This site contains everything you need to know to deal with pretty much any horse related problem. Any one page on this site, in and of itself, may be one part of the solution and you may need to read more pages on this site for a more rounded approach.
Q: "I can't get my horse to take the bit. What should I do?"
A: First, make sure that when you put the bit in and take it out that YOU ARE NOT IN A HURRY. Decide that you will take as long as your horse needs ... not rush him. Now, think about the process of putting the bit in the horse's mouth. Are you having trouble with any particular area? Is the horse holding his head too high? refusing to open his mouth?, or spitting out the bit the moment you try to adjust the rest of the contraption? Let's deal with all these problems in order.
Start when the horse is haltered and standing quietly. Without the bridle in hand, just put your hand right behind his ears, on the top of his head (this is called the "poll") ... and press until your horse lowers his head. It may only be a fraction of an inch ... release pressure immediately and praise him. Wait about a minute or so (less once he gets the idea), and repeat this. Pretty soon, your horse will be lowering his head with a very slight pressure on the poll.
Often, it's difficult to work the bit, the curb chain and the horse's mouth all together in order to accomplish this process without having one of the variables throw you a curve. If this is the case, eliminate one. You cannot remove the horse's "mouth" or the bit, unless you move to a hackamore, a bosal, or a side-pull. The easiest thing to do at this point is to remove one side on the curb strap or chain. You can easily undo one side (typically the side nearest you) before you attempt to put the bit in. Remove one side of the curb chain and position yourself on the left side, next to the horse's head, facing the same way the horse is. With your right hand holding the bridle, slide the bridle over his face so that you can put your hand over the poll and sort of between his ears. DON'T PUT THE BIT IN YET. Wait until your horse is calm and not tossing his head. You can put pressure on the poll with your right hand (or arm), asking him to lower his head if he raises it too high. Use your left hand to put slight pressure over his nose, about halfway between the eyes and the nostrils (where the bone and cartilage meet). The bit should be below his jaw at this point, and out of the way. Now, just wait.
Once your horse begins to relax and lower his head, position your left hand on the bit, to guide it into his mouth. You do not want the bit to clank or smack against his teeth, so go slow and take your time. You can reach into the horse's mouth and "tickle" his tongue, bars, or the roof of his mouth, until he opens his mouth for you. There are no teeth in this part of the horse's mouth, so you won't be risking any fingers. I often switch my right hand to under the horse's neck and holding the bridle by the cheek straps above his nose while I guide the bit. If your horse is not tossing his head, this position is more comfortable.
Once the bit is in, check to make sure the tongue is under the bit, and that the bit is adjusted and positioned correctly. Most horse's that toss their head have learned to avoid the pain they associate with the bit in any way they can, so check everything you can think of. The general rule of thumb is that an english bit should be adjusted to have 2-3 wrinkles, and a western bit should be adjusted to have one wrinkle in the corner's of the horse's mouth. Also, the cheek straps should not rub too close to the horse's eyes. If so, your browband may be too small. You might also want someone to help you check your horse's teeth to see if there might be any other reason the bit is bothering him.
Spend some time every time you tack up doing this ... repeatedly. Bring your horse in, put the bridle on and off a few times, then give him a treat and put him away. You can also try coating the bit with molasses and/or sugar, once you are able to get him to keep his head low for you. Often, this will help a horse associate pleasant things with the bit in his mouth, instead of pain.
Take extra care when removing the bit NOT to hit his teeth. Let the horse spit it out. He'll appreciate it!
Katie-- KK Ranch
(I haven't heard from Katie in years but her words are still here.)
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