Louisiana 6 year old SSH with 5 months professional training ridden in Walking Horse Bit and Australian saddle in Round pen & pasture by Advanced Beginner

Question: This has only happened once but I want to know if this could become a regular problem because I don't want to get hurt or my horse to get hurt.  One big problem we have is getting him to take the bit.  We bought the bit from the sellers with the horse, he is used to it, but he does play with it in his mouth. 

The other day I saddled him and tried to bit him but could not.  After 30 minutes of trying to put his bit, I tried another walking horse bit, less severe than his, he took it but was playing with it also.  When I tried to get on him, he backed up and would not let me.  He had never done this before but kept backing and reared up and lost his balance and fell backwards on his back and saddle. All 4 legs were in the air, he rolled over and got up.  I
immediately unsaddled him and put him up. 

It really scared  me because if I was on his back I could have been seriously injured.  What would make a horse do something like that? How can we get him to lower his head to take the bit more easily?

From Panelist Liz

Hi, I would get a vet or equine dentist out to look at this horses mouth. Have it checked for points as it may need to be floated. Is there a cracked or broken tooth. Does the horse have a fractured bar in the mouth. Are the wolf teeth still there. There are so many mouth
problems that can come up and having this checked at least once a year with a normal mouth is very important.

Please be careful.


From Panelist Nancy

First thing I would suggest for you to do is to get rid of the walking horse bit.  There's obviously much to much leverage for him to handle.  I don't know if you are asking him to take the bit in a correct manner.  Hold the top of the headstall in your right hand and the bit in your left hand.  Put your right hand up on the top of his head between his ears.  Use this hand to lift the bit into his mouth.  The left hand is used only to direct where the bit is going and to help open his mouth, if necessary.  As he is very reluctant to take the bit, if he were mine I would put a lump of sugar in my left hand which would go into his mouth along with the bit.  If you do that a few times he will be happy to take the bit.  You may have to teach him first to eat a lump of sugar.  Also, I would suggest that you go to a plain snaffle bit - no leverage - for a while.  Later, if you want to change, go to a comfortable mouthpiece, such as a snaffle,  with SHORT shanks.

When you were attempting to mount, were you pulling on the reins?  Be care and do not pull on the reins.  Before you try to get on again give your horse some lessons in standing still.  Have him stand, with the reins comfortably loose.  Go to his side, pull on the stirrup, slap the saddle, press down on the stirrup.  Do the same thing on the other side.  Don't do anything else until he will remain motionless while you are doing that.  Before you actually get up on the saddle, put your foot in the stirrup and stand up on it.  If that works OK, then you can lay across the saddle on your stomach.  You are still in a position to get down if you need to.   You want to be able to step down if necessary.  He should remain motionless.  If he doesn't, keep working with him until he does stand quiet and still.  You want him quiet and confident that he won't get hurt.  If he's quiet and confident, then you 
won't get hurt.  He might respond to all this quickly or it might take quite a few lessons.  Be patient with him and take the time necessary so that you won't get hurt.  Be sure and use a very mild bit with no leverage and, while mounting, have the reins slack. 

Nancy Cade 

From Panelist Stella

Since you've had the horse a year, have you had the teeth floated during that time? He may be in need; you can check his back teeth for points; horses can also develop abcesses, or even have splinters, pieces of burr, etc. stuck in a gum. Most horses do need their teeth floated yearly, and it could be that he has stopped taking the bit because of this...in fact, its the most likely reason.

You didn't mention just how he was mouthing the bit; doing so with a closed mouth is OK initially, as they should work up some saliva to help lubricate their mouths with the bit, and not have a dry mouth. He may be doing so more just as a protection if his teeth need floating.Do be aware of just how you are holding your reins when mounting, so you are 
not inadvertantly pulling on the reins/bit as you get on. He may have moved more simply because of his anticipation of pain, if in fact, the bit is bothering him, or you are pulling inadvertantly as you mount.

More than likely, his rearing was caused by the surprise of feeling a totally different bit in his mouth than he is used to, and perhaps one that bothered his mouth/teeth problem more so, or differently than what he was anticipating. For a horse to fall in the process of rearing is exactly what is often done to "cure" them of chronic rearing...by instinct of being an 
herbivore and "prey," horses above all hate and fear falling down. That in itself would normally end that as a one-time occurance; however, by putting him up right away, and not asking for some kind of work immediately after, can "teach" some horses to repeat this, if the motivation not to work (such as pain association) is greater than their fear of falling. Even if you fear riding a horse that has done something dangerous, you can lunge the horse to promote good behavior and responsiveness for which they then can be put up. 
YOU always want to end on a good note with yourself "in charge."

