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Bridle suggestions for headshy (rescue) horse?

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  • Bridle suggestions for headshy (rescue) horse?

    Apologies if this post is in the wrong place--
    I have a 15 yo reg. QH mare I got from auction rescue. About all I know about her riding background is that she was previously a working cowhorse and has done some team penning and barrels. Ever since she came, she has been wickedly head shy and it is a battle to even get a halter on her because she so hates her ears being touched. With time, she will now let me groom her head-- she stands very calmly-- but if I even start to get close to her ears she flips out.

    I am *hoping* to begin working with her more, but I need to figure out a way to bridle her with as little fuss about her ears as possible. Are there any bridles out there that have buckle crowns the way some halters do? I plan to trail ride with her, so style is *totally* not a concern. Or is there some other way I might be able to bridle her without pulling something up over her ears? I'm just don't want bridling to be a bad experience for her.

  • #2
    Try using the "side swipe" method, ie, don't go in for her ears, but make touching them a total accident. Build up her tolerance for having her ears messed with bit by bit. Don't inch your way towards them -- she'll anticipate it -- just do it and be gone.

    If there's a spot on her face that she will allow you to touch, rub it for a bit, then quickly graze your hand over a ear and immediately go back to rubbing the good spot. When I mean quick, I mean super quick, don't let your hand linger at all, just graze part of your palm over the ear.

    If she'll let you rub her neck, do the same thing. Rub neck -- rub, rub, rub, rub, ear swipe, rub, rub, rub, rub. Alternately, rub neck, rub, rub, rub, wiggle halter, rub, rub, rub, ear swipe, rub, rub, rub, etc.

    As she gets to the point that you can do the above without her even flinching, let your hand linger a half a tick longer over her ear before you go back to doing whatever. If you can work up to it, let your forearm rest on her poll without touching her ears.

    If she's okay about taking the bit, extend the cheek pieces on your bridle. Then you'll have wiggle room to get it up over her ears without having to push them down and forward a lot to do it. Readjust the cheeks back to where they need be afterwards.

    ETA: Don't forget about doing this to both sides/both ears!


    • #3
      How about a "mule bridle"?



      You can put the bridle on without touching the ears at all.
      Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


      • #4
        If she's 'that' headshy I strongly suggest checking the ears for aural plaques or sensitivity to gnats. Mind you, some sedative may be needed for this but it could be worth it. I say that because my now 10 yo gelding, owned for 8 years, normally lowers his head and opens his mouth for bridling. But he developed minor aural plaques from bug sensitivity about age 4- and if his ears are bothering him yes, he'll go high headed and not want ears touched. Not a major reaction mind you, just an expression of concern on his part, which clues me in. I control the problem successfully with the Farnam triple-action ointment, antibiotic + fly repellent + pain relief rubbed gently into the ears when needed (maybe once a week during max bug season). He 'knows' I'm not going to hurt him and I apply ointment very gently (being careful not to get any down the ears!) and expresses his relief and we go on with life. But- last summer when I loaned him to a friend and forgot to alert her to this detail, she apparently 'wrestled' a bit to get him into his one-eared bridle and so I have switched him to a browband bridle so ears don't have to be 'folded' quite so much to get into that earpiece.

        In the meantime, I'd suggest getting her comfy enough to just put the bridle on by unbuckling and then buckle the bridle over the top (maybe even w/o browband at first to make it easier). I had one decades ago for which that method worked fine (even w/browband). But in hindsight, had I known, I'd have checked those ears for pain/plaque issues.

        Edited to add- 'any' bridle will buckle/unbuckle, English or western, to pass over top of head as referenced.
        Last edited by Beverley; Apr. 25, 2013, 05:01 PM. Reason: Add a detail


        • #5
          There are halter bridles without browbands. The bit snaps to the cheek pieces of the halter. You can open the halter to put it on the horse then add the bit and clip it to the halter.

          I have gotten a couple of horses past the ear thing by teaching them how good it feels to have their face and head rubbed down with an old wash cloth. It really is a favorite thing with most horses. Their head is so itchy after a ride anyway. The rubbing over time progress to the sweaty area aroun the base of the ears and you can slowly add in a brush across an ear, go elsewhere, touch the ear, etc. I had to desensitize one horse that had become ear shy after having his ear treated for ear mites.



          • #6
            Thank you for rescuing this mare!
            The first thing that I would rule out is a medical problem with her ears.
            My very sensitive, reactive Arabian gelding was head-shy and ear-shy when I got him. My understanding is that the previous owner's FIL used an "ear twitch" (grab and twist) instead of bothering to find a halter when bringing him in from the pasture. Why the previous owner didn't stop the FIL, I'll never know. What worked for me is clicker training. Once the light went on for him that *he* was in control, and that he could make me click (then dispense a treat) by allowing me to touch his head and ears, we started making rapid progress. No drama, no fuss. I really like chicamuxen1, VaqueroToro, and Beverly's ideas.
            PA Hi-Ly Visible [PA Hi-Noon (by Magnum Psyche) x Takara Padrona (by *Padron)]

            Proud member of the Snort and Blow Clique


            • #7
              You didn't say how long it's been. I wasn't making a concerted effort with mine, but it took a long time, almost a year I think. If I had made an effort I'm sure it would have been much, much quicker. It was one of those things where I one day realized that they were no longer sensitive or avoiding my contact with their ears. I would do the swipe method that Vaquero Toro described, petting the face, brushing the forelock and then swiping the ear gently.

              Mine had probably been eared because it was more of a problem with the left ear. As I said, I was not in a hurry, but I would always touch the ears after brushing the forelock, face or upper mane, and eventually a quick gentle pull/swipe, then that evolved into massaging the base of the ear, and then it developed to scratching out the bugs. Now they love having their ears scratched.
              "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


              • Original Poster

                Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I am working with her each day, and she has made progress. I got her President's Day weekend-- hence her name! -- and she has already gone from "get the he** away from my head* to calmly standing for grooming her face... everything but her ears. I can get away with a tiny touch here and again but at this point it's hard to imagine her ever tolerating it let alone enjoying it. But that said... I never expected to see her cock her hind leg and nearly nap while I groom her face! And she used to be pretty apathetic about people... now she follows me around.

                I found a place online that makes leather halter bridles that have a snap-on browband, which I think might work. They also offer a lot of free or very reasonable customization options, which is a nice bonus because she has a very tapered head... not dishy like an arab, but tapered. But I digress lol It seems most halter bridles are synthetics, which won't work for me as I need to be able to leave her halter on at all times-- so presumably it needs to be leather, for safety. If anyone is interested, this is what I found: http://www.twohorsetack.com/p-44-qui...m-leather.aspx.

                Thanks again for all the suggestions and getting me pointed in the right direction with the halter bridle. I will definitely keep working with her and look into the possibility of some ear-related issue with the vet.