Blinders or an Open Bridle?

People often ask me how to decide if a horse would do better in an open bridle versus a bridle with blinders. I put the question out on HorseDriver and had a couple responds -->

Sharon said:

 “The horses temperament and training and how well they listen to my communication.”

And CindyLou said:

How do they act when you snap on a halter/lead and walk them around in new places? Are they spooky? Calm and curious? I have ALL my guys in an open bridle, and most of my students do too. Most horses do just fine with open bridles.

Both of these are excellent answers to a tricky question.

We had a Haflinger a few years ago, that was very touchy with the blinders on. When harnessed she would nearly sit her butt down if we touched it with our hand. But when in the halter you could touch her all over without any reaction at all. She also had a tendency to bolt when wearing blinders. I decided to try her in the open bridle and she quieted right down. She drove a bride down the isle, participated in parades and did miles and miles of road driving, with traffic, in an open bridle.

Over the years I have found that many donkeys, both miniature and full size, prefer to be driven in open blinders. Two of the donkeys I trained refused to even walk at all with the blinders on. Instead of getting into a battle I just switched them to an open bridle and they walked right out! One donkey had been in a bad accident while harrowing. He had been in a bridle with blinders during the accident and we found that he did much better with an open bridle when we retrained him. That is definitely not always the case with the rehabbed driving horses!

My current driving mare is a 15 year old miniature mare. She was driven miles and miles in her younger years. We drove on the road, in parades, and we showed her in cart. This mare has literally done it all! Then she had a break for about 7-8 years and was a mom and a pasture pet. Last spring I put her back in the cart and she’s been doing very well.

However I have noticed a few things… Last year when I ground drove her in the halter she was very nervous and reactive when the neighbor horses would approach the fence, when she saw a for sale sign or a plastic bag, when the dog ran up to her from any side, but especially when he came from the front. So I started ground driving her in her driving bridle, with blinders, and she settled right down. It was as though she knew her job completely and was in “work” mode with the harness on.

This year she is being very reactive when the neighbor horses come up to the fence. She is a freight train when we drive in company, either with other horses hitched to vehicles or when I pony her son, Zorro, along behind the cart. She is spooky, shying at things that aren’t even there. She constantly has her head high, looking for trouble. So, I have decided it’s time to try an open bridle.


One of the main things about Sky is that her eyes are set very high on her head and quite far to the side of her face. This is great for prey animals as they can see all around them and react to any mountain lions or tigers that may be stalking through the grass. Sky’s eyes are set even further to the side than my other two horses and I think the blinders just restrict her vision a bit too much.

I live in a completely different part of the state than we did when she was young. We drive alone most of the time, back home we always went out in pairs. Here there are wide open spaces, huge Sage bushes, Juniper trees and big pine trees. The wind blows. The wind blows a lot. We are surrounded by other horses and lots of cows. My dog is a maniac. He chases Snowshoe Hares and pops up out of the Sage bushes unexpectedly. I think as she has aged she has decided it’s best if she can see her surroundings a bit more. This year when I ground drive her in the halter she is much calmer and quieter. This year when I take her son along on the ground drives she is quiet as long as she doesn’t have the blinders on.

I think I have my answer. But how will I know for sure?

First I will NOT remove the blinders, put on the open cheek pieces and hitch her to the cart. This is a recipe for disaster.

  1. First, I will trade out the bridle pieces and then ground drive her a few times.
  2. Next, I’ll hitch her to the travios with the open cheek bridle and have her pull that a few times.
  3. Then, I’ll hitch her to the cart and see how she does. It’s a good idea to cover all your bases before making major changes such as these, even with the miniature horses.

I’ll keep you updated as to whether she likes the open bridle. I’m very interested to see how she handles it myself!

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