Help! Head/Mouth Issues
I have a 3 year old gelding who I have recently begun to ride and ground drive. I'm currently riding him and also driving him in a side pull which is working fine. But we've got a few issues that we need to work out, and I'm not entirely sure how to go about it. For what it's worth, he has no health or mouth issues that we know of, he's been checked out by a vet recently and doesn't show any other signs of pain or discomfort. He also eats fine.
The first issue is that he loves to toss his head around. Always. All the time. He'll do it when he's tied up, when he's got a line on him for lunging, when I'm ground driving, leading, riding, or even just for kicks when he's out in the turn-out ring.
Before it's never been much of an issue, as it was occasional, and usually just having a lesson on standing still for awhile fixed the issue. But it's gotten much worse lately, and I'm not sure what I can do, besides what I've been doing, to help keep it under control.
The second issue is his oral fixation, of sorts. He ALWAYS needs to have something in his mouth. I assumed it was because he was so young and is/was losing his caps, and he mostly did it when he got bored in his stall before, not when I was working with him. So I didn't think much of it.
But it's becoming an issue now while I'm trying to guide him with the reins because he's spending time trying to figure out how to eat them than he is paying attention to them. Previously when I worked with him he never did this, he'd sometimes try to take a chunk out of my sweatshirt, but a quick correction always fixed that.
I'm not sure what I can do about this, other than just correcting it when he does it (but not so simple when I'm on him or behind him driving). I think MAYBE if we used a bit it could help so he'd have something in his mouth and wouldn't be able to play with things around him as much. BUT he's got super bit anxiety.
When I put a bit in his mouth, he gets so anxious and so tense, you can tell he's focusing all of his energy on that, and paying no attention to me. It's not a "he needs to get used to it" thing, it's seriously like a bomb is about to go off, he drops his lip, starts breathing heavy, and I can see his muscles twitching. So I don't think just letting him stand there and get over it is the answer because if he explodes he could get hurt or hurt someone else, and he's clearly distressed, not just annoyed at a thing in his mouth.
On that note, I don't know where this anxiety comes from, since I haven't had him his whole life, and since I've had him I'm the only one who works with him, and we've never had a traumatic mouth experience. He's also this way with anything that gets near his mouth, like a dewormer tube. And again, he has no teeth issues that we or the vet are aware of.
So I'm looking for some advice on things that could be causing this behavior, and things I can do to correct it that I haven't tried yet.
You are concerned that he will get hurt should he explode. Is he tied or are you holding on to him? Put a knotted halter under the bridle with a long lead of 12-14' and bridle him out in the open. Let him explode, you have hold of him and he'll mind the knotted halter. If you have him in cross ties, that could be part of the problem, he gets anxious because he feels trapped. When he starts to do it on the lunge I'd give his head a good bump with the halter (knotted) and make him hustle with two or three turnbacks then carry on as tho nothing happened. If he does it again, repeat. It usually takes two or three times, maybe four before the horse figures out that head bobbing results in hard work. When he's willing to stand quietly for a few minutes, ask nothing more of him but put him away. He may do this again but often a reminder of the work and he should quit. That's not to say it's fixed as horses will test periodically. It may be in a week or a month but just make him work as before.
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