What do you do when your horse hits you with his head when you are bridling?

Hey, I was wondering what you do if your horse hits you with it’s head while you are putting it’s bridle on. My horse (a paint pony) loves to do that. She is getting a little better, but still does it.

– Anna-Lee

Bridling issues are very common, but they are usually not hard to fix. They just take a lot of time and patience. I will outline some steps that might be helpful. Adapt them as you and your horse needs.

1. Head control is very important. Depending on how tall you vs. your pony are, you might have to get someone taller to do this. I would not recommend standing on a chair or a fence, as a fling of the pony’s head would send you flying. With a halter on your horse (preferably a rope halter), stand on the left hand (near) side of your horse, and place your right hand on her poll, between her ears. If she objects to this touch, or refuses to let you touch her there, keep trying until she will allow your hand to remain here.
2. Apply a very slight pressure to your horse’s poll, pressing down. Do nothing else at first. Your goal is to lower your horse’s head. You cannot force her; she is a lot bigger and stronger than you. Just ask and wait. If there is no response, your left hand on the lead rope may apply a slight pressure downwards as well. Some horses will raise their heads. Do not release any pressure if she does this, but do not increase it either. She thought about her problem (the pressure), and tried to find a way to get rid of it, but she didn’t find the right answer. As soon as her head lowers even the tiniest bit, release all pressure and praise her. Then start again.
3. When the pony will lower her head as low as you want it, when you ask her to, you may progress to the next stage. With your right hand on her poll (not applying pressure yet), put your left hand on the bridge of her nose, where the halter noseband sits. Apply a slight pressure towards yourself. This relates directly to bridling, because a horse that bridles well will drop and turn his head to ‘help’ you put it on. Once you can bring the horse’s nose around softly without any bracing, add a little pressure on the poll as well, and ask the horse to drop her head and bring it around towards you.
4. Now I am assuming that if your pony hits you with her head while you are bridling, she attempts the same behaviour during haltering. If she doesn’t, that is fine. Use this step anyway, and make it a habit, because it will help with the bridle. Take the halter off and put the lead rope around the horse’s neck (in a safe, enclosed area). Ask her to drop and turn her head towards you. This is the position you want your horse to be in every time you do something with her head. Your right arm goes over her neck and takes the head stall part of the halter, your left hand guides the noseband over her nose, and you buckle it up. If she raises her head or turns it away, do not take the halter away. Leave it wherever it is and ask her to put her head back where it was. If she refuses, go back to steps two and three and make sure they are solid, then try again. If her head is already bent towards you, she cannot really hit you with it, and if she does, push her back to where she should be and keep going.
5. When the halter is good, go back to the bridle. Now that you have control of her head, it will be easier to bridle with your right arm over her poll, which will help keep her head where it ought to be. Your left hand holds the bit – try putting your thumb through the bit’s ring. This way, if she brings her head suddenly towards you, you can stop her with your thumb. Also, the opposite cheek-piece will help keep her head where it should be, because if you put the bit under her chin, preparing to bridle, and she moves her head away, you can pull on the bridle and bring her back to you. Any movement of her head should be corrected calmly and patiently. If it takes you half an hour to bridle her, but she always takes it nicely after that, it should be well worth the time.
Questions are always welcome! Use the Contact Us page to ask one, and if you would like the answer to be published here as well for the benefit of others, I can do that, too.
Happy training Anna-Lee!
The Horsegentler