by Yvonne Welz
Does the bit cause foaming? Maybe not…
It has long been assumed that a horse chewed and salivated because there was a foreign object (a metal bit) in its mouth. And right now, I’m not here to debate whether bits should or should not be used on horses. I just want to talk about the foaming.
It is important to note that I’m talking about light foaming, what classical riders call ‘lipstick foam’. NOT the buckets of drool that sometimes show up in modern competition photos, but the light froth that coats the edge of the lips. For dressage riders, this is something desired, coveted, and admired.
Why? Because it means (as we’ve been taught) that the horse is working correctly from behind ‘into’ the bit. And so, there was always a bit involved…
I began to ride exclusively bitless in December 2013, and I rode my horse exactly the same way I had previously ridden her sans the bit. And when I had her going really well, through her back and working well off her hindquarters, I would look down… and see the same foamy mouth!
Someone suggested this might be an after-effect of using a bit, and that it would go away in time. As the photos show, it did not. As I explored the reasons behind this physiological side-effect, I came across an extensive
explanation for the biomechanics of chewing in Dr. Gerd Heuschmann¹s book ‘Balancing Act’.
He explains that when the back is relaxed, the activation of the lower muscle chain results in a chewing mouth. The lower muscle chain, including the abdominal muscles, are what permits the horse to lift its back and become ’round’.
Dr. Heuschmann goes on to explain exactly why this happens, bit or no bit: “A back that is working well allows the antagonists (inner lumbar and abdominal muscles) to work rhythmically. This lower muscle chain activates the temporomandibular joint and the horse begins to chew. This effect is the same regardless of whether the horse wears a bitless or a conventionally-bitted bridle, which allows the lower jaw to move when the reins are taken up. When the mouth is active, there is always suppleness of the poll, which is critical to the quality of the contact.”
And chewing results in lipstick foam… Keep in mind, this will only happen when a horse has a relaxed back, and the lower muscle chain is activated.
‘Dressage’ people call this ‘putting the horse on the bit’. Uh, I think it really needs a new name!
All photos this page: ©The Horse’s Hoof – news for barefoot and better horse care.