Equipping A Horse BridleBy Jeffrey Rolo
Equipping a horse bridle can be an awkward process the first few times, particularly if you're not exactly sure how you should position yourself or the bridle. Although as with almost anything in life there are multiple ways of achieving the same goal, here is the most common process used when fitting a horse with a bridle:
- Slip your left arm underneath the headpiece and browband and allow the bridle to hang from the crook of your elbow. Though most horsemen will then carry the reins with their right hand, technically both hands are free so you can carry them in either one.
- Approach your horse and if he is wearing a halter (recommended), unbuckle it and slip it around his neck. Then buckle it again. This provides you some leverage if your horse tries to shy away from you or the bridle since you can grab the halter that is hanging from his neck.
- If the bridle uses split reins flip the left rein over the horse's mane so that it rests to the right of his neck, and vice versa with the right rein. This is the same position the reins would be in while riding.
- Now that the reins aren't dragging on the floor or distracting you, you can focus your attention on equipping the bridle. Most horsemen will raise their right arm over the horse's neck such that their arm/shoulder keeps the head down while the right hand stands ready around the horse's ears.
- Straighten your left arm so that the bridle gently slides down your arm into your left hand. Grab the headpiece with your right hand and hold the bit with your left hand, then slide it upwards into position.
- A well-trained horse will usually open his mouth for the bit automatically. If your horse clenches his teeth and fights off the bit try rubbing his upper gums with your fingers – often this will make him open his mouth and allow you to slide the bit in. When your horse doesn't respond to rubbing his upper gums you will probably need to slip your fingers behind the horse's incisors and apply pressure there.
- Once the bit is in the horse's mouth, slip the headpiece over the ears. Next buckle the throatlash.
- Check the bridle and ensure the noseband, browband, cheekpieces and throatlash are fit properly. A bridle that doesn't properly fit your horse can cause extreme discomfort and lead to poor performance or sourness.
- Unbuckle the halter and slide it off the horse's head. You're now ready to ride!
If you are using a bridle for the first time it's better to overestimate the size of your horse's head. Remember, you can always tighten a loose-fitting bridle once it is on your horse's head, whereas trying to force a bridle that is too small will cause considerable pain and make future bridling sessions much more difficult. Take it nice and slow during your first few bridling sessions – don't try to move too quickly or "ram" the bridle into the horse's mouth when a slight opening exists. If your haste causes the horse discomfort you can bet your next bridling rounds won't be any easier.
Anatomy Of A Bridle explains how each part of a bridle should fit, so if you are a relative newcomer to horses and/or riding I recommend you read that companion article.
Removing a bridle is even easier than putting one on. Just unbuckle the throatlash, grab the headpiece with your right hand and gently lift it up and forward so that it clears the ears. Slowly lower the bridle, keeping your left hand available to grab the bit once it clears the horse's mouth.
Don't rush this easy step since if you lower the bridle before the horse opens his mouth you could cause the bit to smack his teeth. It's also just plain bad practice to rush things around a horse since it can lead to your horse developing bad manners and impatience in the future. Always move with a measured, deliberate pace around horses.
Before closing this article I will again emphasize that it is not uncommon for the first few bridling attempts to be a bit awkward, so try not to become stressed out if you fumble a bit or move slowly. If you allow yourself to become stressed your state of mind will be reflected to your horse, potentially causing him to become skittish and thereby making the process even more difficult. Breath deeply, be calm and take it slow – you'll find it's actually quite easy once you get the hang of it.