Unbridled Discomfort

My horse is “reverse bridle shy.” What can I do to help this habit?

Unbridled Discomfort
When acclimating your horse to a new bit, do so in a situation where the horse will be as relaxed as possible. | Photo: iStock

Q: My Warmblood mare is “reverse bridle shy.” She’s worried the bit is going to clank her teeth, so she throws her head … and it clanks her teeth. What can I do to help this habit? —Elizabeth, New Hampshire

A: Assuming you have investigated and addressed possible mouth and dental problems as the cause or contributing factor, the first thing I would recommend is talking to a bit specialist. You will want to work with someone who will not only make general recommendations, but also look at your horse or video of the horse working to evaluate exactly what she is doing in her current gear and, from there, recommend different styles of bits to try. A good expert will also want to evaluate the fit of the current bit and any bit you try.

My instinct is that whatever it is that is provoking the head movement, your horse may be more comfortable, for example, with a bit that doesn’t clank. So your bit specialist will often start out by trying rubber or synthetic material rather than metal. He or she is likely also to recommend trying styles that distribute the contact more evenly and comfortably over the contour of your horse’s tongue—in general, hard rubber or synthetic Mullen style, or multi-jointed instead of single- or double-joint

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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