Friday, April 26, 2013

A Nice Ride and More On Trax's Mouth

Trax's typical after ride pose
where he is urging me to quit taking pictures
and get him some  dinner
I started trying to respond to each persons comment on my last post, but found myself running short of time, so I am going to talk a little more about it here.  First off I want to say that you all had some really good thoughts and comments and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the information you all share with me. I appreciate the reassuring comments that I didn't do this, and I know that I didn't do it, but I also know of specific times when I darn sure didn't help.  One ride in particular with some instruction from some one else had me doing a lot of backing him up really hard and I clearly remember that after we were done, I offered him some treats, he took one and that was it, after that he refused them.  This horse never turns down treats. So looking back I can honestly say that I probably hurt him on that night.  I know better now though, and will follow my better judgement over what someone else says, even if they have been riding longer or training, or what ever.  The one thing you all said that is correct, is that I know my horse better than anyone, and if something is not right for him, I have the right an the responsibility to speak up.

When the vet showed me what was going on his mouth, one of the things he said is that sometimes these things happen from a situation where the horses is running away (without a rider) and steps on the reins and slams the bit down into his tongue. And then of course it also comes from really heavy hands with a bit that is too thin.  He also said that for a cut that deep it might very possibly have been a series of injuries over and over again.  We will never know exactly how it happened. What we do know is that it is there and I must always have it in mind when riding.

So now I have a new mission. I will be doing a ton of research on "bitless" and even bits that will be comfortable for him, yet still keep me safe.  I do have an old mechanical hackamore which I have used on him.  He likes the hackamore, and is pretty responsive if all I want is forward and stop.  For training it was more of a hindrance than anything, which is why I went back to the snaffle.  But I suspect I might be able to accomplish a lot with some sort of sidepull.  The bad news, as Louisa knows, is that for most shows and competitions you have to use some sort of actual bit, even a snaffle is not considered a bit. Stupid.

One thing the vet told me is I will most likely spend a fortune trying various bits before I find the one that is right for him. (He knows me too well)  But when I asked what he recommended the best he could tell me was avoid harsh (duh) and avoid thin.  (the twisted snaffle is pretty thin and will never be used on him again)  Surprisingly enough he said that sometimes the D-ring snaffle is good because it has that nice curve which rests on the bars of the mouth and gives relief off of that scar.  He said, "I can tell you what I think should work, but experience has taught me that it is different for each horse."

One thing that Louisa mentioned in her comment that I know is true, is that there are so many different opinions out there, and they all conflict and half the time I don't know what is right and what is wrong. I guess it is different for every horse and every rider.  But I have some ideas of where to go for some good information, and I will be getting lots of different opinions and then applying what seems to fit with my horse. That is my plan. We will see how it goes. :-)

So after I posted that I had my lesson with Mark. I showed him the video, and he agreed that the twisted snaffle could certainly aggravate the injury, so it stays in the spare tack box for now. We went with the Mylar knock off this time.  We started the lesson with just working on our transitions, which seems to be a good way to warm my boy up.  He actually did really really well and only once or twice did I have to really close my circle down to get him to slow down from his canter.  But I was using more rein than I wanted so I kept trying to use my seat.

Mark was coaching me on my riding position, reminding me to not lean into my circles, and to really sit down with my seat when asking for that drop in speed. There was one time when I was asking him to drop back down to the trot and he wasn't "getting it".  I kept trying to figure out how to cue him without pulling on his face.  I finally did an actual butt scoot (almost like a dog does)  in the saddle and he instantly dropped his gait to a trot.  I did it again and got the walk, and then said ,"Whoa" and did it again and he stopped.  We ended that lesson right there.    Now I just have to remember how I did that! LOL

Then we went to the log pull, and he was a little bothered, but not too bad and pretty soon we were dragging that log around like pros.

Mark made a make shift rope gate and we tried to work on that.  It was in a very awkward position though without much room to move around it, so we struggled with it terribly. My main goal went from trying to do it perfect, to just trying to get him to respond to my leg cues. He really fought me at first so I pulled him away and did some side passes and then went back to it. It made the difference and we sort of were able to complete it. It was just so awkward, doing it text book was not an option.

