When I first had Willow shipped up to Oregon, I hadn't yet found a dressage barn, so I moved her into a general boarding barn that was recommended to me. It was a decently clean and well-run outfit, and best of all, Willow got all-day turnout on 15 acres.
She stayed at that barn for three months, and I really had no problems until the last two weeks of her stay. Suddenly she became very afraid of me putting on the bridle. In fact, she didn't want me touching her ears at all. I'm 99% certain that one of the barn help tried to ear her down, probably when bringing her in from the pasture. I won't get into the raging fury I feel whenever I think of someone abusing Willow; let's just say I would like to put a giant, pointy, metaphorical pine cone on that person's chair.
I've been working around Willow's phobia by putting the snaffle bridle on in pieces, sort of like a halter. To do that I had to take off the browband, so I've been using twist-ties where the browband would go. Very high tech! This has all been working just fine, and Willow is once again relaxed about bridling. However, I'm going to be introducing the double bridle sometime in the next six months or so, and the idea of putting THAT on in pieces is a little overwhelming.
So, for the past couple of weeks I've been working on the ear phobia intensively. Carrots are playing a key role! I break up a couple carrots into many little bits, and then I let Willow know there's a carrot, and the price she has to pay is my hand on her ear. She's coming around quite quickly, but during every session there's a moment where her hierarchy of needs causes a momentary brain freeze, usually with her nose stuck straight up in the air in a sideways fashion: Don't touch my ears! I really want that carrot! And so on. Horses are uncomplicated creatures.
Last night I was able to cup her ear in my hand as I fed her carrot bits, and no brain freeze occurred. Progress! Next we'll be shooting for three or four ear touches for every carrot bit. Then, I'll need to fashion a piece of leather to drag across her ears much as a bridle would. Maybe by summer we'll be back to putting the bridle on the old-fashioned way.