Podcast Episode 24: Bit avoidance problems?

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Today on Horse Mysteries Solved podcast, I’ve got five suggestions for horses that avoid bit contact.

This includes two types of avoidance:

1) Where the horse barely opens the mouth for the bit.
2) Where the horse is completely behind the vertical.

Same five suggestions for each problem. Most are considerations in the horse’s mouth and head, but sometimes it can be the rider.

Here’s to always finding the “why”,
Renee Tucker, DVM

Links Mentioned:

Renee (00:00)
Hello, my friends. Dr. Renee Tucker here. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about what to do when a horse avoids the bit. So that was a question that came in.

Renee (00:10)
And for me, I’m talking about two kind of distinct cases of avoiding the bit. One is where the horse just won’t even open their mouth for the bit. Like they barely open their lips. They’re like, slide it in, I can’t open my mouth anymore. That’s definitely kind of avoiding the bit.

Renee (00:29)
And then the other type would be where they don’t want to put any tension through the reins onto the bit, in some cases, so much so that they’re way behind the vertical, like they do not want any contact with the bit. So that’s what I mean by avoiding bit, both of those cases. Now, when we try to solve this mystery, as you may imagine, we’re mostly thinking about, well, it’s got to be something about the head, right? Probably the mouth. But the head probably seems reasonable, and I think that’s good.

Renee (01:03)
So there’s definitely cause to check different types of bits, certainly different shapes, different textures, different metals. Some horses like some other than others. One thing to keep in consideration is the shape of the mouth. Not only the length of the mouth, but the arch of the palate. So our hard palate is the top of the mouth, and some horses that’s completely flat, and in others, there’s a nice arch.

Renee (01:35)
So depending on how many articulations are in the bit, sometimes when you contact the bit, just say it’s double jointed, it would poke up straight up in the mouth, which works just fine for a horse with a high palate. But if they have a flat palate, then the bit right at that joint, part of it is going to hit the top of the mouth. So if you’re trying to figure out why they’re avoiding the bit or what type to use in general, definitely take a look at the palate. Certainly they can avoid the bit if they need their teeth done, right, horses need their teeth floated, and that alone can make them not want to contact the bit. Seems kind of weird because why would they care?

Renee (02:22)
But when you get that contact in the bit and they get that tension that will go through the bars of the mouth, and that actually affects the TMJ, the temporal mandibular joint, which makes them set their jawline, really, or their teeth setting against each other in a different angle than they normally would. So anyways, my point is, sometimes that contact with a bit will make them feel pain if their teeth need to be floated. So definitely something to check into. And then the TMJ itself, as I just mentioned. So there’s a thing that I call it’s a little bit long of a name, all right, but there’s the atlas, occiput TMJ triangle.

Renee (03:10)
So the atlas is the top of the pole, right where the head stall would sit. And then the Occiput is the back of the skull and the TMJ is a temporal mandibular joint. So our TMJ is like our jaw. Jawbone. No.

Renee (03:28)
Okay. If you open and close your mouth, that joint, that’s where the TMJ is. Those three kind of work together like a triangle in that if the Atlas is crooked, then sure enough, the TMJ is also going to be misaligned. You can try this fun experiment where if you kind of stand or sit up straight and tip your head all the way, let’s say to the left, and just relax your jaw. Are you doing it?

Renee (03:58)
You can do it. It’ll be fun. Okay, so you just tip your head to the left and just relax. What you should notice is your lower jaw will move over to the left just slightly, okay? And the same thing should happen to the right.

Renee (04:14)
This is just showing you how if the head is tipped to one side, the jaw will go with it. All right? And then if the jaw is stuck, that’s kind of a clue. If when you tip your head to the side, it doesn’t move, that you might have a TMJ issue. And some people who do have TMJ issues that they know about, like it hurts, and sometimes they grind their teeth at night.

Renee (04:40)
What they’ve told me is if they have a TMJ issue, they actually don’t want to bend their neck because it’s all connected. It’s kind of crazy. You think, well, that’s your jaw. Why wouldn’t you just bend your neck? I mean, they can bend their neck, okay, but it hurts because the jaw kind of goes together with it.

Renee (04:59)
It’s very interesting. So with the horse, if they have a TMJ issue all by itself, they might want to avoid the bit. So the TMJ can be misaligned, and you can fix that, right? But it can be not only the TMJ, but also the Atlas and the occiput. Any of those three in the triangle there can make the horse want to avoid the bed.

Renee (05:23)
So that’s kind of crazy. But basically misalignment anywhere in the head of any of those bones is going to cause problems. And one of the ways the horse can show you that there’s a problem is avoiding the bed. Okay? And then just lastly, not just kind of getting off the head part is they don’t want the contact because maybe the contact is too much for them.

Renee (05:51)
It’s too rough. Maybe the rider’s hands are too heavy. Or actually, I find it more common if the rider’s hands are too uneven with the pressure. And this, I found, is what sometimes riders don’t realize. It’s uneven to them, to the rider, it feels even.

Renee (06:10)
They feel they’re giving and trying to give even amount of pressure. But when someone else say, for example, if you hold the reins and then you put what you feel is even pressure. Have someone else hold the other end of reins a person, right? And you’re like, okay, it’s perfectly even. I’ve got it perfectly even.

Renee (06:30)
I feel even. But the person holding the other end of the reins will be like, no, it’s not. And you’re like, yes, it is, and no, it’s not. So my point is, it can feel even to the rider, but the horse, it does not feel even because something’s misaligned in our own shoulders or our own neck or a shoulder blade or some ribs. Who knows?

Renee (06:55)
But we can feel like we’re pulling evenly with both arms, and we are not, is my point. So, not trying to blame people here, but really, riders can be asymmetrical. We all are we’re all asymmetrical. The key is to figure out if it’s bothering the horse. So you might want to have someone just feel your pressure and see if it’s even.

Renee (07:18)
So there’s that, and then there’s certainly just the off chance that the horse hurts someplace else. And they’re like, I just don’t want to do this. So I know that training a horse to stop avoiding the bit is a tough road to go. If it’s just training, I’d like to encourage everybody that if the horse consistently is avoiding the bit, try to check these things first to make sure that there’s not a problem involved before you spend all that time and energy and money training the horse to get correct bit contact. You just want to check Atlas Occiput TMJ alignment, check their teeth, check the type of bit and the shape of their mouth, and just make sure that the writer is putting even contact on the range just in case you’re out of alignment as the writer.

Renee (08:16)
All right, my friends, I think that is all. Please let me know if you have any questions and we’ll get that in on the next podcast. All right, thanks for listening. Talk to you later.

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