Imagine this scenario: You’re tacking up for a trail ride. All of your friends are leading their horses out, mounting up, and applying fly spray. You’re still standing in the cross-ties, attempting to bridle your horse while they hold their head up high, just out of reach.
Did this scenario sound a bit too real to you? If so, you’re not alone. Many horse owners struggle when asking their horses to take the bit. Sometimes the rider isn’t asking properly. Other times, the horse has not been taught properly. And surprisingly often, it’s a little of both.
If you’re already familiar with Easy Horse Fix, then you know we take a relationship-based approach to horse training. So, our solution for horses who don’t take the bit is to change up the way both you and your horse are approaching bridling. We have a popular video called Teaching Your Horse to Take the Bit that breaks our method down into easy steps. But first, let’s take a step back and look at the problem – refusing the bit – in more detail.
How Should a Horse Accept the Bridle?
Before teaching your horse any new skill, it’s helpful to outline exactly what you’re hoping to achieve. When bridled, your horse should hold their head level with your chest, with their nose just about at waist level. They should readily open their mouth to accept the bit when asked. Then, they should keep their head down and close to you while you fasten the bridle.
Horses can refuse the bridle in several ways. Some horses – often the tall ones – learn to raise their head so high that you can’t reach it. Standing on a stool might help you get the bridle on in a pinch, but it’s just a Band-Aid for the real problem. Other horses may jerk their head away, shake their head, or even back up quickly when you attempt to bridle them.
Why Is Refusing the Bit a Problem?
Many horses are semi-difficult to bridle, but riders still eventually manage to bridle them and ride. However, this behavior is still less than ideal.
What if you were on a trail ride and your bridle got pulled off on a tree branch? Being able to quickly re-bridle your horse is a matter of safety in that situation.
It’s also important to consider other riders’ needs. If you allowed a shorter friend to ride your horse, would they be able to bridle them? Would you allow a younger or less experienced rider to bridle your horse, or would you worry they might bonk them when shaking their head?
Teaching your horse to accept the bit and bridle is not that hard once you have a solid, working relationship. So, this is very much a skill worth working on for time-saving and safety reasons.
Ruling Out Pain
If your horse has always refused the bit, or if they are still green, then their issues with taking the bit probably come down to a hole in training. On the other hand, a horse who suddenly stops accepting the bit might be in pain. Here are some potential causes of pain to rule out, perhaps with the help of a veterinarian or equine dentist:
- Your bit is sharp or harsh, and it’s causing your horse pain
- Your horse has points on his teeth that are causing cheek ulcers
- Your horse has an injured tongue, gums, or lips
- Your horse has a bee sting or other injury on their face where the bridle rests
Teaching Your Horse to Take the Bit
Once you’ve ruled out pain, it’s time to start teaching your horse about taking the bit – the Easy Horse Fix way. Our method works for green horses, and also for well-trained horses who have simply fallen into bad bridling habits over time.
If you have not yet practiced the Foundational Flex 7 exercises with your horse, start there. Once you have a handle on those exercises, you’re ready to watch Teaching Your Horse to Take the Bit. We show you how to gently encourage your horse to lower their head, allow the bit to slide into the mouth, and remain steady while you pull the bridle over the ears.
In addition to showing you relationship-based methods to help with taking the bit, this video also shows you where and how to hold the bridle when bitting your horse. The right-hand positions can make all the difference.
If you like what you see in this video, consider signing up for a membership. You’ll gain unlimited access to all of the Easy Horse Fix training videos. Enjoy!