You can tell when your horse is ready to put on a bridle for the first time. The horse will lead, turn, and stand tied. It will also back on command with a halter. Just like with any other new task that is being introduced, knowing how to put a bridle on a horse will take great patience. Trying to rush this new skill may not only cause discomfort or pain, but it can also cause the horse to begin fearing the bridle.
The trick to this process is to go slow. Make sure that you are properly bridling the horse. Doing so will help your horse build trust with the process and with you. These are the steps that you’re going to want to follow.
#1. Remove the halter.
Some owners prefer to ride their horse with the bridle over the halter. This may be fine if the horse has already learned to accept the bridle. If this is a new skill being learned, then it is usually considered a good idea to remove the halter before proceeding.
You do still need to be able to maintain control over the head while teaching this skill, so you can buckle the halter around the neck of the horse. If you can trust your horse not to move, you can also use the reins of the bridle around the neck to maintain control.
#2. Put your arm between the ears of the horse.
The goal of this action is to encourage the horse to learn how to drop its head. It will also get you used to the motion of pulling up the bridle if this is new to you as well. Bridling a horse with its head raises is awkward at best and will often put you into an off-balance position where you’re unable to maintain control.
It’s also much easier to cause an unintentional injury or create discomfort with the bridling process when the head is raised. You may need to teach the horse to lower the head as a skill before proceeding with the bridling process.
#3. Place your first finger behind the back teeth of the horse.
You’ll want to rub the horse’s gums on both the top and the bottom. The goal of this step is to help the horse become familiar with having a foreign object in the mouth and being willing to accept it. If the horse seems like it is trying to chomp on your finger, then remove it and try again either later in the day or on another day.
There is ample space behind the teeth of a horse, so it is also up to you to make sure you’re not moving your fingers toward the bite area.
#4. Give the bridle a mild bit at first.
A snaffle bit that is smooth is usually the best option for a bridle when the horse is first learning this new skill. It’s a mild bit that helps the horse begin accepting the bridle. Make sure that your nose band is either unlatched or loose for more reliable results as well.
#5. Stand on the left side of the horse.
Your right shoulder should be next to the jaw. Then hold the top of the bridle with your right hand at the top of the forehead, close to the horse’s ears. Slide the bit between the horse’s lips with your left hand. You can ask the horse to carefully open the mouth, but avoid bumping the teeth with the bit. If there is a refusal, you can rest the bit on the lips and place your fingers once again behind the back teeth and rub the gums.
You can also lightly tap on the tongue of the horse, wiggle your fingers around behind the teeth, or tap the gums as a reminder of what you want the horse to do.
If there is still a refusal, you cannot proceed to the next step. Go back to the beginning and work to make the horse comfortable with having a foreign object in the mouth. You must get the horse to be able to trust this process. Some horses take longer than others to trust the sensation of the bit and bridle.
#6. Slip the bridle over the horse’s ears.
Once the horse is ready to accept the bit, you’ll want to slip the bridle over the ears while at the same time you are sliding the bit into the mouth. You’ll need to verify that the bit is over the tongue and resting behind the back teeth. If it is not, you’ll need to remove the bit, slip the bridle back over the ears, and start again. Improper positioning of the bit can lead to an injury, which may cause the horse to refuse the bridle from there on out.
As you are doing this, you’ll want to keep checking that the curb strap is behind the chin of the horse if your bridle happens to have one.
It’s usually easier to slide the bridle over the ears one at a time. Many horses don’t like the feeling of having their ears bound up or pressured in any way, so be careful when taking this step. If they don’t like how you’re moving the bridle over the ears, they will typically pull away or flick their head at yours. Try to fold the ears straight forward or straight back, depending on the preference of the horse.
#7. Always be thinking about safety.
Flies are the #1 issue that horse owners face when trying to bridle a horse, especially for the first time. If the horse is trying to fight off flies while you’re trying to teach a new skill, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be stepped on or get smacked in the face by a giant horse head coming your way. Apply a fly spray to the horse if needed to prevent this issue.
Pain that occurs during the bridling process will also cause the horse to flick its head in your direction. Bumping the lips or teeth with the bit are the two most common issues that people face when teaching a horse about the bridle, so be gentle and patient with the process. Be gentle around the ears as well.
It is often easier to saddle a horse first before starting the bridling process. This allows the horse to remain tied up with the halter and the lead rope. Don’t fall for the temptation of tying a horse up by the bridle – that’s an improper method.
And then you’re done. After the horse’s ears are in front of the crown, you can straighten the bridle and make sure there aren’t any hairs that have gotten tangled up. That’s what it takes to know how to put a bridle on a horse, especially for the first time.