Dont always assume that if a horse is hesitant about doing something (such as evading a bit), that they are simply being obstinate. Often they are simply trying to communicate something to you about the circumstances or conditions in the only ways they know how. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and "listen" first...ask yourself "why," think thru and explore the possibilities. Sometimes it is us that needs to make a change in how/what we 
are doing, equipment we are using(how we put it on even,adjustments, etc), or check circumstances more thoroughly for something we may have overlooked(like teeth!)that they have not. Often they are just trying to call your attention to a problem, and its good to maintain a thorough, sensitive dialogue with your horse. Horses are quite detail-oriented, much more than most of us give them credit for.


From Panelist Laura

This sounds like a big, bad problem which needs to be corrected before you or someone else gets hurt.  It doesn't sound like he has done this before (reared) with you, so there is something new causing him a problem.  Rearing with a new bit usually means that the horse's mouth is being hurt & he is trying to escape the pain. 

First, have the vet come out & check your horse's mouth to see if he has an injury or teeth problems.  If his mouth is injured, follow your vet's recommendations and allow him plenty of time to heal before putting any kind of bit (hopefully a much kinder bit) in his mouth.

If he doesn't have an injury, your bit may be too severe for this horse or incorrectly adjusted and he is hurting.  If the problem is the bit is hurting him, have a professional look at adjusting the bit or get him a gentler bit.  By gentler, look into a bit with a larger diameter mouthpiece and less leverage (shorter or no shanks).  Work with a professional to teach him to accept his bit and be careful with his mouth - it is a very sensitive area.


From Panelist Theresa

Whoa nellie,
Without knowing which bits, lengths of shanks and type of curb straps used (if any) and their adjustments we cant evaluate if the bit is really a less severe bit. From the actions the horse made, the bit you used is definately more severe than the bit he is used to. A twisted wire snaffle may be a less severe bit than a low port shanked walking horse bit, even though it "looks" more severe. You need to contact the seller, and make sure this IS the first time this has occured.

First, have this horse thoroughly examined by a chiropractic veterinarian for any damage he may have done to himself that would affect him from here forward.

Next- have his mouth inspected for wolf teeth or any other mouth problem that could lead to oversensitivity in the mouth.

Next- purchase a very wonder bit, and place it in the horses mouth, (with no curb chain or reins)and allow him to free work in that round pen until he is comfortable with what is going on.

After this, using a surcingle (if you have one) or your saddle attach the reins to the bit and when you have put just enough pressure on the reins to get contact with the mouth, attach them to the surcingle. Allow the horse to free work in the round pen. Do this for a week. Gradually(over a week) allow a little more pressure to the reins so he can set in the bit, without overbridling him.

When he is working well with that combination, then you may take the reins and begin to mount him. Dont use a curb chain at this point, or if you do, make sure it is very loose.  After you mount the horse, please make sure you maintain a light contact with him, and refrain from fast jerking or a heavy holding action on his mouth.

Remeber, this is a very dangerous action this horse has caused, and you may need to turn to professional help to have him restarted for you so he can be a safe and enjoyable ride.

PS remember your ASTM/SEI certified helmet when you ride!

From Panelist Lee

It is possible that this horse may have some tooth problems -- have you had his mouth checked out for those?   He may also not be happy with the mouthpiece design of the bit you are using -- a "Walking Horse Bit" can have a variety of mouthpieces, as well as shank lengths.  What sort of port does the bit have? If it is high, he might be happier in a lower, more mullen shaped mouthpiece.  If it is jointed, he may like a solid one better.  See if you can find a less severe bit (shorter shank, lower port) and be sure it has bit guards if it is a swivel shank, those shanks on typical Walking Horse bits can pinch the corners of the mouth and cause pain. It is also possible that the bit is bruising his bars because the mouthpiece is too thin. See if wrapping it in latex will make it softer and less objectionable.

A horse that is afraid and uncomfortable in a bit to the point that he throws himself over backwards can hurt you and himself in his mindless effort to avoid pain.  How are you putting the bit in his mouth?  If you hit his teeth with it to get him to open his mouth, he will naturally react to that painful experience by not wanting to take the bit.  Instead of trying
to force the bit into his mouth, smear it with honey or molasses, and hold it below his lips so that  he reaches down and tastes it a few times before you even try to put it in his mouth.  Use the honey treatment every time you ask him to take the bit.  At the same time, instead of expecting him to open his mouth on his own, gently insert one finger on the far side of his mouth from where you usually stand, just at the corner of his lips, and ask him to open his mouth. Try this a few times, without trying to put the bridle on, until he easily opens his mouth for your finger. Then, when you get ready to put the honey soaked bit in his mouth, also insert your finger on the far side, as he opens his lips for the sweet bit.

What are you doing with the bit once you have it on him? Do you ride with a lot of pressure on the reins?  This may also cause him mouth pain and contribute to his reluctance to accept the bit because he anticipates more pain from every ride.

Find out if he has ever done this sort of thing with the person you bought him from ... unless you were very rough in your treatment, I don't think this problem just developed over night.

Good luck.

Lee Ziegler


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