Help the horse that avoids the bridle


When a horse avoids the bridle, this is one of my least favorite horse behaviors. Usually, this behavior is done out of pain or discomfort, or your horse is just being a jerk. Your solution to this problem will be easily found if you can determine which category your horse falls into.


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Why horses avoid the bridle


Let’s assume your normally sweet and agreeable horse is acting out of discomfort when you *attempt* to put the bridle on. It could be a number of things going on:


  • The bridle doesn’t fit properly.  Check all of the pieces, and be sure buckles and metal parts are not rubbing or pinching your horse’s face. 
  • He has a skin irritation somewhere that is agitated by the bridle. This can be common behind the ears.
  • His teeth and/or mouth hurts.  Dental pain is real, and can be avoided with regular dental inspections and floating from your vet. 
  • He has a cut or sore in his mouth. This can happen in the corners of his mouth where the bit rests, or maybe he has bitten his cheek or tongue.
  • He’s a head shaker and the bridle irritates this condition.  There are countless reasons that horse headshakes, and the bridle may be one of them. 
  • He may have “emotional baggage” from previous rough handling. Trust issues, if you will.


Involve your vet


  • Have your vet rule out a physical issue. If you find something in his mouth or ears, you can treat it, and then work to overcome the head raising. If your horse has been uncomfortable for a long time, he may still raise his head to avoid the bridle even if you have resolved what ails him and you’ll have to train him to trust you again.



A common view, as seen during the attempted bridling process.


  • Let’s now assume your horse is acting out of disobedience and jerk-ery. You may want to try to do lots of different things, like scolding him, pulling his ear, tying him down. Please don’t.  Propers and kind training results from patience and reward, not punishment.


Teach your horse to put his head down for the bridle


  • My horses know the words “head down”. They also know they get a bit pat and scratch on their most favorite place when they lower their heads. It comes in handy for fly masks, halters, bridles, loading, you name it. I taught this behavior with the help of a clicker and a fantastic book, and I never used a bridle in the process.


  • You should also touch a spot on your horse’s neck so your request has a verbal and physical dimension. Many top trainers use the poll as the physical signal to drop the head.


  • Your horse must learn that putting his head down, and keeping it down until you say otherwise, yields a reward. You may find that teaching him this command in his stall while he is naked is the best way, then you can start to work in a fly mask, halter, and bridle.


  • Spend a few minutes a day with your horse. He may naturally put his head down to smell your knee, grab a bite of food, or just on his way to get a drink. Start introducing your voice command and a touch on the neck when he naturally puts his head down. Reward, reward, reward. Throw a dang party! Some horses will put 2 and 2 together in a few minutes, others, not so much. The point is to teach him to lower his head on command, with patience, praise, and never punishment.


  • Definitely, do your homework on what system you want to use to train this behavior. I love the clicker, there are loads of other natural horsemanship methods to use as well. Finding a reference book or trainer in your area to help is not a bad idea, either!



How do you deal with the giraffe?




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