By Bob Jeffreys & Suzanne Sheppard
If you've ever had to walk backwards the length of the barn aisle on your tiptoes in order to bridle your horse, please know that there is a better way.
We begin to teach a horse to accept the bit and the bridle willingly by putting the bridle away. That's correct, we'll do all of our "practice" bridling without the bridle in order to eliminate the possibility of bumping his teeth with the bit, or pinching his ears or rubbing his eyes with the bridle. There is less chance of this happening when the horse is comfortable with the "bridling" process.
Start by standing to the left of his neck, place your right hand on top of the horse's head, palm down between his ears, and your left hand across his nose, just above his nostrils. Ask him to simultaneously move his head downward and towards you, to the left, by using a little pressure from both hands. As soon as he moves his head downward or to the left, release both hands immediately to say "thank you". Keep practicing this until as soon as you put both hands into position the horse will automatically bring his head down and over to the left so that his nose is by your belt buckle and his ears are no higher than your ears. We'll call this the bridling position.
Now we can ask for him to accept our petting his nose or mouth gently with our left hand while his head remains in the bridling position. If he attempts to raise his head when you touch his mouth, try to restrain him gently and don't release until he reassumes the bridling position and allows his mouth to be touched.
When we can achieve this last step consistently, we'll ask the horse to accept one finger in his mouth, and then graduate to two fingers, then three. Keep adding fingers until the horse will open his mouth. Remember that there is a space on each side of his jaw where there are no teeth; be sure to put your fingers only in this area, so that you don't get bitten by accident. Practice until every time you ask for the bridling position, he'll quickly open his mouth when your fingers are placed in the corner of his mouth. Then just use your right hand to cup forward first the right, and then the left ear.
To summarize, now we can ask the horse to place his head in the bridling position, open his mouth and let us move his ears forward one at a time. When these steps are achievable every time we ask, it's time to retrieve the bridle.
Since you've already taught all the steps involved in bridling, putting the bit and bridle on the horse should now be a piece of cake.
Hold the bridle at its top with your right hand. Bring his head over and down and then place your right hand between the horse's ears, letting the bit hang down in front of his face. With your left hand ask the horse to open his mouth; when he does, raise your right hand upward which will bring the bit into his mouth. Now grip the top of the bridle with your left hand which will free up your right hand to cup the horses' right ear and push it forward while your left hand places the bridle over that ear. Then do the same with the left ear. Buckle your throat latch and you're ready to ride! By using this step-by-step approach, you will avoid or resolve many bridling problems and be well on your way to a more willing partnership between you and your horse!
(c)Two as One, LLC 8/07