There are a variety of reasons for an older horse developing the dreaded problem of the tongue over the bit and, once developed, it is a very difficult practice to cure.
A change of bit or a change of rider may put unfamiliar pressures on a horse - similar to the rider asking for new movements in training or for when for a higher commitment in fitness is needed. Mixed messages, or a misunderstanding of the instructions given, may create tensions and then indecisions of where-to-put-the-tongue may arise because the unusual questions being raised by the bit on the tongue could encourage the horse to shift the tongue around. Undue pressure from a new bit, or from a new set of hands, may make the horse draw the tongue upwards to push the mouthpiece away from sore corners or gums, or the head being carried in a different manner may allow the tongue more room to fiddle with the bit...and so on. Whatever the reason for the horse putting the tongue over the bit, riders should be aware at all stages of the training, or of the education process, that prevention is better than cure. Take action very quickly at the slightest hint of a problem developing.
The rules for a young horse accepting the bit - as discussed last month - apply to the older horse as well. A jointed snaffle which drops too low, the size and shape of the mouthpiece not suiting the tongue, or a bit which has too much movement, may allow accidental mistakes to occur - especially when the horse is under pressure through training or through some other discomfort. For those horses which have made an ‘out of character’ mistake, examine the possible reasons immediately and make appropriate changes. Ease the training programme or seek help with your training methods. Select another bit which avoids the possible reason for the tongue being on the wrong side. If you have a noseband, remove it to give the horse room to show you what might be going on. If you don’t use a noseband, borrow one and try it.
To correct trouble, we have to notice what is happening, think the problem through and then plan a course of remedial action and if this means schooling for a period of time in a bit that is not legal for competition, then so be it. If trying a different bit is an option, the kimblewick can be most useful for an SOS situation. For those horses with a thicker tongue, the jointed kimblewick should suit as the jointed kimblewick sits securely in the mouth and doesn’t drop to the same extent as an ordinary snaffle and the curb/lever action of the chain gives little or no additional power, except when the head is over-bent beyond the frame we are training for. But the most important featu re of a kimblewick is that the rider tends to handle the reins more sensitively because the bit has a chain and this return of sensitivity to the hands can have an immediate effect on the uncomfortable nutcracker action that the ordinary snaffle had created. Sometimes a change of bit is not only for the re-training of the horse’s mouth.
Next month we shall discuss the confirmed tongue-over-the-bit horse.