Ten Simple Tips to Transition Your Horse from the Snaffle to the Bridle -Tip 8

by Dana Hokana | August 9th, 2016 8:00 PM | No Comments
13537724_10153503668356831_2282244719702864525_nWho is ready for some more tips From Dana Hokana? This is the perfect time to talk about transitioning your horse to the bridle from the snaffle as the young horses are growing up!
We are going to give you “Ten Simple Tips to Transition Your Horse from the Snaffle to the Bridle.” However, these tips will take longer than 10 days, because I  want to break down the differences of the snaffle and the bridle to you before I give the steps. Enjoy!
There are many different opinions and methods on how to correctly advance your young or green horse from the ring snaffle bit to the shank curb bridle. However most great horseman give this transition great regard as many believe that how you “put your horse in the bridle” as it is called will greatly affect the long term bridle horse he becomes. I agree with this, as the bridle or snaffle is a communication tool between you and your horse. By using the bridle correctly and introducing it correctly to your horse you are giving your horse’s training and integrity of the interior of his mouth the highest regard. Respect your horse like the high level partner he truly is.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of the mechanics of a snaffle bit vs. the mechanics of a shank bridle. When you ride your horse in a snaffle you use direct pull reining. A snaffle has a broken mouthpiece with rings that your reins attach to. It is a simpler more basic style of riding and involves fewer parts of the horse’s mouth, chin and jaw. When you pull on your snaffle bit reins, you have a direct line to the corners of the horse’s mouth. A snaffle is designed so that the reins have direct contact with the horse’s mouth and the pounds of pressure that your hands apply equal the same pressure to the mouth. A snaffle does not have a shank and applies no leverage. The primary pressure point of the snaffle is the tongue, followed by the bars of the jaw and the corners of the mouth. Since the snaffle is a direct pull bit, the horse can easily understand your direct rein pull. It makes exercises such as following the nose and taking the horse’s head side to side to gain lateral flexion very simple and easy. Because of the simplicity of the bit it is great for young or green horses. It is for horses whose education is at a grade school level, where as a shank bridle is like high school.

Dana Hokana 2The Difference Between a Snaffle and Shanked Bridle

The difference between a snaffle and the bridle is the shank. The reins attach to the end of the shank multiplying the effective pounds of pressure a rider may apply to the horse’s mouth. The severity of the bridle is determined by four main factors.

  • The length of the shank – The longer the shank the more severe the bridle.
  • The angle of the shank – The straighter the shank the more severe the bridle. 
  • The shape of the mouthpiece – There are many factors in this to determine severity such as the interior of each individuals mouth but a rule of thumb is that the higher the port, the more severe the mouthpiece is
  • Type and adjustment of the curb strap. A leather strap is much milder than a chain and a bar is more severe than a chain. 

Shank bridles also can be a solid shank and solid mouth piece or loose shank with a solid mouth piece or a loose shank and a broken mouthpiece. The loose shank bridle allows more of a direct rein pull similar to a snaffle when ridden with two hands. Different metals especially copper used in the mouthpiece can create more saliva. A shank hobble holds the shanks of a loose shank bridle together so that they don’t swivel. This will increase the leverage of the bridle and increases the communication of the indirect reins. A shank bridle applies pressure to the tongue, bars, roof of the mouth and the chin or jaw. The amount of pressure and where it is applied is dependant on the type of mouth piece, length and angle of the shank and the type of mouthpiece, length and angle of shank and type of curb strap. A bridle is an indirect rein pull and guide, and turning or guiding your horse involves teaching him to respond to an indirect rein, and to move off the pressure of the rein.

Before you put your horse in the bridle, you need to establish if he is ready. I can give you my opinion as to if a horse is ready or not. Before I put one of my horses in the bridle I need to be able to pull my horse’s head one way or the other with him accepting the pressure willingly, he also needs to be able to move willingly over off my leg. He needs to give his face, flex at the poll and flex laterally in the neck and he needs to allow me to collect him and to drive him to his face at the walk, jog, and lope and to accept it willingly. I want him to be beginning to exhibit self-carriage and not speed up when I release the reins. I want him to stop balanced and back willingly in the bridle.

Day 3
This week Dana is sharing her “Ten Simple Tips to Transition Your Horse from the Snaffle to the Bridle”
Now that you’ve established if your horse is ready for the bridle let’s get started.

