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Focus, trust end bridling issue

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - October 6th, 2011 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: I never had problems bridling my horse, then one day I was in a hurry and rushed taking off the bridle. I ended up with the bridle in my hand while my horse was rearing up with the bit clanking on his teeth. Now it’s almost impossible to get the bit in or out of his mouth without him getting tense. What should I do?
Lance Gunn, Norco CA

HEY LANCE: What happened to you has happened to virtually every horse owner at least once, including me. When I was 10, I had a horse that lacked a good foundation. I had no experience, height or length of arm. I remember trying to stretch up while on my toes, hoping to keep the bit in his mouth while trying to hook an ear into the bridle. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. This challenge is not just trying to get the bit in his mouth; it has more to do with focus, trust, timing, feel and basic fundamentals about giving to pressure while being scared.

Usually horses that have had this experience will attribute the negative association with the bridle. My suggestion is to initially use a traditional wide web nylon halter on your horse while you are working on teaching him about flexing from side to side, as well as lowering his head to the ground first. The next step would be to insert your fingers along the bars of his mouth until he is willing to accept your hand without resistance or fear. Also, try to work on dropping his head down like you did with the halter before. If he resists or pulls his head up and away from you making it difficult to stay connected, simply hook the lead-line on the lower side ring of the halter and slip the cotton rope through his mouth carefully while trying to have your horse accept the rope in his mouth as a precursor to the bit. After the rope, insert the end of a half-inch PVC pipe six feet long into the side of his mouth. The length of pipe will help you stay with your horse even if he puts his head up and moves. Continue this process until he is fine with it. While you still have one hand on the lead-line and the other hand on the wand or pipe, rub all around your horses ears just in case an issue developed in that area as well. This method is also helpful when horses refuse syringes of wormer or medicine.

We are now ready to attempt to insert the dreadful bit into his mouth. Instead of going straight to the bridle, I suggest you attach a snaffle bit to the lower rings on the side of the noseband part of your halter. You can do this by simply tying a knot with some baling twine on both sides of the bit to the halter. Be sure to snug- up the rings of the bit to the halter for better fit. Because the horse has no negative association with the halter, you will have a better chance of bridging a safer more positive experience to the negative one of the bit. It will be important to slip the halter on your horse and adjust it so the bit is just right outside of his mouth once you’ve buckled it. Remember that your horse has no problem with the bit in or out of his mouth. The problem is with the TRANSITION going in or out of his mouth. It is that transition we need to practice repeatedly until we prove to your horse that he will never be hurt bridling again. This approach will not only guarantee that the bridle will not fall off, hurting him again, it will allow your horse to take and hold the bit or spit it out at will. If he happens to panic and pull away as before, causing you to lose hold of him, don’t worry. The fact that the halter is still attached to his head, only means it will do the work for you if you let go. All you really have to do is slip your fingers into the bars on the side of his mouth and push the bit in with your thumb passed his teeth. If you draw the strap of the halter that goes over his poll down his neck, you will secure the bit in his mouth. What you do next is reverse the process. The strap of the halter over his poll, now needs to be pushed back forward in order to create enough slack in his mouth so that the bit may drop down to make contact with his teeth.

This is the moment your horse will learn to negotiate when and how to deal with that challenge of passing the bit in and out of his mouth. Give him ample time to work through this, initially. After a few moments, you may help him open his mouth with your fingers to pass the bit back and forth. Again, don’t worry. It will all work out because you have taken the time to prepare. Your horse will recognize and appreciate all you did leading up to the moment of truth.

I suggest you ride your horse with this set-up for a while, until you and your horse feel confident enough to move on to the bridle. The challenge then may be his ears. Don’t hesitate to go back a step if you need to.

Lance, I’m confident this challenge will work out for you just like it has for all the horses that have come my way with this issue in the past.

As always, remember to trust your instincts and think safe,

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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