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'Bit' of a Problem

What to do when your horse fights taking the bit.

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, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina


Learning how to bridle your horse is an important basic in horsemanship. Let AQHA help you learn more about the basics and creating a stronger relationship between you and your horse with our Fundamentals of Horsemanship educational resources.

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, 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 farther, 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 farther 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.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight

Check out America's Horse TV for a free series of videos from Julie's Common Equitation Problems clinic!

Let AQHA help you become a better rider and have a stronger relationship with your equine partner with our Fundamentals of Horsmanship educational resources.

Big Incentives

Invest. Perform. Earn. It's that simple when it comes to participating in the AQHA Incentive Fund.

In a nutshell, the Incentive Fund was created as a way to reward and encourage AQHA members for showing their American Quarter Horses. If you nominate your American Quarter Horse stallion to the AQHA Incentive Fund by October 31, 2009, you'll be eligible to win a John Deere trimmer.

Stallions are enrolled on an annual basis for each breeding season, making their offspring eligible to be enrolled as well. The available money in the Incentive Fund is divided by the number of points earned by the enrolled horses in the open and amateur divisions of AQHA competition throughout the year, making each point worth a certain amount of money. The point value is then multiplied by the number of points earned by the horse to determine the accumulated amount for the year.

The 2008 show season saw a record-high in total points -- 147,864 -- earned by nominated horses, which is 10,066 more points than in 2007. The point value in 2008 was $22.35, which resulted in a 2008 payout of $3,305,489.51.

"I tell all of my customers that if they're raising horses that will compete in AQHA shows, they've got to enroll them in the AQHA Incentive Fund. A majority of buyers won't even look at show horses that aren't in the Incentive Fund. That's how important it is to the industry," said Mike Jennings of Professional Auction Services in Leesburg, Virginia.