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Polo Times feature aids reader with mouth-sensitive polo pony

December 22nd, 2017

Stephen Biddlecombe of Equine Management Ltd answers a reader’s question on bitting for the leading magazine Polo Times – out now!

Q.

Mouth Sensitive Polo Pony –

I have an issue with a tongue sensitive horse. When I first got the mare (4 years ago) she was playing polo in a single break gag. She would try to put her tongue over the bit, pulling her tongue back into her throat, causing a loud snoring/growling sound – obviously restricting her airway and making her nervous. I then put her into a Polo Pelham Gavin Chaplin and, initially, she did great – no more swallowing the tongue and she remained focused. But soon she was ‘working’ her jaw and sticking her nose in the air again, throwing herself off balance.

Thinking that she was reacting to the spinner, I tried her in a Happy Tongue Pelham and a 3-Ring McHardy – neither worked, and she was back to pulling her tongue back into her throat. We then found that she had a broken tooth that was intact enough that it could bounce up and down while she trotted/cantered.

After a break after the tooth’s removal, we tried rode her in a bitless bridle successfully, but which I can’t play in – so I have been working her back into the Gavin Chaplin Pelham, with a single set of reins (no running reins) attached to the snaffle ring. She has been doing ok, but sometimes she will revert back, start gaping, ‘working’ her jaw and trying to swallow her tongue. Should I keep working her slowly with the Gavin Chaplin Pelham or do you have any other suggestions?

Mr. H. Glass

A.

Unfortunately the single jointed mouthpiece was perhaps not suitable, as the nutcracker action was pinching her tongue. This, as you have identified has led to your horse taking evasive action by either getting her tongue over the bit, or even worse, to half swallow her tongue to avoid any pressure. Most horses are lacking the ability to reason that in most cases of pain, or at least being uncomfortable, they could stop and think about what is happening. Their reactions are normally panic and flight!

Your choice of the Gavin Chaplin mouthpiece is a valid one. The port removes the direct pressure and the spinner is designed to lay horizontal to the tongue, therefore not allowing the tongue to ‘kink’ or be ‘sucked’ back towards the throat. With the incident of the broken tooth, your horse just did not know what to do to avoid being very uncomfortable!

I would persevere with a Spinner mouthpiece, but perhaps use it in the Big Ring Gag Spinner version (BELOW), which is a loose ring. (Pictured). This will help to keep the mouthpiece quite high in the mouth. You could also use a drop noseband in conjunction with this, to offer a little more support to the jaw, but not too tight to begin with. But you must be patient, as the habit that your horse as developed is not a straight forward one to correct. Good luck.

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