Illinois 3 year old Rocky Mountain ridden in rubber driving snaffle, cavesson and steele saddle in riding arena by experienced rider.

Question: I need help in setting my horses head.  He carries it out with his nose up.  I think he's trying to get away from the bit. We tried using draw reins to get his head in the proper position and it worked but it made him mad so I took them off.

My horse doesn't seem to really like any bit I have tried on him. I have used a sweet iron snaffle, copper mouth Tom Thumb, stainless full cheek snaffle, and finally I am using
a rubber driving snaffle.  He likes this one best, but he still doesn't love it.  I tried using a gentle hackamore and he tried running away.

What do you suggest to help me get his head in the right place? 

By Panelist Lee

There are a couple of issues going on here -- partly bit, partly training. This is a very young horse who has an immature mouth that is probably sprouting teeth every day.  He is probably not very comfortable in any bit at this point in his life.  In addition, often a typical broken single joint snaffle will encourage a horse to travel with his nose out and sometimes up, especially if you are putting strong pressure on both reins at once.

I have the sneaking suspicion that this horse does not like a broken mouth bit very much, and that you are not asking him for the head position you want in the most effective way.  A better choice, for a horse that is not comfortable in a typical broken snaffle, is a "billy allen" mouthpiece snaffle  -- one with a roller over the joint that limits the movement of the
two sides of the mouthpiece and prevents the bit from "peaking" and poking the horse in the roof of the mouth.  I like the eggbutt model, but this bit is also available as a full cheek.  A mullen or bar snaffle may also be more comfortable for this horse, as may a  kimberwicke (unjointed) with the chain  removed or even a mullen mouth pelham, used as a snaffle (top ring for the reins) , with no curb chain affixed.  

Any bit you use can be improved by  being wrapped in latex (there is a rubberized track bandage version available that is self adhesive) to cushion the metal and keep it from
hitting his tender gums.

Once you find a bit that is more comfortable for the horse, after he has become accustomed to carrying it and responds to cues to stop, turn, etc in it, you can begin to ask him to bring his nose a little more toward vertical,as you ask him to move his body into a more semi-collected frame. Remember that his head and neck position are a reflection of his body carriage, not a separate "head set" that is done just to make him look better to you.  He will need to learn to flex a little at the poll, and relax his jaw on the bit.  You can't do this by force -- as you discovered with the draw reins.

To teach flexion, start on the ground, standing next to the horse, one rein in each hand, under his jaw.  Lightly vibrate first one, then the other, asking him to bring his nose toward vertical, flexing at the poll.  Do not try to force his head into position -- instead, vibrate one rein, vibrate the other,  leave both slack, then repeat the vibrations. At first he may clamp his jaw on the bit and nose out.  Just keep asking, vibrating the reins one after the other, until he relaxes, then *slack off completely*.  It is very important to cease all pressure on the reins as soon as he flexes, as a reward for doing what you want.) Do not expect him to bring his nose to vertical the first time you try this --  it may take several sessions before he understands that the vibrations mean that he should bring his nose in a little.   If he tries to back up, you can place his rear against a fence or barn wall, so that he must stand still and flex in the neck and jaw, not just back across the arena.

Don't worry if he mouths the bit a little -- this is a normal reaction.  As long as he is not chewing it heavily, he is keeping his jaw relaxed by opening and closing and tongueing the bit.

Next, mount up and at an ordinary walk, begin to ask him to bring his nose in a little, with light vibrations on the reins ( first one, then the other, not see sawing, but just fluttering your fingers on the reins) .  If he tries to slow down too much, squeeze/release with your legs to keep him moving.  Do not keep a steady pull on the reins, and do not use your legs at
the exact same time you finger the reins.  If he tries to nose farther out, set your hands, even with the pommel of the saddle, and resist his pull on the reins until he brings his nose back in a little. Then resume the vibrations on the reins, alternated with leg pressure to keep him moving with energy.  With practice and persistence, he will begin to bring his nose toward vertical and stop lugging  out on the bit.  You will then have achieved the position you want for his head, and his entire body, and can go on to another gait to see if he will keep it.  Remember not to take a steady pull on the reins, and to slack off pressure as soon as his head is in the position you want (nose more toward vertical) and he will start to carry himself there without much rein pressure at all.

Later you may want to change him into a short shanked, low port curb to maintain this position,  but teach him to flex first in the snaffle. 
Good luck with your young horse.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Erica

First I would check to make sure there are no physical problems in the way of him accepting a bit. Sometimes it could be as simple as his back being out of whack. Also have his teeth checked thoroughly! I have a horse who absolutely dislikes bits as well. One thing that helped with him, wrapping the metal bits with Sealtex (you can get it at most all tack shops), a self sticking roll of rubber. I also started riding him more in a rope halter,
teaching him to soften through that. I do not care for leverage bits of any kind, so hackamores were out of the question. He is now a lot better under saddle. I use the Sealtex covered bit for ground driving him, but prefer the rope halter for riding. Perhaps your horse will do better in something similar. 

