Accepting the Tom Thumb

A monthly column on Bits and their Application

What can you do about the horse that is not accepting the tom-thumb?

If you read last month’s article you would have checked your bit to see that the jointed section of the wings and mouthpiece has no lateral movement which could gather tiny pieces of skin in the corners of the horse’s mouth and pinch. If you have managed to purchase a properly machined tom-thumb then the problem will probably be in the way the bit moves against the jaw when the rider takes up the reins.

The tom-thumb has an excessive nutcracker action because the rings are usually small and because they are attached very close to the edge of the horse’s mouth. When the rider takes a pull the short wings close quickly, and tightly, against the soft tissue above the mouth. This soft tissue is then gathered up as the rider continues the pulling, or holding, action. The final result is a sudden gathering and squashing of the inside of the horse’s mouth against the upper or lower molars (depending on the position of the animal’s head).

Hours of riding-in will not solve the multitude of defensive reactions the horse will produce. Putting a running martingale on to steady a tossing head will not solve it ...a dropped noseband to prevent the horse opening the mouth or trying to draw the tongue up will not solve it ...schooling in a set of running reins to keep the horse from tilting it’s head will not solve it. Extremely steady hands and a riding situation which requires minimal downwards transitions will definitely alleviate the discomfort but a change of bit will most likely be the only sensible solution.

If a young horse started nicely in a tom-thumb, but has become erratic as the training progressed, it may mean teething is causing the problem and a change to another bit will be a temporary move while the 12 milk molars are being replaced by the 24 large permanent teeth. An older horse suddenly showing a dislike to the normally accepted tom-thumb could have developed sharp edges on the molars and these sharp edges may be beginning to cut into the soft tissue inside the mouth. Having the teeth filed on a regular basis will prevent this happening.

Unfortunately, if a tom-thumb has caused discomfort for a period of time many horses will simply lose confidence in the bit. The only course of action left is to learn from the experience and make a change to another type.

Next month’s column will look at suitable choices for a change of bit.

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