Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Looking Deeper

While trying various approaches to working Rock through his rein steering resistance, a little voice in my head told me to look in his mouth.  An equine dentist and vet had looked at his teeth not too long ago and agreed that he didn't have any sharp points and his teeth didn't need any work.  So, I didn't know why I should look in his mouth, but I trusted the voice, and I did.

I discovered that his tongue had a large indentation right where the bit sits, and the muscle that should have been there seemed to all get pushed back down his throat.  I read that horses have all kinds of different shaped tongues, but this thinning of the tongue right where the bit sits could not be ignored.  This had to be damage done by a harsh bit and heavy hands.  The horse has had two owners before me.  Considering that the lady who sold him to me had a lot of experience with horses and only trail rode him, I didn't think she or her husband would have caused the damage.  It's more likely it was done by the kid who barrel raced him.

Rock does not act like the jointed snaffle bit that I ride him in causes him pain, but he does ignore my cues.  If the tongue is damaged, then the nerves would not be as sensitive as they might be in a healthy tongue.  Most people go to a harsher bit when the horse ignores cues in their current bit, but my goal was to find a solution that would not cause his tongue any further damage.

Since I won't know what will work until I try it, I ordered two different items to help me with two new approaches to his training.  I'm going to try a bitless side-pull on him and, independently, I'm also going to try a low port jointed snaffle Myler bit that keeps pressure off the tongue and only applies pressure to the bars.  Why Myler?  Well, upon inspecting the loose ring jointed snaffle I had been riding Rock in, I discovered that he had already bit grooves into it and the surface was flaking off, leaving rough and sharp edges.  I picked up that bit at the local feed store for twenty bucks at the beginning of summer and it's already in need of being thrown in the trash.  Bombay, on the other hand, has an $85 Myler bit I bought probably ten years ago, and it's still in the same shape it was when I bought it.  It's the only bit he will let me put in his mouth.  Myler bits cost between $75 and $200, but they are worth every penny.

The bit I ordered also has a D-ring for better lateral pressure.  The O-ring slips right into his mouth.  The D-ring should do a better job of staying in place on his cheek to help pull his head around.

I've been told by several horse trainers and equitation instructors that I have very soft hands, but that is because my three Arabian horses are all sensitive to subtle cues.  I don't necessarily even have to use the reins.  Sometimes I can just look in the direction I want to go.  Sometimes leg cues are enough.  Sometimes I just need to squeeze a rein or lift it without having taut contact with the horse's mouth.  I'm sure my hands won't be as soft with Rock since he doesn't understand those movements.  He needs to learn his riders just as much as we need to learn how to interpret his behavior.

Have you looked at your horse's tongue lately?


Mary said...

I shudder to think what may have caused his malformed tongue, my gosh! I am sure you will find the right equipment to suit him comfortably and still allow you to steer (and stop, of course). I am a huge fan of a bitless approach, but I know too, sometimes it's just not enough. Safety first, always! :)

Horseyhabit said...

Poor Rock.. good thing you listened to your inner voice on this one!

I like the KK bits, they are very gentle, & also pricey, but worth the money!

Reddunappy said...

I ride with a sweet iron mullen curb. I know Emmas mouth is fine, I am the only one to ever put a bit in her mouth. The old mares too, since I have had them all most of their lives! But, a very good thing to do if you are having problems! Good gut feeling!!