We ended the lesson there, and when I got off we took a few minutes to look at the Mylar in his mouth to see how it looked.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.  The Mylar actually hits his tongue below the cut.  I am surprised at how good Trax is about letting me put my fingers in his mouth. I was actually able to stick my fingers up in there and feel where the bit was and where the groove of the cut is. Now I don't know if that changes when you start pulling on it, or putting pressure on it, but I will be looking into that more as well.  I will actually be checking this with both the snaffle and the Mylar to see what hits where.

When I got home I spent some time watching the video again and pausing it during different frames. What I noticed is that it seems like the groove is way up there almost right at where the frenulum is.  That is pretty high up.  That brought to mind a gag-bit. When I think of the term "gag-bit" I think of something that sits way up in the mouth like that. But the truth is I don't know anything about gag-bits, so that is something else I will be reading up on.  What I do know is that some barrel racers like gag bits, and he was used on barrels at one time by the same family that roped on him. Is there a connection?  I'll never know.

So that is where I am at with Trax and this new development. I will of course be updating my blog on what I find out, what works and what doesn't.   Thank you again everyone for your helpful comments.


  1. One thing that comes to mind is how much a horse will move their tongue when they are fighting a bit. They will usually use their tongue to push on it if they get pissy or gapey with their mouth.

    Like, I wonder if when he was being used as a rope horse there was a certain way that the rider pulled and trax fought back with his tongue each time, and it happened slowly over time. Which could also possibly be why it's further up in his mouth, because he was pushing his tongue down lower each time?

    Idk, that's just a possibility! Because I could see how it happening slowly over time could be less noticeable by the owner (not that they were ever good owners anyways)

    1. I agree with that train of thought, it could be very possible.

  2. Glad your starting to figure it out and that my comments could help! I guess with me.. the thing with a physical injury like Trax's (or Jingles) is that.. over time they heal but there's all that emotional scarring underneath, and THAT'S where Jingle and I have had the most difficulty. It takes a long time for him to "come down" from his pissy/emotional episodes, and I think a lot of that is related to his former trauma. However, one thing I always try to remember and that you should too, is that when he is being bad - he's still being bad. I try my hardest to be kind, and patient and rewarding but when he's being an absolute dickhead, i'm going to get after him. Sure there's that voice in my head that's all sappy mama about it and is like "but he had all these injuries when he was younger and it's probably related to that" but they know better too, and so it's always this balance between reward and "hey, quit that!" haha. That's what has been the MOST difficult thing for me - dealing with Jingle's issues is WAY more than just pressure & release.. it takes a lot of commitment, knowing when to quit, knowing when to push... it's a dance.

    The reason I like a sidepull so much is that it acts like a snaffle, where a hackamore acts more like a leverage bit, a sidepull you get your direct reining action on the sides of their face. I can do all my suppleness, bending, etc. exercises in a sidepull, it's the exact same with a snaffle. However, as i've talked about in my blog, I will be moving up to a bosal soon.. because one day I hope to show, and sidepull's are a no-no :( I do think that a horse needs a higher level of refinement before putting them into a bosal though but that's personal opinion, a lot of my friends put their colts into bosal's right away. I've never used a mechanical hackamore, so I can't talk about that subject much, but I'd think, again, it would be more similar to a leverage bit, than a snaffle.

    1. Louisa, can you tell me what brand of side pull you use? Also I was under the impression that Bosals were only okay for younger horses in the shows. I could be wrong though. Will have to double check that.

  3. So I googled "horses tongue cut by bit" and was blown away by just how common this really is, or seems to be when you group it all together. There were a couple of forums where it was discussed and I was kind of blown away by how many people said, "Once it is healed it won't bother him, go ahead and bit him again." I'm thinking, "How do you know? Did you ask him if it hurts?" Maybe that is just me being over sensitive, but I would think that scar tissue would always be a little tender.

