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My Horse is Hanging His Tongue Out of His Mouth

Dear Gaits of Gold,

I'm having a problem with my horse hanging his tongue out of his mouth when he's under saddle. Any suggestions?
Liz J.


Hi Liz,

Diagnosing a problem from afar can be iffy, but I've dealt with this sort of situation once or twice. One young horse came to us a confirmed' tongue hanger. Fortunately we were able to get him past that, as it is a very unattractive habit.

Here are the most likely possible causes for his problem:
  1. He need his teeth examined and floated. It's highly likely that when the bit is inserted it causes one or more teeth to cut into his tongue, so he hangs it out as a defensive measure against mouth pain. The first thing you need to do is get an equine dentist to visit your barn.
  2. There's stress on his tongue from the bit, so he hangs it out the side of his mouth for physical relief. Very few bits on the market offer enough room for the horse's tongue (which is generally quite thick). If he's been used to a bit with straight bars that cut into the tongue, it's going to take awhile before he learns that a bit doesn't automatically equal discomfort.  You can check out the 2nd Generation Imus Comfort Gait bit here.
  3. He's feeling stress, or is bored, and his tongue hanging habit is the equivalent to a human taking a smoke to relieve stress--in other words, it's simply become a habit. You need to teach him new habits, and help
    keep the time you work with him something that he enjoys.
Riding your horse in a 'smallish round pen' might contribute to the problem. I've noticed that it is generally the more accommodating, docile horses who tend to acquire the habit of tongue hanging. I've personally never seen a horse that is strongly reactive doing it--probably because more strongly reactive horses do just that: react more strongly! For this reason I'm quite sure you can work him in an environment that gives him more room to stretch and move.
If you're riding him in the 2nd Generation Imus Comfort Gait Bit, after a few rides he will begin to realize that it doesn't hurt or press into his tongue, and that should help a lot. Keep your riding sessions short, and filled with as many 'fun' things as you can. Keep his mind busy by doing something other than circles. Practice balanced stops, transitions, figure eights, serpentines, etc. Ask him to extend, then collect. If you have any nearby trails, take him out on a few short rides and let him enjoy the scenery. But be careful not to overdo!

It may be that the habit is so ingrained that even after all the stressors are removed, he will need to have his tongue physically held in place until he becomes accustomed to it. So if the simple measures outlined here don't help, you can surely try a canveson; please don't resort to this too quickly, however. It should be your last resort, and you will need experienced help to assist in getting the fit of it just right.
 
Many happy-and smooth-trails!
 

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