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Mouthy Horse

16 August 2011 No Comment

Mouthy Horse
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Question
Hi Laura. I have a horse [Trotting Standardbred] whatever bit I use rubber or metal he seems to have a lot of white foam from his mouth. Is this anything to worry about? And what or how is the best way to put a tongue tie on him when he won’t let me near his mouth? He was just checked by our vet and his teeth are fine now as he did have some problems.
Thanks, Kathy
Answer
Hi Kathy! If your horse’s mouth has been thoroughly checked and nothing is found to be wrong, or anything that was wrong has been corrected, salivation is usually considered a “good thing” and indicates a soft, sensitive and relaxed mouth and jaw. Relaxation and softness are desired in dressage and a knowledgeable dressage judge can tell by looking at the foaming of saliva around a horse’s mouth which side the horse may be more stiff or resistant on through the jaw, neck and ribcage by the evidence of saliva on one side of the horse’s mouth (the soft, more relaxed side of the horse) and the absence of saliva on the other (the possibly more rigid, stiff side). Many people will actually give their horses a carrot slice or sugar cube before a class to encourage saliva and simulate a soft, yielding jaw and suppleness. Other people that have horses that salivate unevenly on either side of their mouth will wipe the saliva off completely before entering the dressage ring so that a knowledgeable judge won’t watch more closely how the horse moves on the side where he does not salivate as much, or at all. There are bits on the market such as a sweet iron mouthpiece or a copper-mouth or copper-wrapped mouthpiece that encourage a “moist mouth” on a horse. It sounds to me like your horse has a nice, although maybe sensitive, mouth.

Regarding your other question: I don’t ever advocate tying a horses mouth closed or tying their tongue. If your horse won’t let you “near his mouth” to put a headstall and bit on, this points to an evasion on the part of your horse and we would need to find out why he is evasive, not tie his tongue. I’m not sure what you mean by “won’t let me near his mouth.” If it’s an evasion to the bit, it may be because he in fact does have a sensitive, moist mouth (as indicated by the salivation) and maybe in the past, he has been bridled and unbridled carelessly. When the bridle is taken off your horse he is not allowed to “drop” the bit on his own after the headstall is taken over his ears, but instead is pulled from his mouth, then his teeth have probably been hit by the bit. This obviously will cause at the very least discomfort, if not out-and-out pain. It’s our responsibility to be always careful when we are putting tack and equipment on our horses, when riding and also when taking the tack off. Because horses are nice enough to let us ride them in the first place rather then tossing us on the ground every time we try to ride them, we need to exercise the utmost care and consideration when putting tack on them, riding them and taking tack off. If your horse has been hit in the teeth by the bit when it has been removed after riding, he’s going to figure that if he doesn’t let you near his mouth to put the bit in, he won’t ever have to be afraid of being hurt by the bit hitting him in the teeth coming out. In his mind, not letting you bridle him equals no pain or discomfort for him.

Your horse would benefit from some head lowering exercises to get him to relax and feel comfortable enough to lower his neck and head. If you gently press on his poll (the top of his head/neck right behind his ears) with the flat of your hand and release and praise him as soon as he lowers his head, he’ll learn to be more relaxed and willing to lower his head on cue. When he does willingly lower his head on cue from you, work with him slow and easy when you do begin to apply the bit. I would recommend a frenchlink snaffle bit for your horse and not a curb bit. Some of your horse’s “issues” regarding his mouth and the bit may be caused by too strong of a bit and/or maybe hands that have been rough or uneducated. A less sever, non-leverage snaffle bit that also doesn’t have the “nutcracker” effect of a regular snaffle will probably make your horse a lot more comfortable. Be careful not to hit his teeth when putting the bit in his mouth. Ask him to lower his head, present the bit to the horse by bringing it down over his nose rather then up toward his mouth, insert your left thumb into the space between his teeth (his “bars”) and when he opens his mouth, gently pull up with your right hand that is holding the crownpiece of his bridle. When you remove the bridle, slide the headstall over his ears with your right hand while standing on his left side and then lower your hand that’s holding the crownpiece slowly to about his forehead level. Some horses will stand and chew the bit but not drop it right away. Some horses will just continue to hold the bit quietly in their mouth for a minute or longer before opening their mouth and “dropping” the bit and some horses will immediately drop the bit as soon as you lower your right hand. The key here is to let the horse drop the bit on their own; DO NOT pull the bit out of the horse’s mouth abruptly because that’s when their teeth get hit. Because they weren’t ready for the bit to come out of their mouth and they hadn’t relaxed their jaw yet, they get hurt and then the evasion of no bridling begins. Once you can bridle your horse easily, you need to make certain that you are quiet and soft with your hands when riding him. It makes me cringe when I watch old western movies and see those. Try to look at the “big picture” when interacting with horses. It’s kind of like some horses that won’t let you catch them in a big corral or pasture. Some horses are just playing games and probably think it’s just plain funny to lead you on a merry chase around the pasture or corral with you trying to catch them. Some horses avoid being caught (an evasion) because being caught equals discomfort or pain during the tacking up process when being ridden or when being untacked. If they can’t be caught, they won’t be hurt, so its worth it to them to run away and not be caught even if there are consequences when they are finally caught which just further reinforces in their mind why they didn’t want to be caught in the first place.

Your horses evasion to being bridled or having his mouth messed with probably does stem from some past or present discomfort during the tacking up, riding or untacking process. Check out what bit you’re using, how you’re doing things in regard to any of these things and make sure that you are being careful and considerate during your interaction with your horse. After all, I consider it a privilege that horses let us ride them in the first place and don’t just toss us in the dirt and stomp us into the ground. Be kind and careful, slow and patient and its most likely that any evasions that your horse has will soon go away.

Good Luck!

Sincerely,
Laura Phelps-Bell

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