The process of putting a bridle on a horse begins when you start to unfasten the halter from the left side. This will allow you to slip the nose piece of the halter off of the horse. Tie it around the neck of the horse, while keeping the reins and bridle close at hand.
You can also choose to leave the halter on underneath the bridle, but this is generally recommended for trail riding or a similar activity. In most circumstances, you will want to unfasten the halter.
Then you’re ready to follow these additional steps and be ready to know how to bridle a horse properly.
#1. Bring the horse’s nose down towards you.
You must be in firm control of yourself and your emotions for this step. Have the bridle ready and in the proper position as you ask your horse to lower its nose down toward you. The bridle should be facing outward.
Not every horse is going to cooperate at this point in time. Some like to throw their head upwards just as you’re about to start the process of putting on the bridle. Others just look at you with “that” stare. If you have a stubborn horse who just doesn’t want to lower his head into position, then keep the halter on and work with the horse to lower his nose using poll pressure.
Some owners have also incorporated verbal commands with this process. Use steady, but gentle, pressure until the nose lowers. Then reward the horse and repeat.
#2. Put the reins over the neck of the horse.
This will generally relax a horse which has a good relationship with you. If the horse is tense or needs to move the feet for some reason, then use approach and retreat to help relax the situation. The goal is to make being bridled an enjoyable experience, so forcing the process isn’t going to help anyone.
Once the reins are secured, then switch to holding the bridle by the crown piece in your preferred hand.
A tip for English bridle users: Make sure your nose band or cavesson is unbuckled at this point as well to make the bridling process easier.
#3. Now you’re ready to guide the bit.
Your off-hand should be at the bottom to guide the bit. For Western bridle users, make sure to separate the curb chain from the bit.
Then put your off-hand index finger at the front of the horse’s mouth. You’re looking for the area between his top and bottom teeth. Finding this spot is important because it will prevent many of the teeth-banging incidents which causes horses to hate being bridled.
Your dominant hand should be holding the tack between the ears of the horse, placed at the poll.
Then use your off-hand to guide the bit into the mouth of the horse. You may need to put your thumb into the mouth where there are no teeth as a way to ask the horse to open up. As the horse opens his mouth, lift up with your dominant hand to keep everything a bit taut.
A note of caution: Some horses will develop the habit of putting their tongue over the bit. This is usually done at first because the bit is uncomfortable, putting too much pressure on the tongue. Over time, however, this cause also become an evasion tactic, like throwing up the head when you ask the horse to lower the nose.
The best course of action is proactive prevention. Do your best not to let the tongue over the bit habit develop in the first place. If it is already present, then check with your veterinarian to determine if there may be a medical cause for this issue.
If the horse is healthy, then consider changing the bit. Some horses prefer the “ergonomic” bits over a straight bit. You can also add a tongue port to help relieve the pressure on the tongue. If the horse still won’t cooperate, you might consider moving to a bitless bridle, a side-pull, or a hackamore to be able to maintain control.
#4. Slip the crown piece and throat latch into place.
You can do this by very gently bending each ear forward, one at a time, starting on the side which the horse prefers. Many horses prefer the right side, but there are a few who prefer the left. Then slip the throat latch and the crown piece behind the ear to the poll.
When you’ve done it right, the browband is going to stay in front of the horse, coming across the forehead.
A note of caution: Do not bring the ears backward when following this step. Always move the ears forward. The backward motion of the ears may trigger a negative emotion within the horse and make the bridling process much more difficult.
#5. Make the adjustments that are necessary for a tight fit.
Focus on the browband on both sides to make sure that it is sitting just below the ears. A little too high will be bothersome to the horse and cause him to flick his ears repetitively. Sitting too low, the browband can begin to interfere with vision or, in an extreme instance, could cause an eye injury.
Once the browband has been properly secured, reach under the neck so that you can get the throat latch strap. Thread this strap through the buckle, fasten the buckle, and then put it through the keeper.
#6. Check the tightness of the throat latch.
Because the throat latch will cut across the air passageways of the horse, it is important to double-check the tightness as you secure the buckle. Since the wind pipe is right behind the cheek bone of the horse, a throat latch that is too tight could cause air intake issues.
You should be able to fit a finger or two under the side pieces that hook to the bit and your fist through the throat latch strap.
#7. Check for a proper fit.
Now that you’ve got everything on, it’s time to make sure it has put on correctly. Look to see if there are any twists that are in the leather or nylon of the bridle. No pieces should be at or near the eyes. Make any corrections as needed to create a comfortable fit.
Knowing how to bridle a horse means following these steps, but it also means having a good relationship with the horse. If the horse does not respect you, then he will not respect this process. So if it seems like the horse is playing a game with you, then play back – but in a way that establishes that you’re the boss. Keep it fun and the horse will eventually come around.