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Curing Your Horse’s Lolling Tongue

©EQUUS Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Q. My Thoroughbred hangs his tongue out constantly when I ride him. I know this is a sign that he isn't holding the bit right. How do I make him tuck that tongue in?

Anne Marie Higgins
Baltimore, Maryland

Tony Workman:

A. You did not say if your horse is off the track, but this is a common behavior among former racehorses. On the track, many horses have their tongues tied down to keep the tongues from getting over the bit. Most racehorses have a limited amount of flatwork education and uneducated mouths.

Sticking the tongue out is an evasion that comes from nerves, so most horses with this problem have other problems, too. Most of the horses I see with it have gone a long time without proper training or getting comfortable being ridden. If your horse has other nervous problems, I would work on those and try not to worry about the lolling tongue specifically. If he's an angel otherwise, the tongue may be something you just have to live with-and you can, as long as he isn't getting his tongue over the bit and bolting.

You haven't said what discipline you want to participate in with your horse. If he is going well and doing what you want, the tongue won't really matter unless you want to show in the hunter or dressage ring; in the jumpers, for example, he won't be penalized for it.

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I've had one horse with this problem that I kept and showed. With him, I used a ball-bearing bit and a pulley cavesson. The bit is similar to a snaffle bit, but the mouthpiece is a series of six to eight small copper or stainless-steel balls attached like the beads on a necklace. Because it breaks not just once in the middle but all the way along, it lies closer to the tongue; it's also less intimidating-so it suits a lot of horses with sensitive mouths who don't feel comfortable with any other bit. The cavesson looks like a regular cavesson; but instead of a straight buckle arrangement under the jaw, the strap passes through a U-shaped piece of metal and buckles back on itself. The added leverage it provides lets you tighten the noseband enough to prevent the mouth from opening.

Though my cavesson is custom-made, several tack suppliers offer cavessons that have a similar pulley arrangement; Miller's Harness Company (800-553-7655) offers its "crank" noseband for hunter/jumpers at about $100; Dover Saddlery (800-989-1500) offers two styles of "jawband" for just under $100 and just under $80. Miller's and Dover both offer a bit with linked balls; Miller's "Ball Mouth" is about $25 and Dover's "Waterford" loose-ring snaffle goes for just under $20. These bits have only four links, instead of six to eight, but they will still lie closer to the tongue than a regular snaffle and so be hard for a horse to get his tongue over.

The important thing: Keep experimenting until you find what works for your horse.

Patience is the key ingredient in trainer Tony Workman's system for turning former racehorses into hunter prospects. His recent successes include amateur Tracey Weinberg's mare Victory Road (who raced until she was eight) and Deeridge Farm's Embraceable.

This article first appeared in the November, 1999 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

Q. My Thoroughbred hangs his tongue out constantly when I ride him. I know this is a sign that he isn't holding the bit right. How do I make him tuck that tongue in?

Anne Marie Higgins
Baltimore, Maryland

Tony Workman:

A. You did not say if your horse is off the track, but this is a common behavior among former racehorses. On the track, many horses have their tongues tied down to keep the tongues from getting over the bit. Most racehorses have a limited amount of flatwork education and uneducated mouths.

Sticking the tongue out is an evasion that comes from nerves, so most horses with this problem have other problems, too. Most of the horses I see with it have gone a long time without proper training or getting comfortable being ridden. If your horse has other nervous problems, I would work on those and try not to worry about the lolling tongue specifically. If he's an angel otherwise, the tongue may be something you just have to live with-and you can, as long as he isn't getting his tongue over the bit and bolting.

You haven't said what discipline you want to participate in with your horse. If he is going well and doing what you want, the tongue won't really matter unless you want to show in the hunter or dressage ring; in the jumpers, for example, he won't be penalized for it.

I've had one horse with this problem that I kept and showed. With him, I used a ball-bearing bit and a pulley cavesson. The bit is similar to a snaffle bit, but the mouthpiece is a series of six to eight small copper or stainless-steel balls attached like the beads on a necklace. Because it breaks not just once in the middle but all the way along, it lies closer to the tongue; it's also less intimidating-so it suits a lot of horses with sensitive mouths who don't feel comfortable with any other bit. The cavesson looks like a regular cavesson; but instead of a straight buckle arrangement under the jaw, the strap passes through a U-shaped piece of metal and buckles back on itself. The added leverage it provides lets you tighten the noseband enough to prevent the mouth from opening.

Though my cavesson is custom-made, several tack suppliers offer cavessons that have a similar pulley arrangement; Miller's Harness Company (800-553-7655) offers its "crank" noseband for hunter/jumpers at about $100; Dover Saddlery (800-989-1500) offers two styles of "jawband" for just under $100 and just under $80. Miller's and Dover both offer a bit with linked balls; Miller's "Ball Mouth" is about $25 and Dover's "Waterford" loose-ring snaffle goes for just under $20. These bits have only four links, instead of six to eight, but they will still lie closer to the tongue than a regular snaffle and so be hard for a horse to get his tongue over.

The important thing: Keep experimenting until you find what works for your horse.

Patience is the key ingredient in trainer Tony Workman's system for turning former racehorses into hunter prospects. His recent successes include amateur Tracey Weinberg's mare Victory Road (who raced until she was eight) and Deeridge Farm's Embraceable.

This article first appeared in the November, 1999 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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