what I've learned from others. I'm training her with the bit, like you, in case I need to sell her; I guide her with my legs and neck-reining, though, so it's both easier for her and I have more control (legs+reining means more and gives more command options than just one alone). Most of this is from the Buck Brannaman 7 Clinics DVDs (not affiliated with me--just a happy customer); do check them out--you'll learn a lot on how to train a horse to extreme performance levels with pure positive reinforcement.

First, get her to drop her head and allow you to pet her all over her face. Start on the forehead, down her nose, her cheeks, etc. She may well be familiar with this from other training already--pet her regularly, and as a reward for doing good. Next, she needs to allow you to handle her nose and ears. Run your hand quickly, not abruptly, over her muzzle and under her chin. She might throw her head up--you do it quickly so you are in and out before she has time to really fuss; keep working at it, and she will learn it's OK and allow you to handle her. Do the same for the ears; never bat the ears, just run your hand over them quick and light. Eventually, you should be able to handle her muzzle and waggle her ears without complaint.

The next step is to work on opening her lips. You should be able to slid a finger into the corner of her mouth and lift her lips. Don't put your finger in too deeply so you aren't bit. She should remain completely calm. Next, take your lead rope and slip that in where the bit will go. It's softer than the bit, so it's easier for her. Once she's completely calm about all this, you can finally put the bridle on.

When you put the bridle on, do not leave the halter on. Untie the halter, then slip it through her mouth under, then over, the bit--just like you did with the rope before. You can do this in reverse when you are done riding. Eventually, you'll probably be able to trust her to stand for you while you switch between them, but even then you run the risk of a stray dog scaring her, or something, and having a runaway horse. When you take the bridle off, don't drag it over her ears--hold her ears and bend them so they slide under without even being bumped.

Adjust your headstall so there are no wrinkles in the corner of her mouth; a lot of people want that slight pressure there and think it makes them more responsive--it just makes your horse more numb to pressure, and annoys them by pulling on their cheek. When you apply even a light amount of pressure, it's more painful on their cheek as well; it should just rest in the corner of her mouth, and you should be able to turn her by just lifting a rein--no pulling. If she starts getting the bit under her tongue, then you can pull it up for a couple days so she can't do that until she accepts the bit on her tongue--it can really cause problems if this becomes a habit. Once she stops trying to do that, lower it again; if she can't figure it out even with the bit higher up, you'll need to use a bit of string over the bridge of her nose and tied to the bit on each side to pull the bit up to the top of her mouth.

As far as bits go, I use a full-cheek copper snaffle. No rollers, sharp spots; copper to promote a moist mouth. I use a western bridle; no leather over the bridge of her nose, and no chain underneath her muzzle. Don't tie her mouth shut--you can tell when they are worried or in trouble because they work their mouth. It's far better to solve the problem than ignore it and stop the symptoms--that's a great way to get into a rodeo.

Good luck training her!

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    You almost certainly know more than me. I have only worked with horses for about 1.5 years and owned for about 2 months. Most of my success has been using Brannaman's techniques and thinking like a horse; if the horse needs discipline (not for not knowing a command or doing a protest buck/kick, but for deliberately trying to bite or kick me with the intention of hitting me), I think "what would the herd boss do" and respond with just enough to get the message across, but not more. Both create dangerous horses--one from abuse and other from lack of control, and both are very difficult to fix. – user1234 Jan 31 at 17:18
  • I watched Buck's movie yesterday! and I have watched Rick Gore (think like a horse) for years - he puts the horse first every time youtube.com/… I like the way you think – user6796 Jan 31 at 20:49
  • @user1234 - Accepting this as the answer even though I hadn't read it before solving the issue it is practically exactly what I did to desensitise her. I believe the bit had been used too strong on her the week before (horse lady with 40+ years said it must be done this way and that lots of wrinkles in the mouth was "fine") So my horse had become sensitive and unwilling around the mouth. Sure enough, playing with her mouth and putting the bridle on without the bit and then adding it seperately did the trick. My 45 minute fight last week turned into 5 minutes. Very pleased! – SimplyRedAppaloosa Feb 3 at 9:29
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I'm just going to add my experience with my horse that worked on the 02/02/2020.

  • Referring back to the SerenaT's comment of:

I would also try to remove the piece that annoys her most and try without it. And maybe also keep the bridle on for some time to get used to the feeling?

I didn't agree with keeping the bridle on for some time. However, she did prompt me to double check what exactly my mare was anxious about when bridling.

She puts her headcollar on herself so I knew I would have no issues with ears, eyes or nose. I ran my hand over her head to double check these and found no issues.

That was until I got to the mouth. It was this weekend I remembered that a fellow horselady who boasts 40+ years of experience had bridled her the weekend before we started having this issue. She mentioned that the bit being too tight would "teach" my horse to accept the bit and that strapping the noseband down tight would stop her from being so "touchy".

It seems that this was infact certainly not the case. If anything what it does is tears away your horses' personality and makes them head-shy.

To combat this fear of pressure (and possbily the banging of the bit on her teeth.) I played with her mouth repeatedly. Holding onto her if she fussed and letting go immediately if she steadied her head.

Sure enough after 4-5 minutes of me holding her mouth and letting go she had stopped moving away/tossing her head about when I touched her mouth. I then moved on to putting light pressure on the inside of her lip. Not even enough to touch her tongue but just enough so she'd start to chew.

She accepted this readily and I then pulled the bit infront of her mouth and she took it up herself. I then just had to re-attach the left side of the bit to the bridle and we were ready to go.

I was astonished at how quick she came around to it and honestly wouldn't have believed it if I had called in a professional to do it which suggests to me even more that I certainly shoudn't just accept someone else's advice because they've had more experience.

Sometimes advice from experience can be helpful but I must remember that my horses welfare comes first. NOT someone elses past knowledge.

Lesson learnt!

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