3 year old TWH/SSH with  18 MONTHS pro training, ridden in a curb with a medium port and Aussie Saddle in ring and pasture by very experianced rider

Question: I bought Churchill because he was being abused and could not leave him once I met him.  He had been on built up shoes since he was 18 months old and with a trainer in
Lewisburg TN.  He had scars from being blistered and a blown-out tendon -- it is very swollen but he is no longer lame on it and is really pick up a nice gait now.  

When I first got him he was scared to death.  He hid in the back of his stall when you came up and if you moved your hand on him while riding he went crazy.  He would jump straight up in the air and grab the bit and take off running.  He has gotten out of that and knickers to you when you walk by his stall and he would rather be with me than eat grass.  You can rub him all over when you are riding him -- so he has gotten over his abuse -- I have been very gentle and patient with him.  I just trail ride him which he loves.  He is very
gentle and sweet.  

THE PROBLEM - he has a very hard tough mouth.  When I first got him the sides of his mouth were split from a twisted wire snaffel they were using on him.  I would like to know what I can do to make him more responsive to the bit.  When I pull back to slow him down he opens his mouth to avoid the bit -- pull and release does not seem to work.

I grew up showing hunters and jumpers (TBs)-- this is my first walking horse - what a great change in temperment!

From Panelist Liz


First of all I want to say how wonderful I think it is that you have taken on what can be a very challenging task of re-habbing a horse with Churchill's history. I have worked with many find it a very rewarding experience to show these horse a new and better life.
When I do get one that has the mouth damage that you are experiencing, I go to a bit-less bridle. If they are sensitive enough and not to strong or hot I will use a side-pull. If not I will then go to a mechanical hackamore that does have more control but should be used
carefully as it sure can be create a lot of leverage if used incorrectly and cause new problems rather than help . 

What I am trying to do is reprogram the horse to respond to pressure on the nose instead of the mouth and become sensitive to leg and seat aids. When this is done I will then put the horse back in the bit but also use my bit-less rig at the same time and just let the horse carry the bit but not engage it at this point. Just let them get used to carrying it again. When they seem comfortable with this I will then start using the bit for signals and if they get confused I re-enforce with the bit-less bridle. You will have 4 reins to use and will take the some time for you to get used to using them, but this is a skill that will pay off in developing.

There are some horses with to much history that they just never do go well in a bit again and then I just use the bit-less bridle . I do think it is the effort to first try to get one back in the bit though. 

I would also like to point out that he is still only 3 and should not be pushed to much as he still has lots of maturing to do yet . Take your time and you will have many years of enjoyment together. 

Good luck to you and Churchill!

From Panelist Erica

Congratulations on your successful effort to create a lasting partnership with Churchill. Have you thought about trying a sidepull or something similar? I personally don't like to use hackamores. I found a sidepull in one tack catalog the other day that had a leather nose instead of a rope one (most common). I have one horse who does exactly the same thing as you described Churchill doing with the exception of running away, and the only thing that works for him is either riding in a rope halter or a sidepull. 

Sometimes regular bits are too much for a horse, and in Churchill's case they have been used for abusive measures and that certainly doesn't help for light communication.

Erica Frei

From Panelist Lee

Congratulations to you for providing a good home for this horse.  The mouth problem is not at all unusual, as you have probably figured out.  The good news is that it doesn't have to stay as numb as it is.

There are a number of different strategies that can work.  You might try riding in a sidepull, teaching the horse to respond to weight aids to slow down, and the pull and slack on his nose of the sidepull in place of a bit while his mouth regains some sensitivity.  If you are not familiar with a sidepull, you might try riding in a mullen Pelham, most work on the snaffle
rein, using the curb as a back up from time to time.  You can also teach him to slow and stop on verbal commands, on a longe line first, then under saddle.  Probably the most effective cue will be a weight cue to stop -- ask with a half halt on the bit, then shift your weight a bit back in the saddle, with a soft lower back, while squeeze/releasing with your upper thighs to ask for a slow down.  Breathe out as you ask him to stop. Practice in a small area until everytime you use this cue he slows and stops, with virtually no rein use.

Good luck with this horse -- he will take time to reclaim, but his mouth should come back if you can discontine use of the curb alone while you ride him.  You might even try an eggbutt snaffle to see what happens, but do it in a small enclosed area!

Lee Ziegler

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