Q: I am having a hard time bridling my horse. Can clicker training help him to get better at it?
A: Well, what would you think if I told you that I don’t bridle my horses - they bridle themselves?! So, can clicker training help you out? You bet. First, I will refer you to my past Saddle Up articles, as those foundation lessons will definitely get you set up for success at bridling. You especially need the targeting lesson before starting this lesson. As always, you should first check for any physical issues that may be causing the bridling issues. Are his ears or mouth sore? How about his teeth? And how are your bridling skills? Do you fold his ears over or bang his teeth with the bit? Was he always hard to bridle or is this a recent development? Let’s assume there are no health issues and that he has always been difficult to bridle. How do we proceed? First, take off the noseband, browband, chinstrap (if there is one) and reins from your bridle. Th is will make things simpler in the beginning, for everyone. Those of you who have played with the targeting lesson will have found that if you start to withhold the click after your horse has touched the object, he will experiment by trying to lip it or even bite it. Th is is where we would like the horse with the bridling issue to be in his targeting lesson. We want him starting to lip the target. I usually start the bridling lesson with the horse free in a stall. I will do some regular targeting and hopefully by this time in our target teaching we will have attached a cue of “touch” to the action. Remember, we should only attach a cue to the behaviour if we know it is going to happen (cues are predictors of behaviour). After the horse is touching and, hopefully, lipping or biting at the target, we can substitute the bit for the target.
At this stage, you are going to hold the bit up for the horse to target to (the bridle will be upside down, please see photo 1).
After he is targeting his nose to the bit eagerly, begin withholding the click to see if he will try lipping or biting the bit. Click and treat for any increase in lipping. Make sure you take the bit away after each click and treat, and present it as a target again aft er the treat. If he offers to take the bit in his mouth, that is even better. He deserves a click and a big treat for that one. Do not try to force his mouth open by putting your thumb into his mouth in the traditional method of bridling, and remember to take your time - there is no rush. Very soon, he will be happily placing the bit in his mouth.