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Tongue-Hanging in Horses – Causes and Cure
Tongue Hanger Profile
Rubesca was given to me free of charge, a little eighteen-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred with a host of bad habits, one of which was a hanging tongue. That big muscle came out of the left side of her mouth almost non-stop: she looked ridiculous.
Who would have thought that she would become the best horse I have ever owned, winning countless one-day events, dressage and show jumping competitions?
About a year into our relationship, she kicked the tongue hanging habit, which made me wonder why horses hang their tongues and is my way of “curing” Rubesca common?
Reasons For Tongue Hanging
In her article “Help for Tongue Resistance” Jessica Jahiel, PhD, clinician and lecturer, states that “tongue rolling is usually a reaction to pain”.
Causes of oral pain vary. Brenda Imus, of Brenda Imus Gaited Horse Services suggests examining and floating the teeth, as it is possible for the teeth to cut into the horse’s tongue when the bit is inserted. The animal hangs it to avoid the pain.
Both experts point out that a horse’s tongue is very thick. There is little or no room for the piece, a trick that makes him salivate. He must be able to comfortably swallow that saliva. If the piece is too big, held too tightly or the noseband closes his mouth too tightly, he will have to stick his tongue out to swallow.
Horses’ mouths differ, but Dr. Jahiel recommends finding “the thinnest, smoothest piece that will be the most comfortable for your horse.”
My own experience supports that. Early on I switched the thick jointed snafu of Rubesca to a thinner, smoother Happy Mouth. I used this soft rubber patch even though she was extremely strong cross country. Since it didn’t hurt her, she listened, and I think that contributed to her finally forgetting to hold her tongue.
I ride her son in a fairly thin French binding that Dr. Jahiel recommends for horses with thick tongues and low palates. He is happy with it and does not hang out his tongue.
Once the teeth are checked and the correct bit inserted, we riders have to be careful with our hands. Dressage judges treat tongue hanging as “resistance” because it is so often a reaction to the rider’s hands.
It is important not to use the horse’s mouth for balance. It helps to imagine how we would feel if someone rested on a shaft inserted in our own mouths.
Dr. Jahiel stresses the importance of maintaining equal contact with both reins: sometimes tongue-locking is a reaction to too much pressure on one side of the mouth.
Brenda Imus includes stress and boredom as reasons for tongue hanging in horses, and suggests varying their work in areas with room for them to stretch and move. To this I would add to turn the horse out as much as possible with friendly companions, and to reduce his idle time in the stall.
Ms. Imus also says that the habit can be “so ingrained that even after all the stressors are removed, (the horse) will have to have his tongue physically held in place until he gets used to it.”
That is a point of view I cannot share.
I pampered Rubesca with daily TLC and rode her as if she had no quirks. Her workload was varied, with several trail rides a week.
I didn’t obsess about her tongue hanging out (or head-wagging, bit-catching, etc.) and focused on riding her as sensitively as possible, with consistent contact and even rein. I took it slow.
Over time I noticed that her tongue was staying in her mouth for longer periods of time. As Dr. Jahiel says, this problem does not go away overnight. But it did go away. I removed anything that could cause my mare pain, stress or boredom and stopped worrying about her tongue.
I have talked to trainers who have tried various ways to prevent horses from hanging out their tongues. After treating possible physical issues, they found that artificial attempts to restrain the horse’s tongue exacerbated the problem.
These horsemen and women use the same simple method I stumbled upon: keep the horse happy, ignore his habit and he will go away.
Jessica JahielPhD Aid for Tongue Resistance
Brenda Imus, My Horse Hangs His -horTongue Out Of His Mouth
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