Horses that are difficult to bridle have usually been made that way through discomfort, inconsiderate handling or badly fitting equipment. Removing the cause and eliminating possible physical reasons doesn’t necessarily remove the unpleasant association, but patience and ingenuity can help.

Show jumping enthusiast Jo Williams is 5ft2in while her Grade B gelding is 16.3hh.
“When I bought him, you couldn’t touch his ears — he would throw his head in the air,” she explains. “My vet sedated him and checked for ear mites but found nothing.

“I now use a bridle with bit clips and found I could put the headpiece and browband over his ears without having to pull his ears through the gap, then put the bit in without touching his head.”

Saddler Helen Barnsall’s ingenuity solved a similar problem and satisfied a showing competitor’s need for a traditional appearance. She made a browband with an unobtrusive hook stud fastening at one end, which again allowed the bridle to be put on without touching the horse’s ears.

“It means the bridle can be put on in the conventional way rather than taking it apart,” she says.

Josephine Knowles, FBHS, warns that putting the reins over the horse’s head can also spark a reaction. She says that it is much easier to undo the centre buckle and fasten them round the horse’s neck.

If the problem centres on the horse’s reluctance to take the bit — usually because hurried or inconsiderate handling has resulted in the mouthpiece knocking against his teeth — Josephine suggests halving and hollowing out a carrot and tying the two halves round the mouthpiece. You can then lay the carrot-wrapped bit across your hand and offer it to the horse.

Equine dental technician Rob Fallowes says that some horses either don’t like metal bits or associate them with discomfort.

“Changing to a lightweight ‘plastic’ mouthpiece such as a Nathe or Happy can make a big difference,” he says.

Mike Peace, a specialist trainer of young and problem horses, uses a technique of holding the bit below the horse’s mouth and inviting him to take it. As the horse starts to drop his head and feel the bit, he rewards him by taking the bridle away for a couple of seconds. He then tries again and every time the horse accepts the bit, he takes it away rather than hooking it over his ears. Eventually, the horse will accept that he is not going to be made uncomfortable and should also accept being bridled.

Mike warns that it can take a lot of time and gentle handling to convince a seasoned teeth clencher, but says that with patience, you will succeed.

  • This “tricks of the trade” feature was first published in Horse & Hound 28 October 04


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