    I think the best post I saw was from a person who said (I'm summarizing) if the tongue is cut and horse is running away with you, a different bit or hackamore will not make a difference. There are major holes in the training which need to be addressed. And then I was surprised by how many people argued with that.

    There are some great articles with photos of xrays taken while the bits are in the mouths to show what the really do. There also was a page where they were selling a new "miracle bit" designed to keep the tongue from getting cut. I am leery of anything with the word "miracle" in the name. Dr. OZ peddles "miracles". I want tried and true answers. :)

    I also know a little more about gag bits now, and can see that my mental image was not correct.

    One thing that Mark said to me last night was, "You would think that if it hurt that bad, he would have stopped." (meaning Trax) But one of the articles I read says that a horse does the exact opposite.

    "A horse with a sore mouth or an improperly fitting bit will often gape its mouth and pin
    its ears. It may nod its head excessively or toss its head. It may extend its neck (i.e., get
    ahead of the bit) or tuck its chin against its chest (i.e., get behind the bit).2,5,8 Bitting
    roblems are sometimes mistaken for lameness.2
    The notion that a horse with a painful mouth is especially sensitive to bit cues is a
    common misconception. In fact, horses tend to “push into pain.”1,5 A vicious cycle can
    result from attempts to gain a so-called “hard-mouthed” horse’s respect by changing to
    increasingly severe bits.2,3 When you are consulted about a horse that has performance
    problems, you should always inquire about the type of bit used and carefully examine the
    tongue, lips, bars, palate, chin, and nose for subtle signs of injury. Even in the absence of
    an obvious injury, a change to a gentler bit, or to a bitless bridle, often leads to an
    improvement in a horse’s performance.6,7,10,11"

    Trax shakes his head a lot. So that tells me something right there.
    That is the beginning of my research, I still have a long ways to go.

    1. I have about 4 different sidepulls (... I am the worst tack hoarder), my favourite one right now is actually a braided paracord bitless attachment that I can place on my bridles by Amanda's Halters (she is on facebook), It works great, nice and thick, but I also don't have to throw out all my bridles now just because my pissy pony is bitless! But I also have a weaver sidepull with a rawhide nosepiece that I wrap in vet wrap that I like, the rawhide makes it so that it doesn't "shape" as much so it remains consistent throughout the ride, as well as Crystal gave me a sidepull with a rope-type nose, but again, a bit stronger that I like to use as it's more pliable. If you want I could send it to you - she gave it to me for free, so I might as well keep the favor going?! Send me an email with your address and i'll ship it off if you like!

      I know that Mugwump (of Mugwump Chronicles) fame has said that her first horse Mort had a brutally split tongue that she had to work with. That was a long time ago, and she wasn't as knowledgeable then as she is now obviously but her Mort series is a very interesting look into that. You may want to email her to ask her some more indepth questions about it? But yes, I've heard that a split tounge isn't a death sentance, it's just something you'll need to work around.

      I agree, if something hurts Jingle he legit turns into a tornado... pain makes him lose his brain and fling around like a noodle-idiot, which is why I have to work so hard to bring him back & bring him down to normal.

    2. Oh, and in Cowboy Challenges I know that Bosals are a-okay, even for older horses, but if your going to be doing APHA trail, they might not be. Depends if your doing APHA shows or local shows or what-not, I think the bosal-rules change from show to show generally. However, Sidepulls are pretty much across the board a "no-no" for showing, but IMO it's a good way to teach them about bitless before putting them into a bosal because it teaches them how to follow the rein and their nose.

  4. This is very interesting, lots to think about in your last couple posts. I agree with Loiusa though you cant just give in cause he had pain in the past, but trying not to cause pain again is important as well. do you need a snaffle type bit for his suppling or can you move to a leverage bit, most solid mouth cubs are hardly on the tongue at all, they are using the curb strap first and then then hit the pallet. I found most of my horses, even ones without tongue or bit issues prefer a curb bit over any kind of snaffle, most will work fine in a snaffle though.
    Also some of his shaking his head could be old memories as well, but keep looking, we got an amazing dentist up here that has a horse skull and he puts a bit in their mouth and you can see exactly whats going on (of course he is for teeth but I'm sure he knows a lot about the tongue position as well, will try to find a link for him if it helps. I dont know if Im explaining this right, sounds complicated, sorry.

