Since the filming of this video I have gathered even more insight on the topic and look forward to enhancing the video content with some words of wisdom.
I have spent the past two days watching Pat masterfully work with a horse who has major bridling issues. With this example fresh in my mind, I am excited to offer you some insight, tips, and troubleshooting that will take your bridling experience to a whole new level.
Bridling is another everyday task (at least for some) that can make or break the partnership between horse and human. Just like haltering, I want to challenge you stop doing things to your horse, and start doing things with your horse. Set an expectation that your horse is going to engage in the activity and help you put the bridle on. In order to achieve this you will need to start thinking like a horse, and find a way to motivate your horse to put forth some effort.
In the video I talk about using cookies (when in the teaching stage. Not for a lifetime!) to create a positive pattern for your horse. Once your horse learns that when they seek the bit, they find something sweet, gone will be the days of standing on buckets and prying unconsenting mouths open. In fact, I would challenge you to get so good that you could bridle your horse while sitting on that bucket without using any force.
Don’t forget that for some horses, bridling can feel like a squeeze. Putting a halter or bridle on a horse’s head (a very vulnerable area) can cause them to become unconfident and claustrophobic. Unfortunately we often make their fears a reality by adjusting the bridle improperly. To Quote Pat Parelli “There is a reason that God invented a zipper and button on our pants. Could you imagine if you had to pull your jeans on everyday without the comfort of adjusting them once they were on?” Think about this for a moment…….What if an extra, yet simple step could change your horse’s comfort and experience with bridling? By dropping the bit 2-4 holes before placing it into their mouths you could change everything! I have gotten in the habit of dropping the bit before I take the bridle off each day. Then, it is ready to go the next day and I can make the final adjustments once it is on.
If you are anti cookies, or worried about the cookie monster effect, you still have options. When I was working at Pat’s barn in 2011 we had a great system for keeping the horse’s association with the bit sweet. Every evening before we left we would take a ketchup container (restaurant style with the pointy tip) filled with molasses syrup and put a dollop on the joint of each bit. This way, the moment the bit was taken by the horse they got to savor the goodness we had applied the night before.
Last but not least I want to talk about the importance of being particular while taking the bridle off. Ensuring that your horse’s head is at the right angle (90 degree angle) will not only test the partnership, but also ensure that the bit will not get stuck and clank their teeth on the way out. If your horse is resistant to keeping his head at the appropriate angle, step back and isolate your porcupine game in Zone 1 till it is up to snuff. By placing your right hand on the horse’s poll you can control the angle of his head and teach him where the sweet spot is. Remember, training is nothing more that using pressure to motivate and release to teach.
Does your horse have behavioral issues around bridling? Do you think it could have to do with the aforementioned lack of consideration we have for squeezing it on? Or is your horse confident about the bridle but unmotivated to participate in the task? Either way I hope you find some inspiration on how to move forward.