What to Do if Your Horse Won’t Take the Bit

If you’re new to working and riding horses, you may be learning that there are some horses who do not like to open their mouths for the bit when you go to put their bridle on. If you don’t know how to handle this, the behavior can be a nuisance and even keep you from getting the bridle on your horse.

So, how do you get your horse to take the bit? An easy solution to get your horse to open their mouth and take the bit is to stick your thumb straight into the corner of the horse’s mouth. There are no teeth in this part of a horse’s mouth, so you don’t have to worry about your finger getting bit. Once your thumb is in place, you can wiggle it over their tongue. This will cause the horse to open its mouth, giving you an opportunity to insert the bit.

Once you know this solution to getting your horse to take the bit, it will now seem as if you can get a bridle on any horse. There are some things to know when it comes to butting a bridle on a horse and a bit in their mouth that can help you better understand your horse’s behavior. Keep reading for more information about getting your horse to take the bit:

Step-By-Step Guide to Get Your Horse to Take The Bit

Step #1: Make Sure the Bit is Facing the Right Way Before Trying to Put it in the Horse’s Mouth

Before you go to put the bridle on your horse, take time to make sure none of the straps are twisted and that the bit it facing the right way. When this is done, it will be much easier to get the bridle on the horse and the bit in their mouth.

Many people don’t even know that there is a right and wrong way for the bit to face and sit in the horse’s mouth. If you look at the bit, you’ll notice a slight curve in the mouthpiece; the outside curve should face towards the ground. It’s important to make sure your bit is attached correctly to your bridle so that the mouthpiece naturally curves down.

Step #2: Hold the Bit With Your Left Hand

Now it’s time to put on your bridle! Holding the bridle correctly as you put it on your horse will make it easier to insert the bit into your horse’s mouth. Place your right arm either under the horse’s head or in between their ears if you have a horse that likes to throw their head up.

In your right hand, you’ll hold the crown of your bridle; in your left hand, hold the bit by placing the mouthpiece in your hand. Leave your left thumb available as you will use this to encourage your horse to open its mouth.

Step #3: Don’t Press the Bit Against the Horse’s Teeth

Once you’ve brought the bridle up to the horse’s face and the bit towards the horse’s mouth, it’s time to ask the horse to receive the bit. While you’re doing this, make sure you are not pressing the bit against the horse’s teeth.

Many people think you can just press the bit against the horse’s teeth to get them to open their mouth, but in reality, this isn’t the case. Imagine if someone came over and pressed metal against your teeth! Having a metal bit pressed against their teeth can be uncomfortable for the horse and they will more than likely clinch their jaw rather than open their mouth.

Step #4: Put Your Thumb Straight Into the Corner of Your Horse’s Mouth

Once you have the bridle to the horse’s face, you will ask your horse to open its mouth. With the bit held up to your horse’s mouth with your left hand, take your left thumb and insert it straight into your horse’s mouth at the corner of the mouth.

Horse’s have teeth at the front of their mouth and in the backs of their mouth, but not in the middle. If you stick your thumb straight into their mouth at the corner of the mouth, you won’t hit any teeth or get your finger chopped.

Step #5: Wiggle Your Thumb Over the Horse’s Tongue if They Still Haven’t Opened Their Mouth

Many horses will open their mouth as soon as you stick your thumb in there; however, if they don’t, an easy trick is to simply wiggle your thumb inside their mouth. This encourages them to open their mouth and accept the bit.

When you do this, make sure you keep your finger in the part of the horse’s mouth that has no teeth. Horses have teeth at the front of their mouth and in the back of their mouth, but not in the middle. Keeping your thumb in this area will ensure that you don’t accidentally get your finger chomped off.

Step #7: Make Proper Adjustments to Ensure that the Bit Sits Correctly in the Horse’s Mouth

As soon as the horse opens its mouth, insert the bit. Once you have your bridle on your horse, you’ll want to make sure that all the bridle straps are adjusted properly to fit your horse.

The cheekpieces are the straps of the bridle that connect to the bit and determine where the bit will sit in the horse’s mouth. You’ll want these straps to be tight enough so that 1-2 wrinkles form at the corner of the horse’s mouth. Read our article, Why Won’t My Horse Let Me Put Its Bridle On to understand the proper way of putting on a bridle. Watch this video below for a visual demonstration on the right way to put on a bridle:

What NOT to Do When Trying to Get a Bit in Your Horse’s Mouth

If you have a hard time getting your bridle on your horse and the bit in your mouth, there may be some issues that are causing this behavior. Here’s a list of what NOT to do when trying to get a bit in your horse’s mouth:

Do Not Push the Bit Against the Horse’s Teeth

If your horse isn’t opening their mouth for the bit, it is not OK to push the bit against their teeth in hopes that this will get them to open up. Imagine if someone came over and pushed metal against your teeth…I don’t think that would be pleasant!

Pressing the bit against your horse’s teeth could actually cause your horse to brace its jaw and throw its head up. Soon, the horse will start to associate getting the bridle put on with the pain of the metal on its teeth. We should work to make putting the bridle on a pleasant experience so that the horse is more accepting and willing.

Do Not Put a Backwards Bit in a Horse’s Mouth

The bit has a certain way it’s supposed to sit in the horse’s mouth in order to communicate pressure effectively. If the bit is put in the horse’s mouth backward, the pressure will be applied in places that it shouldn’t be and at times that it shouldn’t be. Both you and your horse will be confused as to why the other is acting the way they are.

It is vital to make sure that the bit is attached properly to the bridle and that you place it correctly in the horse’s mouth. If you look closely, you’ll notice that most snaffle bits have a curve to them. The curve of the bit is to make room for the horse’s tongue. If the curve is facing the other way, the horse will constantly have pressure applied to its tongue.

Do Not Rule Out Dental Issues if Your Horse Doesn’t Want to Take the Bit

If your horse is having trouble accepting the bit, don’t rule out dental issues. Dental issues in horses can easily be overlooked because sometimes the signs are so subtle. However, if you know how to properly recognize if your horse may have a potential dental issue, it can save you from a lot of trouble.

If your horse is throwing its head, being sensitive to touch around its face, and if its mouth smells bad, then it may have a dental problem. It’s important to incorporate checking your horse’s mouth into your daily routine.

Don’t Forget to Desensitize Your Horse to Their Mouth Being Touched

My horse used to be very sensitive to having his nose and mouth touched. In the past, he had a mouth injury that had to be treated every day, and this made him sensitive to having hands around his mouth. It was incredibly hard to get the bridle on him or the bit in his mouth.

I worked on desensitizing him by simply holding my hand on different parts of his muzzle until he would relax and accept the touch. Now, he’s great with getting the bridle put on and accepting the bit!

Desensitizing your horse to having hands around their face can make putting the bridle on a lot easier. Many times, the only time a horse has a hand near its muzzle is when the bridle is being put on. That means every time someone would go to put the bridle on, the horse is having to deal with something that they aren’t quite familiar with. 

I hope this article was helpful to you! Another helpful thing to know when it comes to owning a horse is how to measure your horse for a saddle! Check out our article Measuring a Horse Saddle: Everything You Need to Know.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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