Is your horse fussy in the mouth, or prone to putting his tongue over the bit? Ema Odlin-Baxter, senior bitting advisor of The Horse Bit Shop, takes a look at the issue of tongue evasion.
In the last instalment, we took the time to look at the common misconception over up bitting when actually less is more. So what about if you have a horse that is particularly fussy in the mouth? How do you overcome the problem of a horse getting his tongue over the bit, drawing the tongue back behind the bit or even hanging it out of the side?
Tongue evasion is one of the most recognised bitting issues and one that is becoming more and more common as we continue to breed more talented and sharper horses. So how do we accommodate these traits and rectify the problem that can very quickly become a habit. Is the answer to tighten up the flash and pray it goes away?
Well. There are a few different ways we can tackle the issue, but in my experience the most successful route is to remove the pressure to prevent the horse feeling the need. Most horses adopt tongue evasions due to a bit creating either too much pressure or an irritation on the tongue. It is easy to relate to this, if you consider the bit on the tongue to be the same as someone stood on your toe, your natural reaction is to pull your foot out, whether this be to the side or backwards.
In these cases, if we replace the bit we are using with a ported bit such as the Bombers Happy Tongue snaffle, we can confidently remove the pressure from the centre of the tongue, and increase the pressure to the sides encouraging the horse to keep the tongue in the middle and removing the need to draw the tongue back. The Happy Tongue snaffle is a great ported bit as it has a forward curve to the mouthpiece as well as a flat topped moderate port, ensuring tongue relief whilst being sympathetic to a mouth with often a low palate, fleshy tongue and chunky lips. The loose ring then creates the freedom for flexion.
Being a ported bit, however, this wouldn’t be dressage permitted. I am often asked why a port is not dressage legal even though it is kinder to horse with a large sensitive tongue. While both British Dressage and FEI agree on the concept of tongue relief, I feel that to permit it in dressage would be very difficult to specify at what height the port would then become an increase on palate, thus giving a different action, as each horse can have very different mouth confirmations, where in some cases the palate is so low the that the lampus can been seen below the incisors.
There are still several options available within the range of permitted bits that can also be effective. One of the most well know solutions to this problem is the use of the Neue Schule Verbindend, a bit which has quite aggressively curved cannons that create tongue relief when laid on the tongue. With this method can come an increase in pressure on the outer lip, which when the contact is increased can cause a horse with a fleshy lip to become inconsistent as the excessive amounts of flesh are then squashed towards the premolars.
In these cases I prefer to opt for the alternative approach of using a mouthpiece with a larger bearing surface area, with reduced movement such as that of the Sprenger Novo Contact single joint. The joint in the centre is designed to reduce nutcracker action whilst the wider contact area spreads the pressure without increasing bit diameter, a very clever and effective design.
Also useful with tongue evasions are the Neue Schule Turtle Tops and Tactio bits. Amongst several features the max collapse feature or locking effect when the bit is opened up helps to give the bit some stability over the tongue and reducing the vibration of the double broken mouthpiece on the tongue. It’s shaped and turned cannons help to increase contact of the tongue, again increasing bearing surface area and combine together to give a much more consistent contact without having to revert to a fixed cheek bit or a Mullen mouth bit.
These are just a handful of solutions worth trying if you are having tongue issues, and the bits mentioned are available on our 30-day trial system via The Horse Bit Shop website – and if you still need help or advice you can always get in touch.