In the November 7, 2016 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, Sara Lieser wrote a commentary about the blood in the mouth of RF Scandalous, ridden by Marilyn Little in the Dutta Corp, Fair Hill International. Lieser’s commentary was followed up by Fair Hill Blood Incident Incites Frustrations by Lindsay Berreth.

I want to commend The Chronicle of the Horse for being bold in addressing this issue. As far as I’m concerned,  The Chronicle  has done a great job during the past several years of bringing reader’s attention to serious problems within our industry.

Blood in the Mouth

Blood in the mouth or on the horses sides is not new. It’s just another signature of the element in the horse world that will win by whatever means is available.  Maybe you’ll recall the uproar over soring Tennesse Walking horses or the rule changes in the Arabian industry that were the result of shanking and whip abuse. The abuse of competition horses has a long list. Check out this article from The Horse.

There are a lot of sensitive horses being handled by insensitive people.  Or maybe the handlers are just ignorant.

Sure, any horse can cut the inside of it’s mouth at any time but think about it.  How many times have you seen this happen? A second picture of Little riding a different horse showed blood in the mouth of that horse as well. Two different horses, same rider, same competition.

So what’s going on.

The Chronicle of the Horse also included a photo layout of  other participants of the Dutta Corp, Fair HIll International.  Photos were by Lindsay Berreth. There was no blood in the mouth of any of the horses pictured. So what’s the difference?

All of the horses in the Berreth photos wore snaffle bits.  Little’s horses both wore Pelham type bits. I have nothing against pelham bits, or curb bits—when they are used correctly.

In a perfect world, the snaffle bit puts pressure on the the corners of the horse’s lips. A bit with leverage (a Pelham or a curb) puts pressure on the horse’s bars and pole. A leverage bit is anything with a shank, even if the shank is small.  A leverage bit is more severe than an ordinary snaffle.  Add a curb chain and it becomes a vice grip wrapped around your horse’s jaw.

Take that same leverage bit with its jaw crunching grip and pole pressure, and add a tight cavesson and a flash, and it has the potential to cause serious damage to the horse. Little’s horses both wore leverage bits, tight cavessons and flash nosebands. A cruel combination for any horse.

Try It Yourself

Put yourself in the horse’s place. Imagine that you have a pelham bit in your mouth, chain around your jaw, someone has tied your mouth closed, given reins into hands that are going to pull on you mouth, grab when you stumble— and your rider is going to make you gallop across rough ground and jump over obstacles. It’s pretty frightening.

Given the barest amount that the horse can open his mouth with a tight cavesson and a flash, how is he expected to adjust even his own tongue?

Can he even swallow his own spit? Try it.  Run through your pasture with your teeth clenched and try to swallow.

Tight cavessons are cruel

A tight cavesson, with a flash and a pelham bit shows that there might be some sort of control problem with your horse. In my humble opinion, this scenario on both of a rider’s horses shows a lack of understanding of the effects of the equipment the chose.

There are those who argue that some horses need a stronger bit for cross country or hunting, and in some cases that’s true. But the real truth is that if a rider has to use equipment on a horse that is painful or draws blood, then what the horse really needs is either a better rider, a different career, or retraining. 

It Happens- Rarely

Yup, once in a while a horse might have blood in its mouth because it pinched it’s cheek. But twice on two different horses in one competition? I’d say learn how to treat the horse’s mouth a little better. Ride inflicting less pain. Get rid of the bit or loosen the cavessons. Get your horse’s teeth floated- both horses. Learn to use your hands correctly. But quit mistreating the horse.

Thanks for reading this post.

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • It is appalling what some insensitive people will do to try to win. You might remember my recent views on severe bits. I reiterate that in my view there is never a case for a “stronger bit”. You cannot make a horse stop (or slow) if it does not wish to. You can only indicate to the horse that you wish him to. Therefore there is no point in using any greater force on the horse’s mouth and upsetting him. One should just use repeated signals to the horse, not more severe signals. (Having said that, I confess that I have done it, but that was before I learned better.) Those who work successfully with bitless bridles make my point. In recent years there has become a fashion for Flash nosebands; and it is largely a fashion. No doubt the horse named Flash needed one and there may be others but very few. And if a horse does open his mouth it does not necessarily imply that he has to have it strapped shut for appearances sake.

    • Dear Roger,

      I agree with you so thoroughly on this topic. I am always teaching students that you don’t control the horse with the reins. Sometimes I picture how my students think and certain ones seem to automatically think reins first and everything else second. Unfortunately for the horse, horses are kind and adaptable. If they treated us like we treat them we’d all be maimed and injured. And the horse is extremely forgiving. We’ve all come through a process of development in our riding ideas and were all ignorant at one time or another. And our horses have forgiven us and they continue to try to please.

      This web site exists to help instructors teach students the correct way to ride and care for animals. Ultimately the undergirding goal of my writing is to help the horse. The horse is one of God’s most special creatures.

      Thanks for commenting and it’s good to hear from you. Barbara

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