Need advice about "softening" my new horse's mouth - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 02:38 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Morrow, OH
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Need advice about "softening" my new horse's mouth

Hi Everyone!

I am a newbie but I need some advice about a horse I am purchasing. She will be arriving in 2 days! I just fell in love with this mare when I looked at her!

What I know about her is that she is 13 years old and has been a broodmare, has done 4h walk/trot, but for the past 3 years she has just been a trail horse. She has also been ridden a lot by kids.

The issue at hand is that she seems to be "hard mouthed". It takes quite a bit of effort to get her face going in the direction I want. She doesn't seem to know leg cues very well either. I think she is just used to a person sitting on her back and she goes along, steering herself. Also I think she's probably even had some rough hands in her mouth.

When I am using the reins, her face will resist briefly, then she will give in and give the bit (a tom thumb - too harsh IMHO) one little "chomp". After riding her in the bridle, I rode her in just the halter. She was slightly better and didn't do the chomping anymore, of course, but she was still a little resistant with the turns.

I am obviously no professional trainer, but I feel like this is a fairly simply issue to work on.

After she settles down in her new home, my agenda will be:
- Switch to an O ring snaffle
- Reinforce leg pressure cues and pressure cues on the ground
- Try some neck bending exercises
- Do a lot of riding in circles and transitions

Does anyone have any other ideas???


loveoutloudcreations is offline  
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post #2 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 02:54 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Wenas, WA
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Exactly what you said. Exercise and stretch her muscles by doing circles and whatever else. As Clinton Anderson says, "Horses don't have hard mouths, they have hard bodies." I'm sure that age and a lack of work are taking their toll on her body, if you can get her more limber, I think you'll see an improvement. :)

"Horses donít have hard mouths, they have hard, stiff bodies. The softer you can get the horse through his body, the softer he will be in your hands." Clinton Anderson

AQHA13 is offline  
post #3 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 03:00 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Australia
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Hi Courtney and welcome to the Horse Forum :)

Congratulations on your new addition.
The absolute first thing I would do here, is get her teeth attended to, and a once over by a physio. That way you are starting with as blank a canvas as possible and can work on education without having to wonder if pain is a factor.

From there, I very much lik your plan. It is such a breath of fresh air to see someone with a hard mouthed horse, that wants to go back to a mild snaffle, and not put a leveraged, twisted wire contraption in its mouth with its jaw wired shut.

I'd definitely be starting with work in hand. Do you know how to long rein? This may be a suitable starting place for you. Also working at the shoulder. Ask for lateral and vertical flexion, very gradually. Yield the quarters, the shoulders, the neck and the poll.

Under saddle, instead of worrying about directing her with the reins, I suggest trying to establish with her that you are not gong to hit her in the mouth like an unbalanced child or beginner rider. Keep the reins fairly long, just enough to keep a light, elastic contact with the bit. Keep your hands as quite as you possibly can - there is no shame in investing in a monkey strap! - and ride forward. Forward everywhere, let her toss her head, shake it, etc. Just ignore everything in front of her shoulders, and focus on getting her travelling forward. I think at this point you will find that she will start to relax her neck, poll and jaw.
When she is able to travel forward willingly and confidently, on nice wide curving figures, start having a play with asking her to leg yield smaller and larger on a circle for a few steps at a time. Still concentrating on riding through your body and leaving your hands where they are.

Eventually you can start taking your reins and asking her for a little flexion to the inside, a little to the outside etc. To turn, try opening your rein out (left rein if you want to go left, right out if you want to go right) in order to open a gap for her to move into, rather than pulling her there. Work at it piece by picece, don't expect miraculous, overnight fixes, be patient and just continue to chip away.

The point is to break down her defensive barriers. A hard mouthed horse is a horse that is defensively protecting themselves from pain. If you can build the horses confidence by never hitting them in the mouth, leaving the contact quiet and consistent, it is quite amazing to see how quickly their hard mouth becomes a very willing and soft mouth.

~Horse & Hound Artistry~.

Kayty is offline  
post #4 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 09:31 AM
Join Date: May 2012
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My only suggestion would be a D ring snaffle instead of the O ring. A horse that resists the bit can open their mouth and slide the O rings right through. This is not an issue with the D ring. You don't want this mare to learn that she can open her mouth and slide the bit out.
rookie is offline  
post #5 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 12:34 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
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Welcome to the forum,

I have personally found many horses who suddenly stop giving to the bit laterally do so because of a poor saddle fit. If it hurts to bend they aren't going to want to. Also, all that chomping makes me pretty sure she needs her teeth floated, if her mouth is sore she's sure not gonna like that bit.

If the saddle fit proves perfect, and if she's the same untacked I would start in just a flat halter and practice giving to pressure. Then when she turns laterally and puts her head down with poll pressure (fantastic skill for Every horse to know!) then, if you choose to ride bitted, get the softest bit you can find and Teach her to respond to it. Apply a tiny amount of pressure and wait, no response add a tiny more pressure, until she gives, when she turns, even an inch in the correct direction immediately release pressure and tell her how wonderful she is. Repeat this until just tiny pressure is enough to get her nose to touch her girth area.

As for which bit I personally prefer full cheeks over anything for every horse (unless they rub their heads on stuff). A full cheek with keepers will hold the bit out of their way unless you apply pressure, so it doesn't bother them until you want it to. Single jointed snaffles are fine, but if you really want to help her give to a soft bit go softer, get a french link or other double jointed snaffle. Personally I start all my horses in a full cheek french link bits and Indian Hackamores (with metal rings so the release is immediate, not rope loops).

Good luck with your pony :)
PunksTank is offline  
post #6 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 12:50 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Morrow, OH
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You all have given me some good things to think about!
@PunksTank, her current owner told me she had her teeth floated very recently (in an effort to solve the chomping issue). And the saddle she used is a Bob Marshall treeless saddle so I would think that the saddle fits her pretty well.

I am thinking of riding her bareback or with a bareback pad to reinforce leg cues. I will be doing a lot of ground work with her as well. I am very excited to start working with her. She is the sweetest thing! I definitely want to show her that I am not going to hurt her.
loveoutloudcreations is offline  
post #7 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 01:14 PM
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Perth, Western Australia
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Originally Posted by rookie View Post
My only suggestion would be a D ring snaffle instead of the O ring. A horse that resists the bit can open their mouth and slide the O rings right through. This is not an issue with the D ring. You don't want this mare to learn that she can open her mouth and slide the bit out.
This is no more or less an issue with a D ring. If a horse can get an O ring through their mouth, the majority of Ds are a similar size and so could go through just as easily.

The reason an O ring would be better in this case is because an O ring is harder for the horse to lean on. A horse that is hard in the mouth is most probably a leaner, and so this aspect has to come into play. I personally would try something like this:

This bit has the added advantage of the cheek bars. This means that when a rein cue is given, there is slight pressure on the opposite side of the face, reinforcing that cue. A good thing for a horse with a hard mouth.
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Chiilaa is offline  
post #8 of 8 Old 08-22-2012, 02:22 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
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Those full cheek, loose rings are my FAVORITE I only have 1 and it doesn't fit any of my horses - but I LOVE them! The ONLY thing I'd change is I'd want one french linked.
PunksTank is offline  

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