You may be able to get away without ever putting a saddle on a horse if you ride bareback. However, you will be putting a bridle on a horse if you want to ride bareback or with a saddle. Knowing how to put a bridle on a horse correctly is an essential skill in horsemanship.
Standing in the correct position next to the horse’s neck will keep you safe, but it may not guarantee that you will be able to correctly fit the horse’s bridle.
Follow these steps to ensure your horse is always tacked up correctly and comfortably in their bridle.
Approaching The Unbridled Horse
Before you put on the bridle, you need to consider the position of the horse. Is the horse tied to a post or in cross ties? Are they wearing a halter or are they at liberty in the paddock?
This will influence how you approach the horse and how you bridle them.
Steps To Properly Bridling A Horse
Step One: Approach The Horse
If the horse is in cross ties, they will not be able to kick you and you can approach safely from the front. A horse that is tied to a hitching rail may be able to swing their hindquarter toward you, so be cautious. A horse at liberty can be very dangerous as they can spin and kick.
To be safe, approach from the horse’s left. Use your right arm to loop the reins over the horse’s ears and the horse’s head so the reins rest around the horse’s neck. The horse is now effectively looped in the reins, and if the horse steps away, you will be able to pull them back into place.
Step Two: Remove The Halter
When the horse stands still, you can prepare to start the actual bridling process. Stand next to the side of the horse, facing the same direction as the horse. This will keep your toes safe.
Never try to stand in front of the horse when bridling as this will make the horse back away or run.
Using your left hand, undo the buckle of the halter, which is on the left side of the horse’s head. Remove the halter, and if necessary, slip the ties of the quick release knot to release the lead rope too.
Step Three: Fitting The Headstall
Hold the bridle in your left hand by the top of the headstall or crown of the bridle. Place your right hand on the horse’s poll, behind the ears, gently press down, asking that the horse drop their head.
Once the horse drops their head, gently take the crown of the bridle in your right hand, holding the bridle in front of the horse’s face.
Next, offer the bit to the horse’s mouth. Wait for the horse’s lips to soften and part. Being careful not to bang the bit into the horse’s teeth, gently slip the bit inside.
Once the horse’s jaw opens to accept the bit, put the bridle over the rest of the horse’s head.
When properly bridling, you would pull the left ear through the ear loop and then the right, settling the crown of the bridle into place.
Step Four: Checking Correct Bridle Fitment
An ill-fitting bridle can cause a horse pain. A bridle that is in the correct position sits evenly and applies consistent pressure on the horse’s face. If the bridle is too big, it can accidentally pull off, causing serious injury to both horse and rider.
A correctly fitted English bridle needs to fit securely, but it should not cause the horse pain. When you fit the English bridle, the nose band should allow two fingers to slip under the strap. It shouldn’t lie on the cheekbones of the horse’s face.
If it is too loose, the nose band will irritate the horse. If it is too tight, it will pinch the horse’s nose. The throat latch should allow four fingers to fit under the horse’s jaw. When the throat latch is in the correct position, it will hang just below the start of the horse’s back teeth.
A Western style bridle will fit much the same as an English bridle. The difference is that a Western bridle will not have a nose band.
Often, a Western bridle will be fitted with split reins. It may have a single ear loop that doesn’t fit over both the horse’s ears.
Step Five: Correctly Fitting The Bit
When the bridle has a curb bit, be sure the curb chain fits securely under the horse’s chin. It should still allow two fingers to pass comfortably. While a curb bit is useful for more control, it shouldn’t pinch the sides of the horse’s mouth or be so loose as to bang on the horse’s front teeth.
Be sure to rotate the curb chain until the chain lies flat. Fasten the curb chain to the curb hook on the left side of the bit.
The bit should lie just before the horse’s back teeth. Some horses have a mouth wider than a standard bit. In this case, you should buy a wider bit to correctly fit the horse’s mouth. Use the cheek pieces to raise or lower the bit until it is comfortable for your horse.
As a guide, a curb bit should barely touch the sides of your horse’s mouth. A snaffle bit should make one and a half soft wrinkles.
Be sure your bit fits the right way round. A curb bit or ported bit should lie in the horse’s mouth with the port facing up. A bit that’s put in the wrong way will cause the horse pain.
Step Six: Adjusting The Reins And Fitting The Saddle
Move the reins up across the horse’s withers, ensuring they are long enough to ride with. When riding in split reins, you would cross the reins at the horse’s withers. You can also loop or twist the split reins over the horn of a Western saddle.
If you have an English saddle, you would draw the stirrup iron up on either side. The stirrup leathers then secure the stirrup irons near the seat. By looping the stirrup leathers through each of the irons, you can prevent these from sliding down. This prevents the stirrups from bumping the horse when you are busy saddling.
With a Western saddle, the right stirrup would be free as you swing the saddle into place over their neck and back.
Step Seven: Mounting Your Horse To Keep The Bridle In Place
Riders often pull the bridle out of place when they mount their horse. Ensure the rider mounts correctly and keeps the bridle in place. Take the reins, with the left rein shortened, and make sure the horse doesn’t turn away from the rider when mounting.
Hold the reins with a handful of mane. Ensure you have a solid handhold as this prevents the horse from taking off when you mount.
If the rider is short, they can lengthen the left side stirrup leather, dropping the stirrup iron further to allow the rider to step up easier from the left side. This will prevent the bridle from slipping over the horse’s ears if the rider pulls on the reins.
How To Put A Bridle On A Difficult Horse
Not all horses cooperate when being bridled. The horse may clench their mouth, raise their head, or move around while you are trying to put a bridle on them. Try these methods when you are still learning how to put a bridle on a horse.
Head Raising Solution
For a horse that won’t lower their head, you can try to bridle them with the halter under the bridle. Hold the lead rope firmly in your left hand. Pull down with steady pressure until the horse drops their head. Proceed with bridling as described above.
If the horse continues to raise their head as soon as you let go of the lead rope, you can try the face hug approach. Ask the horse to lower their head, then place your right hand around the front of their face. Cradle your forearm over the horse’s nose as you hold the bridle by the middle with your left hand. Position it below their mouth.
Raise the bridle. At the same time, gently slip your left thumb into the side of the horse’s mouth, just below the horse’s back teeth. Wiggle your thumb slightly. This will cause the horse to open their mouth wider, which will automatically cause them to lower their head.
Gently slip the bit inside their mouth with your left hand. Taking hold of the bridle with your right hand, raise the bridle crown to the top of your horse’s head. Then gently push the horse’s ears through the ear loops or slip their ears between the top of the headstall and brow band. Ensure the bit is straight in their mouth.
Also consider that your horse may be stiff, in which case, you can rock the horse’s neck from side to side before putting on the bridle. This helps to disengage the horse’s head. Horses should lower their head more readily when relaxed.
Train your horse to lower their head with a gentle push on the top of their head behind the horse’s ears. Reward them with a carrot when they lower their head. Put the bridle on once the horse’s neck has softened.
Horse Walking Off Solution
Some horses won’t stand still while you put the bridle on. It doesn’t help to try and push the bit into their mouth when the horse is moving around. In this situation, be sure the lead rope is securely looped around their neck, helping to secure the horse in place.
If you choose to put on the bridle and don’t remove the halter, be sure that the lead rope is tied with a quick-release knot. This prevents the horse from rearing and causing serious injury to themselves or others.