Anatomy of the Horse’s Mouth February 02, 2015 07:56
Different types of bits work on different pressure points of the horse’s mouth. Applying pressure on each area in conjunction with the rider’s leg and seat has a different effect. For example, a Hackamore applies pressure to the nose and chin; whereas a Mullen Mouth applies pressure to the tongue and bars. Different horses require different pressure combinations to encourage them to bend at the poll. When a horse bends at the poll and is in a frame, it uses its entire body by engaging its neck, back and hindquarter (bum) muscles. This allows the horse to be balanced and results in overall improved movement.
The diagram below labels each pressure point:
The Poll: The poll is located behind the horse’s ears. The crown of a traditional bridle will lie behind the ears and in front of the poll. Pressure on the poll encourages the horse to lower its head and flex into a frame. When flexed into a frame, the horse will use its neck, back and bum muscles, which will allow it to build more strength in those areas
The Roof: Can be extremely sensitive to pressure. When a low-ported bit gently touches the roof it, if done correctly, will cue the horse to lower its head. If done wrong, it will have the opposite effect and produce a negative reaction. All bits will, in some way, touch the roof of a horse’s mouth. Their mouths are relatively small and a bit has no other place to go. Often people consider ported bits cruel. This is not true because ported bits allow room for the tongue.
Nasal Bone: The area where the nasal bone ends and the cartilage begins. Pressure on this area arises on horses daily even when we are not riding them. Halters and lead shanks with chains apply pressure to this area. Pressure on the nose is achieved by the use of a Hackamore in conjunction with a chinstrap, a Hackabit otherwise known as a Combi and or through a normal or specialty noseband. The nose bone is covered by a very thin layer of skin therefore it is sensitive. Pressure to the nose will create flexion at the poll.
The Bars: Are the flat space after the front teeth and before the cheek teeth. A thin layer of skin covers them. All bits lie over the bars. Horses generally respond well to bar pressure because they can swallow freely contrary to when tongue pressure is applied. The lips protect the bars from direct pressure by cushioning them from the bit.
The Lips: Contrary to popular belief, the majority of a horse’s lips sit inside its mouth protecting its bars. The lips are pink and fleshy. The lips take a substantial amount of pressure off the sensitive bars. The bit actually sits on the lips and not directly on the bars. It is important to make sure each bit fits properly and that the cheek pieces of the bridle are adjusted correctly so that the bit does not pinch and cut the lips.
The Tongue: The horse’s tongue is very similar to a human’s. It fills virtually their entire mouth. It’s a very strong yet sensitive muscle. It is used for swallowing, eating and drinking. When not being used, it gently rests on the roof of the mouth. Applying constant pressure to the tongue restricts swallowing. When the horse gives to the tongue pressure of the bit, the rider releases or softens. The horse learns to listen because the softening of the bit pressure rewards them. Gentle tongue pressure encourages chewing and saliva production that in turns encourages flexion.
The Chin: Pressure on the chin alone would cause the horse to raise its head. This is why pressure on the chin is used in conjunction with nose, poll and or tongue and bar pressure through a chinstrap or various types of curb chains. The cheek pieces move back towards the rider when the reins are engaged. The curb chain or strap tightens into the chin, pulls on the cheek pieces and applies pressure to the poll. This causes the mouthpiece to put pressure on the tongue, lips then bars. Pressure to all the above points at once causes the horse to give, bend at the poll and into a frame.
It is important to choose the right kind of pressure for each horse. The correct pressure on the horse’s mouth along with your leg and seat will encourage the horse to use and strengthen their entire body while exercising them.
When a horse lacks muscle in their neck, back or hindquarters, a simple task such as picking up the correct lead could seem overly complicated!