‘He’s headshy.’ That one simple statement provokes a groan. But even horses that aren’t headshy can be incredibly evasive of the bridle.
So many owners have trouble doing the simple task of bridling their horse. Why can’t he just put his head down and open his mouth?
Even if you’ve never struggled with this, your horse probably does something you don’t like! Read on and see if you can put the principles I show to use with your horse.
Start without the bridle. Chances are your horse has learned context specific behaviour; in other words, his head goes up when the bridle or your hand comes near, but not otherwise. Start handling his head without the bridle first. Make sure that you wear proper safety gear.
Horses learn what works for them. If he wants to get your hand off his head, whatever behaviour removes your hand fastest is the one he will learn. So be careful to only remove your hand when his head is still.
One short session every two or three days (or every day if that is more convenient) is plenty. Horses learn faster with an interval of a day or two in-between training. Gradually expect your horse to keep his head still for longer. Then teach him to put his head down by removing pressure when he does.
If you reward your horse randomly, he won’t know what you want. Same if you punish. Wait for the response you want, but also don’t wait too long. Find something that motivates your horse to try answers, and be quick to tell him when he hits the right answer.
Reach the Goal.
When you introduce the bridle again, your horse will go right back to its old behaviour. Don’t worry, that is normal. But now you have the tools to have him relax again while the bridle is on your arm. Go through every step you taught him before until he is relaxed again.
Then bring the bridle closer. As soon as he loses his head posture, stop there and work through it again. You’ll find he relaxed faster with each repetition. With simple steps, patience, and consistency, you’ll have that bridle on his head.
I help people whose horses aren’t behaving the way they want through training like this all the time. I offer lessons and training, but sometimes you just need a little article to set you on the right track.