Question: I just recently bought a 5 year old buckskin mare. All she has ever known is a hackamore and i tried to use a combo hackamore with snaffle but she puts her tongue over the bit. I have tried to let her graze with it and also tightened it up on her. She still figures out a way to put her tongue over it. I know the saying if it works why change it but my purpose for this horse is to make it into a barrel and pole bending horse for my daughter and i want her to have control.
Answer by April Reeves: This is a problem you don’t want to turn into a habit, so if you are still trying to bit her, stop right away. We need to look at a few possible problems first and then rule them out. If she is allowed to put her tongue over for too long a time, it will become a habit that may be very hard to break.
First off, I am not a big fan of combo equipment of any kind. Before you try to get control of the horse, you first need to teach basic commands: stop, go, move from aids only. If your mare is not really, really good at this, no bit or hackamore in the world will solve your problem. Well, maybe temporarily, but you will have more to undo and a potentially dangerous horse.
First, check to see what condition her teeth are in. I always suggest a vet check. Otherwise feel for sharp ridges, look for sores or inflamed gums.
Secondly, a horse’s upper jaw is wider than their bottom jaw. Some horses have a large tongue which fills the entire mouth cavity. When you add a bit to this, it sits and puts pressure not only on the tongue and lower jaw, but the wide expanse of the upper jaw as well. While many horses just deal with the pressure, others work at avoidance, flipping their tongue over the bit to find relief from the pain and pressure. An uncomfortable bit will only increase the problem. Attach a hackamore to the situation and you could find a horse that’s going to blow up one day. Especially mares; they tend to be sensitive and can either be very willing partners when met half way and respected, or turn into horrible little creatures. I think mares are the best riding horses, as they give 1000% when they are happy. Geldings at best give 110%.
Lets start with a very soft comfortable bit. It’s a french link with a roller, and they look like a snaffle but have an extra link, much like a little dog bone, in the center. This little link has a copper roller in the middle. It rests comfortably on the tongue because it breaks on the sides as opposed to the middle, like an ordinary snaffle (which by the way is not a comfortable bit, and can be severe in the wrong hands). If you can get your hands on one of these as a loaner from a friend (don’t buy if you can try first) then try this bit on the mare first and see if she agrees with me (I like this bit!).
I’m not one to adjust a bit way up in the mouth, as again you are creating discomfort. I adjust them low enough so that they don’t sit on the front teeth, but high enough so that the bit is not really loose in the mouth. The reason for this is that I want the horse to feel the bit when I pick up the reins. This signals the horse that we are about to do something different.
You want to start with the most comfortable bit because if the mare does not accept this she will not accept anything. Because this mare has a past history you are unlikely aware of, there may be a number of reasons she avoids bits.
Once you have found this bit, put it on her and adjust it as I do. If she is playing with it too much, take it up one more hole on the bridle. If she still works it too much take it up one hole again on the other side. Walk the mare around with it, let her eat, as this often gets them accepting of the fact that this thing just won’t go away, and it’s not all that bad since the lunch wagon shows up when this is in her mouth. She may take an hour or more to finally accept her fate, so don’t ride her right away. This has to be a slow process or else you may lose the lesson and the ability to use a bit altogether.
If you can, just bridle her, walk around (I always use a rope halter under a bridle, and walk the horse from the halter) and let her eat grass and get use to it. Then put her away. I use the halter underneath because I do not like using a bit to move a horse. I believe the mouth should be treated with deep respect.
If she is still getting her tongue over it, use the bit again the next day, walk her around, let her nibble grass or a bit of grain, and live with it. Again, don’t ride her.
If by the third day, if she still insists on getting the tongue over, you have a deeper problem that may involve past history.
This solution is for a seasoned pro only. I use a light weight, very high bent port (made for me for this reason). This bit is impossible for any horse to get a tongue over, but it is not to ride in what so ever. It is very severe if used at all. It is simply for this problem only. If you find you may be in this situation, hunt down a really good trainer and see if they can use this method. You cannot lead a horse by this bit either. It’s sole purpose is to get the horse accustomed to having a bit in it’s mouth without fuss. This can be a very long road; up to 30 days in some cases, but I have worked with a lot of really bad horses and found 100% success with this bit. Please do not try this yourself. It is just a suggestion if you need to speak with a trainer.
If by the third day all is well and she is adjusting nicely, begin to ride for brief times, being gentle with her mouth, so you don’t bring the habit back. Slowly build up this process until you have a regular bit bearing horse that works happily.
Otherwise, if the bit is just working, a mechanical hackamore may be the only thing you can do. You may be able to use the hackamore in open classes and smaller local shows. I am not up on rules and regulations for breeds and hackamore use, other than bosals for Quarter Horses 4 and under. Bosals are not the best for games and barrel horses though.
Another word of caution: the mare is 5, and it is just a bit young to be doing barrels or poles more than once a week. Her spine and bones are just not fused properly for the abuse that these games will put on her skeleton. If the french link snaffle works out, use that on her and practise in the arena, doing exercises and circling to get her balance for barrels. Also get the stop and go down well before any attempt is made to circle a barrel.