Bridling issues with rescue horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 09:34 AM Thread Starter
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Bridling issues with rescue horse

Okay. So, I purchased Prince, a 6-year-old Quarter Horse, from the local rescue almost two weeks ago. I knew he had bridling issues -- the lady who used to own him rode him in a hackamore most of the time.

His teeth have been done -- and they were BAD. Poor boy had ulcers all up and down the inside of his mouth. Vet said to wait a couple of days before bridling him again -- I waited four.

I went to ride yesterday and he's still tossing his head up before I can even get near his mouth. I want bridling to be a calm experience for him, not one that he has to be afraid of. (I believe horses do not "see what they want to get away with" -- I believe everything they do stems from a reason, whether it be fear, anxiety, whatever.)

Today I'm going to give him a good grooming -- won't try the bridle again until Friday, on the off-chance his mouth is still bothering him.

My question -- how do I make it so that bridling becomes a natural, good (or at least not bad) experience for him? I'm willing to put the time in, but I need a good strong plan.
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post #2 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:16 AM
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here's a link that may help, he has some great tips for breaking the procedure down into small steps and rewarding the correct response. Thanks for saying you don't mind putting in the time - you'll be greatly rewarded :)

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post #3 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:20 AM Thread Starter
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Boo Walker: Thanks for the link, I'll take a look at it later. As for time -- I definitely know that there isn't some magical thing that'll automatically make bridling easier. Unless I all of a sudden morph into Dr. Doolittle.
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post #4 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:25 AM
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I would wait more than four days to start bridling, you don't want to actually get the bit in his mouth and have it be a bad experience because its still sore. When my gelding got his wolf teeth pulled the vet said atleast a week. I'd wait alittle longer for your guy since he had so much extensive work.
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post #5 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:27 AM Thread Starter
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Malice: That's what I was thinking. I'm going to wait a week -- which will be Friday -- and see how he does. The last thing I want is for it to be painful ... as I mentioned, my vet said a couple of days, I tried at four.
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post #6 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:29 AM
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I just read an article about pain and how horses remember pain and it can cause anxiety even after the pain is gone, they will anticipate pain. I think part of your plan needs to address the anticipation pain.

Perhaps you can start out using a soft rope that would be about the diameter of the bit your going to use. At first put the rope in his mouth and hold it there, for a second then remove it, let him realize something in his mouth is not going to hurt. Keep putting the rope in and out until he is relaxed about it, rub him and give him lots of praise. Then progress the amount of time he will hold the rope and maybe you can loop it over his head and lead him around using the halter, but with the rope in his mouth. Once he was accepting of the soft rope I would then progress to a bit and do the same thing, short little seconds of holding it and progressing. Once you get the bit on him leave it on him in a safe area and let him eat with it, drink with it and just get used to wearing it on his own so he can figure out it is not going to hurt him.

I would avoid riding him with the bit until he is comfortable just wearing it around, then start on the ground with very light pressure and release. That is how I introduce all my colts to wearing a bit, granted they have not experienced pain but I want them to accept the bit and be comfortable with it.

I do have one who experienced a very traumatic mouth injury, nothing to do with a bridle, at the age of 16, and this horse is broke, but I had almost start him over with bridling and wearing a bit. Two years latter now and he is still not the same as he was before the injury. But he accepts the bit again no problem.
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post #7 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:30 AM
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Teach him the concept of clicker training using treats. You don't need a clicker as it can be a nuisance. Making a chicken cluck sound will do. It tells the horse that what it did was correct and it learns the treat is coming, it's a bridge. Start with a stick or riding crop. I taped a small plastic vitamin bottle to the end of my crop. Hold it toward him then hold it steady. He'll snoop around and when he touches the object, cluck and treat. Do this until you can hold it high, low, side to side and he will go to it immediately, always c/t when he does. To prevent mugging, always extend your treat hand so he has to turn his head away from you to get it. Now, move to his jaw and face it. Place your right hand just behind his ears and with the left hold the target low. He may raise his head high because of your right hand but try to keep it there and wait until he lowers it to touch the target. Immediately remove your hand and c/t. You are teaching him to lower his head when touched behind the ears. Be sure to handle his ears using the palm of your hand to push them forward as in bridling. When he's good with all of this, switch the target to the bridle. Just hold it in the middle, comfortably low and let him check it out. No treat until he does. By now he'll be figuring out what he has to do to get the treat. You must be patient. It don't matter if you don't bridle him on the first day. If he was always ridden in a hackamore he may not be familiar with a bit at all and it may not have anything to do with sharp teeth. Once you do get him bridled, remove the reins and let him carry it around while grooming and doing ground work for a few hours a day, even eating hay with it. Use a loose ring snaffle as the mouthpiece isn't real thick and will be fine if he has a shallow pallet.

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post #8 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:35 AM Thread Starter
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gssw5: I have tried the lead rope in his mouth, he actually likes to chew on it anyway.

Saddlebag: I like that idea! It's something active to get his mind working. Maybe I'll try that before I groom him today ...
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post #9 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 10:49 AM
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The head tossing may have become a habit which may continue even when there is no pain involved. If this horse is reluctant to have his head touched, I would work on this first. You might also try to get the horse accustomed to you touching and opening his mouth without the bit and bridle.

When bridling, I generally get the horse to lower his head first. Then, I rest my right forearm between his ears with the top of the bridle resting on the back of my fingers. I cradle the bit in my left hand in such a way that I can feel where I am guiding it so I get it between the teeth and not on the gums. I don't push the bit against the mouth.

If the horse does not open his mouth, I place my left thumb in his mouth. When he says, "Yuck," I gently guide the bit in trying not to touch the teeth. I thought my thumb would dissolve once before a particular mare opened her mouth, but I never had any resistance after that. Sometimes it helps to put a little pressure on the gums or massage the gums, but I would be reluctant to do that if the horse had recent ulcers.

With particularly reluctant horses -- especially one's who were accustomed to forced bridling -- I have used treats as a reward once they accepted the bit. One mare is now in such a hurry to get the bit in her mouth, I have trouble preparing my hands correctly. In a couple of cases when I was in a hurry, I even held a treat in my hand with the bit. If you try this method, be careful that the horse's nimble lips don't get the treat first without the bit getting into the hi's mouth. You should also try to move to treats after accepting the bit as quickly as possible so getting a treat with the bit does not become an established expectation. You, then, might want to move to no treats at all or just an occasional treat after accepting the bit.
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post #10 of 17 Old 06-17-2014, 08:54 PM Thread Starter
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Update: I tried the clicker training -- well, clucker training -- and it worked! I got him to out his head down nicely. I'll work on that again tomorrow, once I have some more treats. I think a bag of mini-carrots will do nicely!

It was quite warm today -- 22 C -- so I decided to see how he reacted to water. Don't think he's ever had a bath ... but I put my finger on the hose and made it "rain" in front of him ... He stuck his head under the rain a few times, which is progress.

He still doesn't like his head touched ... at least when he's got a halter on. He's a lot more open to be touched when he's free in the pasture ... any idea where that behavior would come from? I wonder if I could combine that with the clicker, en, clucker training ... maybe cluck and treat whenever he let's me touch his face?

Thanks so much everyone!
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