It Doesn't Have to Be a War

In the right hands, a “war bridle” can be a helpful tool.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

The term “war bridle” elicits shudders in some horsemen and praise in others, with good reason. In the right hands, it can be a great training ally; in the wrong hands or on the wrong horse, it can create a wreck.

AQHA Professional Horseman Jason Smith of Whitesboro, Texas, knows that a properly used war bridle can be a great tool in certain situations.

“I think people hear that name and think a war bridle must be something bad,” Jason says. “They think that means you’re going to have a war with the horse. But that’s a misunderstanding of what it is. It’s a training device.”

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A war bridle can be any of a variety of rope riggings that all work by exerting some kind of pressure on a horse’s poll in conjunction with pressure on the nose and chin.

“There are two cases in particular where a war bridle can really come in handy,” Jason says. “With a horse that doesn’t respect your space and aggressively shoulders in, you can use it to teach him to get out of your space, move away from you and respect what you ask him to do.

“And you can use it with a horse that someone has constantly pulled and jerked on with a shank, so that he doesn’t respond to the chain anymore.”

The real key to properly using a war bridle is to understand how it works and know when not to use it. For this article, Jason uses a simple war bridle made from a loop in an old roping lariat.

How It Works
I always try to correct a horse with just a chain under the chin first. If for some reason he doesn’t respond to that, then I use a war bridle.

The key difference with a war bridle is that it gives you three pressure points on a horse: on the nose, on the chin and up at the poll. With a shank, you just have pressure right at the chin or over the nose, depending on where you have the chain.

When you switch to a war bridle, you’re treading on new pressure points that have never been tested before. The nose (typically) has never been touched, and the poll has never been touched.

Because of that, you have to be careful. People make mistakes when they go too fast when they start with a war bridle, and a horse gets scared because he’s not used to the feel of the new pressure.

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Knowing how much pressure to use with a war bridle is like anything else with horses: You have to treat every horse and every situation differently. That’s where horsemanship comes in.

Some horses take more pressure than others to get them to do what you want them to do. You have to get a feel for knowing how much pressure to use with each horse. It can take years of experience doing it and being around different kinds of horses to know which ones can handle what.

You want to ease into every new thing, trying to use the least resistance and pressure that you can. Sometimes you have to use more pressure to get your point across, but once the horse responds, then you have to reward him and let off, give him a release.

A horse learns through pressure and repetition. When you pull on a rope, chain or rein or use your leg, you’re applying pressure.

But when he responds, you have to release the pressure. You have to give him that reward. And then repeat it until he learns what you have asked.