My horse chokes on his tongue when I take up contact. Is this possible?

Question: I have a gentle 16hh gelding who is lovely in all ways except when you are riding him and you take contact. The dentist has said there is nothing wrong in his mouth.  I think his tongue gets ‘bunched up’ behind the bit and then when you take the contact it ‘chokes’ him. Is this possible? Can you help?

Answer from April Reeves: I have run into this about 25 years ago and it was caused from the horse’s tongue backing up in his mouth. We could only figure it was a habit and not a medical issue. The owner tried everything in the softer bits but the owner would not try a high port bit. I have a high copper port with a roller, which she eventually broke down and tried and it worked!

He could not get his tongue under and back, and instead worked the copper roller instead. It made one heck of a noise but at least he was able to go into something. Eventually she put him back into a thin mouth snaffle, but it did take about one year before he quit the nasty habit. He was a regular show horse so the mouthpiece was an acceptable transition for the time.

Today there are many bitless bridles on the market, and they all work to some degree. Unfortunately you can’t show in them (yet) but they work fine for hacking, but do require that the horse is retrained in them. Like any transition, a horse needs to understand what is expected from him in any new equipment.

You may have to borrow a lot of bits and experiment. A straight bar may work or a thin snaffle.

Another problem might be in his airways. Some horses with thicker throatlatches can get very ‘breathless’ while in connection (contact/on the bit) or collection. Asking these horses to bend at the poll can often cause soft blockages. Other than thinning out the horse, if the horse is overweight, there is really little you can do with conformation.

If he did not do this in the past, and is just now beginning to ‘choke up’, you may want to have a vet take a look down his throat. See if you can feel for any thickening or lump in the top of his throat area (between his jaws/cheeks). Diseases in the lymph glands is becoming as popular in animals as it is in humans.

Other than that, try to take your contact slowly and softly, and not overbend him. Let me know how it goes.

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