Thoughts about bits and bridles, and problems that can occur.
Horses can have issues being bridled for a number of reasons. They are naturally sensitive around the ears and can develop issues through bad handling or poorly fitting equipment. It is also worth checking that your horse doesn’t have any skin condition in or around the ears as this can increase their sensitivity in the area.
The key to good handling around the head is being careful and steady regardless of what the horse does. If you introduce a bridle and your horse lifts their head, stop advancing and wait for your horse to lower it. When they do, take the bridle away let them reflect and try again. You also need to have control of your horse’s feet so you can easily reposition them if they move to evade the bridle. Being able to bend your horse’s neck and head around to each side without them moving their feet is also a very useful tool.
Helping a horse that is difficult to bridle usually takes between a week to a month depending on the severity, but some horses will always need careful handling. It makes great sense therefore to teach a young horse correctly from the get go – it will be a matter of a few days before they are accepting a bit and bridle like an old pro! If your horse opens their mouth when being ridden or gets their tongue over the bit, they are likely trying to evade the action of the bit. The first thing to do is to get a qualified horse dentist or vet to check their teeth. If there is no physiological problem you need to go back to the start of teaching your horse to accept the bit and help them re build their trust in it.
Start by putting the bit in so it is half an inch from the corners of their mouth for an hour or so a day – you could even feed them in it. Putting some Vaseline at the corners of their mouth can help make it more comfortable. After a few days of this you will notice that your horse is tending to ‘hold’ the bit in their mouth rather than letting it hang so they can open their mouth.
Horses that put their tongue over the bit will need some experimentation with different bits. I might use a bit which allows room for the tongue or has a roller as a lozenge. These types of bits are a good starting point for any horse. I do not rush to put a flash noseband or similar on as strapping a horse’s mouth shut isn’t fixing any problems, just masking them. I have found young horses do fiddle with the bridle for a while but as they gain confidence and become more balanced and learn to give to bit pressure they soon relax in the mouth.