Tip #1- Hang a bridle in his mouth and put a halter on over it and tie him in a safe location where he cannot get the bridle hooked on anything, and let him wear it and mouth it and get used to the feel of a different bit. I usually do this every day for about a week for a few hours a day.

We are talking about the “Ten Simple Tips to Transition Your Horse from the Snaffle to the Bridle”

Tip #2 – Before you get on your horse, reach your hands over your horse’s neck and pull his head side to side and back him up. Do this until he accepts the pull willingly. Fit your curb chain fairly loose.

We are talking about the “Ten Simple Tips to Transition Your Horse from the Snaffle to the Bridle”

Tip #3 – Start your horse in a short shank loose cheek correction type mouthpiece. I like this kind of bit to start young horses in because the cheek pieces or shanks are loose and more similar to the loose cheeks of a snaffle and the broken mouthpiece can exert pressure when you take a hold, but it is forgiving when you release it.

Tip#4 – Ride your horse two handed until he is comfortable with his new bridle. This may take a few days or it may take weeks.

Tip #5 – Teach your horse to accept you pulling his face to one side or another, do this with forward motion keeping him stepping forward. Identify if he leans one way or the other or drops a shoulder, ribcage or hip in or out.

Tip #6 – Once your horse accepts being collected and driven forward two handed, go to one hand. Practice your approach or your pick up. Your approach is everything. Do not hit his mouth with an abrupt or jerky pickup. Good hands and feel take practice. I teach my riders to pick up their horse as follows. Pick up until the slack is out of the reins and you feel his mouth. Do this slowly and feel for the contact then bump, hold lightly jerk until you get the desired response. Then soften or lighten your cue. At this point I often hold or stay in light contact until I know the horse accepts my pick up, and then I will drop. I practice this pick up over and over making my horse give his face every time, until he is soft and accepting to my pressure. 

Tip #7 – Different bits and curbs will give you different results in your horse’s profile and head and neck carriage. I have found that for my pleasure horses I want less of a mouth piece and shank and more of a curb as I want them to lift up through the back and withers when I collect them but when I drop them I want them to let go with their neck and hang their head and neck in a natural position. I have found that too much mouth piece can make an over bridled profile which is not desired in the AQHA standard for Western Pleasure. I’ve also found that some horses will hide in an over bridled position and get quicker with their legs which is not desired. I also prefer showing rail horses in a solid cheek shank as loose cheek shanks have on some horses created a little more movement in their profile. This does not apply to all horses as I’ve explained that every horse’s mouth, tongue, and jaw are shaped differently and different bits give a different feel and reaction in different horses. I like to remain flexible and open to change as the individual may require. My daughters ride and show reining horses and most of the time they prefer loose shanked bridles. They require a different feel and response and profile than pleasure, western riding, and horsemanship horses.

Tip #8 – As your horse accepts your pickup and approach and release then teach him to respond to the neck rein. A great tip for this is to keep your hand over the line of his mane slightly in front of the saddle horn. Ask him to turn by bringing your hand 4-6” to the right or left. Notice the neck rein lying against his neck and give him a moment to respond. If he doesn’t make a turn or respond to the cue stop him and put your hand around the reins and pull him over off the rein cue until he moves over off the rein. Once he responds release him instantly, walk forward and try again. Sometimes trotting him forward and adding forward motion will help. Be definite about your cues. Keep your hand still and recognize that if you move your hand one way or another you are giving a cue. Be mindful about your hand. I don’t pick up unless I want my horse to respond and I don’t move my hand over to the right or left unless I want him to turn.

Tip #9 – Buy a quality manufactured bit that has been correctly balanced. A balanced bit will hang correctly in the horse’s mouth and will weigh the same on wither side.

Tip #10 – Have your veterinarian check your horse’s teeth. Often resistance in a horse to the bridle means they need work done on their teeth. Most 2 year olds need their wolf teeth pulled. He can help your horses to remain comfortable carrying the bit or bridle by making sure his teeth aren’t bothering him. 

Make sure that if your horse shows extreme resistance to any of these cues and you feel in any danger seek the help of a professional. Do not take chances. Your safety and well being is of utmost importance. Best wishes to you in putting your horse into the bridle.

If you would like to book a clinic with Dana Hokana simply email, brookh.hokana@gmail.com – we would love to have you attend a DH Clinic!
About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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