A monthly column on Bits and their Application
If you have decided to purchase a horse that puts its tongue over the bit, you will need to start the re-training immediately.
As discussed last month, the horse’s psychology can pay a large part in the reason for the problem and having a change of owner and a change of environment is a good way to establish fresh habits. If you are happy with all the other aspects the horse can offer you, then take the tongue-over-the-bit problem as a training challenge and start.
The gag snaffle could be an excellent bit to try because it is very useful for the horse that is worried about sudden movements in the mouth. The gag turns, or revolves, in the mouth as the reins are tightened and it has a cushioning effect on a rough hand. This will give the horse a little more confidence in the rider and perhaps encourage a greater degree of acceptance of a bit. The jointed mouthpiece of the gag doesn’t drop in the centre and the lifting action of the reins will also keep the tongue in the right place underneath. Because the aim is to get the horse back into a snaffle, you can use a second rein buckled to the bit rings in the usual manner giving the rider the option to use the bit as a gag or as a snaffle according to the way the horse is responding. A lot of horses find the gag comfortable. In a schooling situation, and with a set of sensible hands holding the reins, it is a mild bit and, as a means to an end, could be worth a trial.
The careful fitting of a noseband will definitely help with some horses but I have found that a noseband also prevents the horse from putting the tongue back on the correct side as well. Choose a noseband that will not put any pressure on the molars and cause further irritation. A grackle with the top strap fitted as high up the cheek as possible will avoid this problem. The lower strap can be fitted in the usual manner.
The pelhams and the kimblewicks have been discussed in previous months and should be used with confidence if it seems right for the stage of re-training you are up to. It will probably be a long road back to a competition approved bit and you may have to revisit some of the bitting aids you have used as you travel along through the re-training programme.
An extremely useful way of encouraging the horse to sort out which side of the bit the tongue should be on is to simply leave the bridle on the horse for a few days. Use an old, comfortably fitted leather bridle (preferably with a small ringed snaffle to prevent it catching on things), remove the reins and just leave it on the horse. The tongue has to be on the correct side of the bit for the horse to eat and eating is a fairly good incentive for the horse to get it right and to establish the bit position for itself. I have successfully used this method on two chronic tongue-over-the-bit horses. Make sure the bridle is removed two or three times a day for cleaning and rub a little lip salve around the corners of the horse’s mouth to prevent chaffing. Try ten days on, ten days off with the competition bit you will be eventually riding with. If you have addressed all the other issues concerning the tongue-over-the-bit problem and have chosen re-training bits carefully, and progressively, turning the horse out to eat with a bit in his mouth will speed the end result up considerably. You may also find it a useful reminder for the horse even months after returning to the competition arena.
Remember at all times, the horse is your best teacher. Look at the behaviour being displayed, think through every possible reason, question your responses and then attack the problem with a holistic approach. Take the horse’s total viewpoint. The tongue-over-the-bit problem is rarely anything to do with the tongue.
Next month I will discuss the commonly used tom-thumb snaffle and the range of built in bad-habit developers that come with it.