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Horse will no longer accept the bit

Dear Sir/Madame,

My name is Abbey Bishop and I live in Richmond, Virginia. I have a 12 year old 16-2 TB gelding, purchased in January of this year. He has suddenly; within the last two weeks decided he does not want to have the bit in his mouth. He had a power float performed in late April and my trainer, the owner of the barn, and I have all looked in his mouth and do not see anything. He is eating fine. This all began with minor avoidance of being bridled: gently turning his head away. It has developed into three of us having to bridle him, including taking the bridle apart and hand twitching his nose. He does not exhibit pain or anger during this process: ears are not back, tail is not swishing etc. But he is practically rearing to get his head out of reach. I always like to take a gentle approach with horses. He actually lifted me off of the ground yesterday, so I am in desperate need of a solution. He is so tall that he has figured out that if he holds his head way out of reach, I cannot bridle him.

Every trick we try that seems to work he anticipates the next go round and further avoids having the bit in his mouth. Interestingly, once he is bridled, he relaxes and is completely fine. The bits (tried several) do not seem to be the problem. He works all of them equally the same and I have a light hand, so I am not in his mouth when I ride.

I have had some other behavioral issues with him that I have successfully conquered. Initially, he would not hold still at the mounting block, second, he would be obnoxious when I picked his feet. He would lean on me or shove me around with his rear hooves. Third, he would weave around when in the cross ties to avoid being easily saddled. All of these issues came one after the other. All of these issues have been resolved, quietly and with patience.

I thought perhaps I should start from the beginning and just work with his mouth, as one might a green horse. He does not want to open his mouth, he does not want me messing with his lips, turning his upper lip out to view the inside is a struggle, but he has become much better at that in just a week. I tried putting molasses on a bit with out a bridle attached and just get him used to having the bit around his nose and mouth. He treats this like a game and nuzzles me, nuzzles the bit, licks off the molasses, but won€št let me put it in his mouth.

I am truly at a loss and frustrated because I don't want bridling him to be a struggle for either one of us. Have you every seen anything like this? It certainly seems behavioral, but why all of a sudden?
Thank you for your time.

Abbey Bishop

HI Abby,

I am currently on a three week tour in England and am quite busy. Sorry it has taken a while to respond. I hope I can offer you some suggestions that help. Sounds like you really have some good skills. Thank you for taking the gentle approach to horse training and being with your horse.

Try this radical approach, ride the horse in only a halter and lead for a little while. Outrageous you may say. No brakes you might worry at. Don't worry. Just try it. Do this in a paddock or a place the horse will not run off with you in just in case. A round pen would be ideal for the first few times until the horse and you understand you do not really need the bit to have a good ride. When too much reliance is on control by the bit, there is not enough riding from the seat and legs. There is something you are missing. Generally a radical change (such as riding in a halter and lead would be) really can help a situation such as yours. I would get a rope halter and make certain it is on the horse correctly and tied properly. Tie up the lead like a rein.

At the same time I would begin to message the horse's gums (upper) and handle the mouth. I would also teach the horse it is good to lower his head. Do this by putting on the rope halter, stand to the left of the horse's head, look down to the ground (where you want the horse's head to go) and bend down a bit as well. Hold the lead with your right hand about 18 inches below where the lead and halter attach. Just put the weight of your arm on the lead. DO NOT TRY TO PULL THE HORSE'S HEAD DOWN. I like using my voice with a horse so I say "down" as well. The instant you feel the horse try to lower his head, release the lead. and say "good boy". Then repeat the process until the horse's head is fairly low or the nose is one inch from the ground. Encourage the horse to keep his head there by bending down and staying down with him until he is relaxed there and you can slowly come up and his head stays down. Then rest your arm along the top of his neck, you hand between his ears and rub his forehead comforting him.

After you have ridden in the halter and lead for a couple of weeks and he and you are very comfortable with this and you can message him upper gums and he lowers his head nicely, then try the bit again. Let me know how it goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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