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Vets View with Dr. Galley

No Comments28 July 16:16

I have been having a lot of trouble with my new heading horse fighting his head with different headgears.  If I use one of those bosal hackamore bits he doesn’t fight his head but he won’t ride the same or work like he should when I use it.  I have tried several bits that go into the mouth but he really hates them and even when I am real gentle with the reins he usually bleeds from the mouth when I ride him.  I can’t see anything on the bit to cause it and he won’t let me put my hand in his mouth or look to see what I can find.  Did I buy a lemon or do I just need to ride him with that other headgear?


Wow…it looks like we will cover a lot of ground with this one.  You will certainly see some horses that dislike a bit in their mouth but with the presence of blood in the mouth after you use him there must either be a lesion of some sort in the mouth or there must be something on the bit that is cutting the mouth.  You didn’t mention how old the horse may be or how long you have owned him but from your question I would guess that he has a few miles on him and that you recently bought him.


First we will begin with the equipment.  There are a large number of bit manufacturers out there…some of them make excellent bits that are made of top quality material and finished beautifully.  Many of the top bit makers don’t spend a lot of time on “purty” (don’t put a lot of silver and “bling” on their bits) but they have learned how to build a bit that is very functional and long lasting.  These are the bits that you usually see the professional horsemen (and horsewomen) using.  They often cost a little more but will outlast the cheaper bits.


On the other end of the quality ladder are some of the imported bits (as in China, Korea, Japan, etc.) that are trying to copy the more popular bits made by the better bit makers.  Sometimes, as ropers, we tend to buy a couple of these bits when trying to find one that our horse likes with the intent of buying one of top quality if we find one that the horse likes.  Even when our plan works and we find one of the cheaper bits that will work, we often forget the last part of our plan and end up using the cheaper bit until it rusts or falls apart.


Oftentimes someone that is really familiar with bits can look at some of these cheaper bits and point out a joint that is loose and grabbing the cheek, a port that has a gap that is pinching some tissue, or another problem that we average team ropers may not notice.  Your best advice when looking for a bit is to find a good experienced bit maker and ask him for advice regarding that horse.  He may even ask you to bring the horse by and, after looking at him, suggest something you hadn’t even thought of.


In all probability, with the history that you gave me, there is a lesion inside the mouth of the horse that causes the horse pain when a bit is used in the mouth.  It is obviously causing the horse to bleed as you have seen blood when you use a bit.  The lesion could involve the soft tissues of the mouth such as the tongue, the bars, or the palate.  The other structures that may be involved are the teeth.


The most common injuries of soft tissue that are caused by bits involve lacerations of the palate or of the tongue.  Most of us have seen the old gelding that has had a large old scar on the tongue where it was cut partially through by the improper use of a bit.  In some instances the tongue has been cut completely through.  When the bars and palate have been damaged the long term consequences can be even worse that when only the tongue has been damaged.  I have also seen small tumors and even lacerations that have become chronic because they have been re-opened every time the horse was ridden.


It is obvious from the way that your horse won’t let you touch his mouth that the next step would be to have your veterinarian sedate the horse and perform a thorough exam of the oral cavity.  I have seen things such as a wolf tooth that was broken off when a neighbor decided he was a “horse dentist” and tried to knock out a wolf tooth with a long screw driver.  Apparently all went well until he whacked the screw driver and then the wreck was on.  A chunk of wolf tooth dropped out so he thought that his “dental surgery” had been successful but during the “surgery” the screwdriver popped off of the tooth as it fractured and lacerated a large vessel along the roof of the mouth.   It was bleeding so badly that they couldn’t even tell if they got the entire wolf tooth.  The horse was even worse after that little episode so they brought him in and I sedated him and found most of the wolf tooth still in place beneath the gum.  After the rest of the tooth was removed under sedation the horse healed and was normal regarding the bit.


Another common dental problem could be a fractured premolar (or even a molar).  These large teeth can sustain a fracture that travels the length of the tooth from the chewing surface to the root.  Often these become infected as material and bacteria can travel along the fracture line.  Sometimes these fractures are evident but the more recent fracture lines can be very difficult to find, especially if the horse resents being examined.  When a fracture of a tooth is present it is usually necessary to remove that tooth.


These are just a couple of problems that can contribute to the symptoms that your horse is showing.  Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the presence of any abnormality after the horse is sedated and restrained and this will take all of the guess work out of it.  After you resolve the problem, whether it involves the tissues of the mouth or the bit itself, you will be able to better determine if you will be able to use a bit on him or continue to use the hackamore bit.

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