Have you ever been assigned the task of teaching a horse to take his first bridle?
When we were little kids on the ranch, we used to lure the horses to the feed bin, talk the horse into taking a bite of hay from our hand, and then we’d see if we could sneak the bit in. Sometimes we got lucky!
I have been very honored to have gotten to work with some very talented horsemen who have shown me some little tricks. I cannot say that I use any one technique over any other but try to use the concepts they all seem to share, “make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult” in anything you are trying to teach your horse. The “Seeking of Release”!
Here is how I teach a horse to take a bridle for the first time, but don’t think that “My Way is THE Way, Just A Way to Think about Trying”. Just remember to protect your face at all times when teaching a horse to lower his head or take a bit. Do not lower the head with your face OVER the top of his head in case he thrashes or suddenly jerks his head up!
Once I have him gentled enough I can rub his neck, face and ears, he can flex his neck with a halter, and I have taught him to lower his head by simply touching just behind his ears, I am ready to teach him to take a bit. With his halter and lead rope on I will casually hold the halter knot in my right hand I will gently rub his face and muzzle with my left and when he is kind, receptive and relaxed I will stop.
I will then repeat and then casually begin to slip my left middle finger into the left corner of his mouth onto the bar of his lower gums, the space between his front teeth and molars. (Be Very Careful that he does not grab your finger with his strong tongue and push it back into his molars, he can and may bite by accident as a reflex!) As soon as he seems to relax, and soften and/or lower his head, casually slip your finger out. If he tosses his head a little, you MUST keep your finger in place until he softens! Always let your horse “THINK” between attempts, so it soaks into his mind WHY you pulled your finger out.
Repeat, slip your finger in and keep your finger in the mouth until he begins to lower his head and soften his demeanor, then remove the finger.
Repeat. The finger goes in, now encourage him to swing his head a little down and left. Remove your finger. Soon when you reach for his mouth his head will naturally swing left and low without touching him! Reward him for THINKING about doing the right thing!
If you have a tough horse, don’t feel the need to rush! Maybe Day #1 you only get him to accept your finger in his mouth. Maybe Day #2 he begins to lower his head to the left. Maybe Day #3 you ask for the bit.. Maybe it is Day #4!! So what!? It takes as long as it takes and each horse may or may not be the same as the horse just prior! In ALL things horse training and teaching, it is a PROCESS NOT an EVENT.
When this part of the exercise is going well, grab your snaffle bridle. Hold it in your left hand, straddle your horses face and guide the bit up under and behind his chin with your right hand. Stay with him until he seems to relax, then remove it. Repeat, straddle, lift bit UNDER the chin. Now trade hands with the bit secured up under his chin, put your right forearm between his ears, guide bit with your left hand from under his chin to front of his lips, keeping the bit spread with your fingers and thumb of your left hand. Now reach in with your middle finger on his right side and massage his tongue, slip the bit in and casually hold it with your right hand pressure UP on the headstall. Don’t attempt to go to the ears yet! Wait until he settles and lowers the head a little, let it slip out. Wait, rub, repeat.
Soon enough, when he sees you reach for his face with that bridle you will see his face swing left and go low and ASK you to put the bit in his mouth hoping you will reward that effort by allowing him to spit it back out if his head is low & left. So, let him! When this is fluent and affective, put it in, leave it in and let him wear it for a while.
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