Yesterday I discovered a small discussion on the Chronicle of the Horse forums about an OTTB who sticks his tongue out. I cross-posted onto my Facebook page, and that became a huge discussion. The problem is that dressage judges commonly mark down horses with their tongues out as “an evasion of the bit.”
Now, since nearly all Thoroughbreds are breezed and raced with tongue ties – and some tough customers go out with a tongue tie all the time – there is going to be a certain percentage of the population who sustain some sort of nerve damage. The tongue gets tied too tightly, or for too long, or is tied out of the mouth (it shouldn’t necessarily protrude four inches and be flapping all over the place, despite what you see on televised races) and, eventually, it is damaged.
Exhibit A is Bon Appeal, of course, who lets you know when she’s relaxed by not bothering to hold her tongue in. Jaw tight and upset? Tongue in mouth. Jaw soft and relaxed? Tongue out, dry to the touch, bouncing around.
How do I know there is nerve damage? Well, several very good vets told me. Also, you can play with her tongue and she won’t even notice.. a friend once poked her for several minutes before she finally got her attention with a few drops of coffee. I guess her taste buds still work!
Exhibit B is the Google search for “Thoroughbreds tongue hanging out” which brings up question after question to the effect of “Why does my Thoroughbred stick out his tongue?” It’s not an isolated incident. Off-track Thoroughbreds let their tongues hang out. You’re going to see it more and more.
When it comes to treating this as an “evasion of the bit,” I get a bit peeved. I’m of the general opinion that a horse with a lolling tongue is visibly different from a horse who has his tongue out, wiggling it around, trying to evade the bit, and that a judge ought to be able to discern between the two.
On the other hand, if the horse’s tongue is in motion and he is fussing with it, it might not be the tongue tie. I also found an interesting post on Ultimate Dressage, about a horse who was using his tongue actively to get away from the bit. The owner, after speaking very caustically of the trainers who recommended that she crank his mouth shut and force him to stop, had his mouth examined in depth and found:
My horse has bone spurs on the bars of his mouth, from severe handling and heavy handed training. This is the reason for the tongue over the bit, sticking out the side of his mouth, protecting his bars, fussing, pain going on the bit, bolting from the pain, etc. Not “avoiding work”. Geez!
I had my vet and equine dentists check the bit fit in my horses mouth. To quote my vet “Somebody beat the hell out of his mouth”. They told me to get the smallest diameter bit I could find to make my horse as comfortable as possible, putting as little pressure on the bars as possible.
I wonder if this isn’t more common than we might think. Has anyone else seen a horse’s bone structure damaged by poor handling? And what do you think of the OTTB tongue lolling?