Mind the Tongue

When I first tried Indy his owner casually mentioned he did stick his tongue out but only sometimes and only when she first got him.

I saw the pictures, I actually thought it was pretty cute, and when I tried him he didn't do it at all so I assumed we were good.

It turns out the tongue thing is more work related. Work related in that it is his giant middle finger to the left rein and dressages because dressages are STEWPID.

So stewpids.
So the tongue is here and it's time to deal with it. Time to take out all the ammunition. Slapping it with a crop didn't help, so I moved on to less childlike tactics. I started with some clicker training, but that was difficult because I only worked on it in the crossties and I hadn't quite sorted out how to do it while I was IN the saddle yet.

Tightening the noseband didn't help. I had it so tight I'm amazed he could breathe much less stick his tongue out.

The Micklem kind of helped? But there was still enough tongue that like... I mean maybe a blind dressage judge wouldn't notice?

if you squint... maybe?

So I started reading.

Pro tip? Don't google it. I've never had less helpful results than when I googled my horse sticks his tongue out. You just get all these people who were like "I used one of 75 bits and my  horse never stuck his tongue out again!"

Last fall at a tent sale I had picked up Doug Payne's Riding Horse Repair Manual and he has a whole section devoted to teeth grinding and tongue waggling. So I brought it with me when I took my car to get inspected and memorized the whole thing. I was ready to go to the barn and attack Indy's tongue with the might of a ballsy four star rider.

The reason you get dinged for tongues waggling in dressage is because it means the horse is flipping you and the bit off. Seeing as the whole point of dressage is they need to be on the bit this is not ideal behavior.

Depending which side your horse is sticking his tongue out on, that's the rein he's probably choosing to ignore. Indy only ever sticks his tongue out on the left side so his issue was with the left rein. The focus of every ride, especially when going to the right, was to shove shove shove his ass into the left rein. It was a combination of what I had realized reading the book and my trainer simplifying Doug's general ideas for a baby horse and less than four-star-pro rider.

have some crap video stills.
Let me tell you, Indy was not a fan. I started to be able to tell exactly when his tongue would go out. He would fight me as I pushed with my inside leg and then suddenly 'give' but the feeling in my hands was empty. Sure enough, if I peeked over, his tongue was flapping out. So I kept after him and he ground his teeth, flipped his head in the air, went slow, went fast, went slow and fast somehow at the same time.

Until he eventually gave up.

We had this fight almost every ride for almost two weeks. I think every day he was hoping I would forget I wanted to have this argument, and then we'd have it for about two minutes and he would give up and move on.

Before I realized it, it had been weeks since I had seen his tongue hanging out.

That's not to say he's 'cured'... he still does do it. Usually when I let him relax at the walk between works it'll make an appearance. He also does it when I start asking him something difficult and he's getting flustered. It's become his look of extreme concentration.

It's probably something I'll always have to keep an eye on; but for now I feel optimistic. Maybe we won't be a total disgrace in the dressage arena??

it would help if we did the free walk with the left side facing AWAY from the judge.


  1. i feel like Indy's tongue is comparable to Charlie's "dinosaur in tar pit" moments. both are basically middle fingers flipped while being made to work lol. and the pattern you describe sounds a lot like what we've dealt with for charile -- at first it was always this one big blow up, but then it would be shorter outbursts, but happening more frequently as he experimented with "well what if i do it here, or how about now?" then eventually it mostly faded away. except when we have too much time off, or start introducing newer or harder concepts, the behavior will crop up again bc it will always be his go-to move. frustrating... but it does seem like there is light at the end of the tunnel! glad you're figuring out ways to get Indy past this!!!

  2. I have the same problem with my mare. If she is doing something she is familiar with there's no problem, but if we are working on something new or difficult she flaps her tongue all over the place. Its becoming less and less as she is figuring out that I'm not going to give up just because she is performing her angry giraffe impression. I might have to pick up a copy of that book though, it sounds like it would be quite useful for working through training issues with a young horse.

  3. So encouraging that Indiana Jones is getting that flappy tongue under control! He's gonna be a pro. :)

  4. I might need to pick up the repair manual book... I also have a tongue flapper! She seems to do it when she feels like she doesn't have room in her mouth for a bit and contact (god forbid, contact with weight) and her tongue, but I love that you've been able to narrow down the situations and developed such a feel for it. I wish I had those magical powers!

  5. Many moons ago I rode a horse that stuck her tongue out. But I just sat on her once in awhile, so I didn't have any real experience with fixing it or anything. I'm really impressed though that you've made progress! The few horses I've known that do it were jumpers and maybe their riders just didn't care, but they definitely didn't fix it ever. Pretty sure they didn't attempt to either. Anyway, nice work! He's so handsome, you guys are going to be a force out there!

  6. OMG, please teach me Doug Payne's way of reducing teeth grinding! That's Scout's go to when he's annoyed! Sounds like you are getting to the bottom of things with Indy's tongue! While it does look very cute in photos it's gotta make you a bit nuts:)

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I'm with Indy, dressages ARE stupid. I've never had this particular tongue problem, but P is a gaper if I ever saw one. Doesn't matter who's riding, how you're riding- even on a loose rein, he's all, "Mawww, the meatloaf!" SUPER obnoxious. Look in your book (because I'm too cheap to buy my own) and see if ol' Doug has a cure for that!

  9. Tongue out was Nilla's favorite aversion. I did finally solve it was a bit she likes, but I do have a dressage test test where every comment is tongue out.

  10. i think he is so darn cute with his tongue out but yes that is an issue with stewpid dressage....:( I watched a lovely test at Straight Up one event and it was beautiful and the mare had her tongue out the whole time... The judge dinged the rider on it and the rider was fine with it but she came out of the ring a bit defeated. Seriously tongue out and that ride or a crappy ride with no tongue. I might have to go with tongue out LOL...(To be fair she had just gotten the horse about a month ago and it was an OTTB so i am sure it will figure things out !).
    I am glad he is responding to your fixing it. He is so striking looking in his movement I want him to stun the judges with his good moves not his tongue :) HA Great job!

  11. That's great you have figured out something that works, it can be a hard habit to break!

  12. So glad you found out what he's telling you. Still annoying, but at least it's fixable. :-)


Post a Comment

I love comments so much, it makes me want to give you a BIG hug.

Popular Posts