December 7, 2020

How We (Mostly) Fixed Connor's Tongue Over the Bit Habit

Connor's tongue-over-the-bit issues are not something I've fully documented on this blog. I've mentioned them every so often, but not as often as it happens.

To find a picture to illustrate the problem, I picked a random Year/Month photo folder in which I thought I probably showed, picked a random photo to look at to see if his mouth was gaping open, and found one immediately. If that doesn't tell you how prevalent this problem really is, I don't know what will. Photo from September of 2017.

I created it initially with my heavy-handed riding, and then it turned into a habit, his default reaction to the work getting hard, which, in retrospect, probably held us back as much as anything, because I was afraid of asking him to step up his game for fear of triggering an episode. As soon as things got challenging in a ride, he'd get it over, no matter what trainer we were riding with or what bridle we were riding in.

At this point, it's as fixed as it will ever be, so I wanted to share what worked and what didn't in case any of you find yourselves in this unfortunate situation. In chronological order:

 Riding in the Bombers Happy Tongue Loose Ring, straight bar version


The bottom bit

This is the only bit that he wouldn't - or couldn't - get his tongue over, and it gave me an opening into breaking the habit. We rode in it for a year after the bit fitting clinic at CGP's, and it helped to break the habit, although I'm not riding in it permanently - CGP eventually said I needed more finesse for Dressage than the straight bar gave me.


Kissing double jointed bits goodbye


Connor has very short lips, and double-jointed bits, especially loose rings, seem to hang low on his tongue and were an invitation to him to get his tongue over. At this point, I can't imagine ever going back to a double-jointed bit with him, we've had so much more success with a single joint.


Fixing myself


This, obviously, is the biggest thing. I had to identify what pulling was (it wasn't what I thought it was), why I pulled (because I didn't have enough core tension to keep me stable in the saddle, so I used my hands to compensate), what I needed to do to break that habit (rediscover some dead neural-muscular connections, strengthen my core AND make my newly-strengthened core my brain's default unconscious go-to) and how to do it (Pilates).  


One rein riding

I do this less and less these days, but CGP telling me to ride him with one rein in small circles when he gets fussy with his mouth really helped. It changes the physical and mental paradigm of the moments before he'd normally get it over, and it also gives me an "If x happens, do y" type of tool that I can remember to use on my own.


Letting someone else earn back his trust of the contact

Temporarily giving up the ride had to happen. Four straight months of someone with amazing hands and great timing had to happen. I caused this problem, but I could not have solved it on my own.


Taking the bit away

I don't have any pictures of the sidepull, so how about a picture of a dog pulling at my side?

She only rode him in the sidepull a few times, but it was enough to break his ingrained habits. His relationship to the bridle was truly different after a few times in the sidepull - not to mention he was PISSED at having his favorite pressure release valve taken away.

Learning to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Two months ago, in a ride in which I distinctly remember CGP saying "You did a good job not freaking out about his mouth being busy today," and me saying "Oh I was freaking out on the inside."

He may not be getting his tongue over these days, but when the work gets hard he still defaults to a fussy mouth. CGP is adamant that I have to ride through it, that I can't interpret him mouthing the bit as a sign to back off, that I can't live in fear of him getting it over or we'll never progress. This is a work in progress - I know she's right, but this isn't something I'll rewire in my brain overnight.

Chiro, Massage and Ulcer Treatment

Best boy deserves the best treatments

I do think there's something to CGP's theory that pain elsewhere in the body makes him more likely to express his tension via his mouth. At this point he's been treated for foregut and hindgut ulcers, and he's been getting both chiro and bodywork at CGP's with great success. Bodywork in particular has made a huge difference, although that's a story for another day.

Finding a noseband he likes

Stillllll waiting (three months after I ordered it) for my Schockemohle drop to come in, thanks COVID.

I had basically ridden this horse in everything BUT a drop over the years, but it turns out he really prefers the drop. It also turns out that Micklem =/= drop, and he prefers the bit hangers not be attached to the noseband. Who knew?

This problem will never go away after he's done it for years, but at this point we can work with it and manage it, at least to the point that I can confidently say it won't happen in the show ring.


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome. It's not easy to write, but I feel like it's important to share.

  2. Interesting! Amazing how rider biomechanics can lead to evasions and how even when the biomechanics are fixed the evasion has become a habit. Thanks for sharing!

    1. For sure. If I had looked for the validation of the habit going away as soon as I fixed the thing that caused it, I was going to be disappointed.

  3. What a cool look at the problem--I like your understanding on the issue and multi-layered approach to addressing it.

    1. In the moment of going through all this, I didn't really see most of it as fixing the tongue issue, it was mostly, "he goes better in this bit," "he goes better when I ride this way," like continuous improvement stuff, but looking back on it, it really was a multi-layered approach.

  4. It's all a journey. This is really really common. I think the mouth is just wear horses release and express tension before anywhere else in the body. He is looking super!

  5. Great job addressing the issue and working through it!