Talk About Tack: Bad Habit: Fighting The Bit

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Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: Our horse, a 12-year-old quarter horse, has started a bad habit. Recently we had our vet float his teeth and since then he fights taking the bit. He has thrown my daughter, her trainer, others and myself through the air when we try to hold his head. He eats fine and is fine once the bit and bridle go on. Any thoughts? We are not sure how to correct this behavior and don’t want to make it worse.

Donna Cowden, Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Answer: If your horse did not have a bridling problem before the teeth floating, he is probably just worried about his teeth getting hurt again. You need to desensitize him to being bridled again, just like a horse that has a bridling problem. I would recommend using the “advance and retreat” method.

First approach him as if you were going through the motions of bridling, but without the bridle. Make sure he is not tied. Advance slowly until you reach the point that causes him to resist- GO NO FURTHER, but hold that position quietly until he relaxes, then retreat (walk away a few steps for a moment).

Count to five and then approach again in the same way; advance and retreat repeatedly. Do not try to hold his head still or confine his head, just advance until he resists, then hold that position but try to be very still. The worst things you can do are grab at his head and try to hold him still. You should wait to retreat until there is some small sign of relaxation. That might just be when he stops throwing his head or it might be when he actually drops his head and takes a deep breath. Ideally, that is what you want him to do.

Repeat the advance and retreat many many times, advancing further as you can. He will learn that when he relaxes, the thing that causes him fear will go away. Then he will no longer be afraid of it. Gradually advance, but always retreat. Do not approach him with the bridle until you can rub all over his head and mouth with him relaxed. Then start all over with the bridle. This whole process could take one hour or one week.

The fact that you never had a problem before the floating makes me think that he will go back to his old ways sooner rather than later. Be patient and give him all the time he needs. He is not just being obstinate, this behavior started with an honest fear of being hurt. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Julie Goodnight
Trainer and Clinician

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