    1. Hi Crystal,
      I think you are explaining it right.
      It seems the bit he prefers the most is my Mylar knock off.

      There is a picture of it on that post.

      Actually knowing that he has this issue is bringing about a very sudden change in how I ride. For example I am hyper aware of how much pressure I put on his mouth now, where as before I tried to be, but often got lost in just trying to slow him down. I noticed yesterday that because I am so used to him taking off with me, the minute I ask for a canter I grab a hold of his mouth. Not really hard, but enough to keep him in check. I don't even give him the chance to do it right or to make the mistake. So when I caught myself doing that I let go of him. It is still hit and miss as to whether or not he is going to rate me or not, but the better solution has nothing to do with grabbing his face. It is a simple matter of gradually tightening my circle until he slows down. It is easier on him and on me.

      I agree, giving up is not an option. It is up to me to fill the holes in our training that would be causing pain in his mouth. On the bright side, it is making me become a better rider really quick!

      I would love to have an actual skull to examine bits with. I know one of the tack stores has a model that has an open mouth that they use. Perhaps I can use that to test out some theories.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. I have been so busy that I haven't been able to read much lately, so I'm at a loss for what's happened with Trax. But, I'm glad to hear you're getting rid of that twisted wire snaffle. Throw it away! I use a Myler D-ring snaffle that has built in tongue relief. It is not able to fully collapse which can (and does) pinch the tongue when rider's pull too hard on their mouths. But, if Trax will respond with a sidepull, I'd say go for it. Horses always appreciate not having metal in their mouths, who wouldn't? I wish if you didn't learn anything else ever again, you would stop listening to what anybody/everybody says and trust your gut. Put your horse's feelings first before anyone else ever again. My mantra, especially where horse people are concerned is this: "opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one". Truth. I hope you get this latest problem fixed, and I hope Trax is going to be alright. He sounds like a good horse with a lot of heart. As always, just my two cents.

    1. Lorie, your 2 cents is always valued here, and you are right I have to stop listening to everyone, especially if my gut says something different. Louisa has been kind enough to offer to send me a sidepull, so that will give me chance to check it out and see how he responds to it. My neighbor also has a bosal I can try, although I as I have been reading it seems you have to be extra careful with those as well.

      Oh, to bring you up to speed. Trax has not suffered a new injury, but when the vet was checking his teeth we found that his tongue is cut about half way through from a previous accident. The would is clearly old, but I have to rethink my whole bitting strategy with him now so as not to aggravate it further.

  6. You just reminded me of a story I heard about a so-called trainer somewhere down south who trained gaited horses. For some reason he wrapped wire around a horse's tongue or something... The memory is vague. I wonder why Trax's cut is so high? That could be a lot in your favor though, so your bit can sit lower.

    I think there are some videos floating around of how bits work in a horse's mouth. They may have aired on RFDTV first, but I think they're on the internet. Maybe they were x-ray type videos. I never actually watched them, but if you could find them they might help a lot. I remember a lot of chatter when they came out, people were shocked that a snaffle might be more severe than a curb. I wish I had better info for you on what they were called or who made them. I'm the queen of vague tonight I guess.

  7. So this is funny, because I watched some roping today. It was a paint branding, teams of four. Then, the best teams advanced to bigger cows in a bigger arena. Of course, each time two guys roped the cow and two guys got off to drop the cow and 'doctor' or 'brand' the cow. The two guys who got off, their horses would of course meander away and EVERY SINGLE ONE stepped on a split rein and got scared and snapped their head up and either broke the rein or took a step and found relief. But, it made me think of trax and how one person commented saying that sometimes it happens when a horse is tied using a bit and pulls back. I know he did 'team' roping before, I wouldn't be surprised if he often ended up stepping on his own rein!