Buying a horse with a bit problem

A monthly column on Bits and their Application

Sometimes, when we go to purchase a horse, everything is perfect except for one or two things and these ‘one or two negatives’ have to be weighed against the positives. A tongue-over-the-bit  problem needs careful consideration. The rider must decide if they have the temperament or the tenacity to attempt correction, and there must be a real reason for having a go because a lot of patience will be needed.

The problem has to be confronted on three fronts - the physical, the psychological and the training programme itself.

Rule out all of the physical reasons for the tongue going over the bit first. This means hours of trying different bits and studying the way they impact on the horse. Careful observation of the horse’s mouth habits may give you clues... examinations by experienced teeth doctors, or vets, could help... experimenting with different types, and combinations, of nosebands... etc. It’s a bit like detective work and it takes time. The last thing you want to do is to repeat previous bad management and continue to guide the horse down the wrong road.

Psychological factors can have a high influence as to what remedial actions you might take. Does the problem occur when the horse is bridled but not ridden? Lunge the horse lightly from a head collar over the top of the bridle, or lead the bridled horse from another mount. This may tell you more about the rider’s hands, rather than the horse’s mouth, and the problem then becomes one of dealing with the horse’s very long memory. Look at the horse’s previous history. How was the horse ridden, what sort of early education was given, was the horse rushed because it showed promise, was it a racehorse which was expected to win a race before it was three years old? Does the horse show tension and, if so, at what stage of the schooling? Does this indicate gaps of knowledge that is causing a lack of confidence? Has the training programme been ‘scattered’ with the steps being muddled or missed out altogether?

Once you have made a decision on the cause of the problem, and have planned a course of action, be prepared to change because the messages the rider and the horse give each other work interactively and must be considered as a whole issue. By this I mean that while the tongue-over-the-bit  may have been caused by something physical, the effect it would have had, psychologically, has to be catered for long after the physical side has been corrected. On the other hand, the psychological difficulties the horse displays may be related to incorrect, or insensitive, training and this aspect of the schooling programme may continue to create physical difficulties. And so on.

Just fitting a special bit or tying the tongue down is not going to fix the problem. ...there is no quick answer. But, if the rider feels the horse is worth the time and the trouble, then overcoming the challenges and producing a happier horse will definitely be worth the effort.

Next month we will look at bits and techniques that may help the rider reach a more satisfactory result when trying to correct a tongue-over-the-bit  problem.

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