However, I found that regular halters would not work and would instill a similar response from him as I got from the bit. If you just keep playing around and looking for the right bit/halter/etc, you are bound to find something he is comfortable with. 

Good luck!
Erica Frei

From Panelist Theresa

I think there are a few questions I would have and assumptions I would make before giving a definitive answer.
1) Is there any possibility that the poll/atlas are out of adjustment. When a horse refuses to stay on the bit, and with "proper" aids in getting him to do so, I always assume this could be a possible culprit.
2) Experienced rider- are you indicating you have ridden many years, or that you have had a lot of professional input to your riding/training ability?
3)Have you checked this colt for wolf teeth or other mouth related problems to bitting?
4) Saddle fit- is the saddle allowing even pressure over the back or is it digging into the back from the centerpointe of the back and behind?

If all of the above have been evaluated and prove to not be part of the problem, then we would have to assume that your horse just isnt wishing to work "on the bit". The way we work with this problem is two fold. First we will spend several weeks in a bitting rig. This can be a  western saddle with side reins attached to the girth O ring, or it can be a surcingle with bitting rings attached, or even a homemade bitting rig. I will first set the horses head very loosely (he may begin backing or rearing or throw himself down if bitted too tightly).  I will allow him to move freely (void of lunge lines or driving lines). Do this for an hour a day for the first few days. Very gradually increase the contact on the mouth. Begin each lesson loose contact, have him walk off for about five minutes, then increase your contact in several small increments until he is giving gently and able to move forward into the bit. (Be careful not to over bridle him). After the first week, encourage him to move in all gaits while on the bit.

During the 2nd week I will use driving lines, or a lunge line to help direct movement and forward energy. On the third week, I will begin riding again. Alternating riding days with
bitting days. When you begin riding be sure your hands arent punishing the horse. Use a
gentle see saw motion when he begins to nose out, but then give gently when he drops his nose in. As far as bits go, snaffle bits of all types tend to create pressure in the side of the horses mouth. Exerting almost no pressure in the poll area, or over the bars of the mouth. I prefer to teach the horse via bitting rig to drop his head in such a way that there is some pressure on the bars..(hence on the bit). Some people prefer the use of a martingale or draw reins (never use side reins while riding), however, I think that slowing down, and
teaching him to carry himself without these aids will give a long term satisfaction and result


From Panelist Liz


I would first have this horses teeth checked. Do the wolf teeth need to be pulled ? Does he need his teeth floated. Also at this age the milk caps are starting to turn loose and have any loose ones removed may help.

If the teeth are in order it could be that he does not do well in a single broken mouth piece. This could be more so if he has a low roof in the mouth.  It your caisson to tight? It should not be so tight that the horse can not pick up the bit on its tongue or release it when not engaged.

Maybe try something like a Billy Allen mouth piece, mullen mouth piece or even a Bristol mouth piece. I also like some of the Myler comfort snaffles as they don't break up into the roof or down into the tongue and don't pinch across the tongue. Draw reins will just create a stiff necked horse and more push on the bit from the horse . It's not teaching him to carry the bit correctly and hold himself in collection.

Also are you asking for the right collection. Don't ask for more than he is  conformationally built to do. Asking for to much will also make him more hollow backed than is  comfortable. Developing collection takes time and it better for a horse to be taught slowly to carry themselves than be forced into a frame.


From Panelist Stella

The position of your horse's head and neck is typical of many to the design of a broken-mouthed bit, in their effort to seek comfort from its action. In initial training where you simply want the horse to "go forward," and in certain disciplines, it works well after this point, and later for horses with particular conformation of the head and neck, where overflexing needs to be corrected, its the likely choice. For your horse, the bit "told him" 
to do one thing, your draw reins the opposite, which is why he "got mad"- it was conflicting communication. All the bits you chose to try where ones with broken mouthpieces, hence your lack of success.

Your horse needs to go on to a solid mouthpiece bit, either a mullen mouth or preferably(for greater effect)one with a mild port, and more likely a curb. I gather you prefer to stick with mild bits, which would be my choice as well. A pelham or weymouth, or something similar to an arab cutting bit(short laid back shank, very mild port)are suggestions. A curb will distribute the pressure of the rein to the curb chain to raise the head; the top of the bridle to flex at the poll; the solid yet mild mouthpiece, more so with a port, also bring his head and neck back over his body(and not down)and help bring the nose in(along with the poll pressure). Your horse simply needs to "graduate" to a different type bit as he advances to a different focus and level in training.



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