Have you noticed foam around your horse’s mouth when you ride him? Or not?
Do you know what that foam is? (Hint – it doesn’t mean he’s rabid or going crazy!)
Is it desirable, or something to be concerned about?
What exactly IS that foam?
The white foam you see around a horse’s mouth is simply a little excess saliva.
We’ll talk a bit below about how and why it’s produced, but be assured, it’s nothing untoward. And if it’s green, he’s probably had either a sneaky mouthful of grass or hay after he was bridled, or orange likely means you fed him some carrots.
What you don’t want to see is pink, which might mean he’s bitten himself.
Is a foaming mouth desirable?
In a word, yes.
As a broad overview, it indicates a correct physical connection to the bridle and a relaxed state of mind.
How about a lack of foam?
This is not so desirable, as it indicates tension somewhere in either the mouth or the body, which is preventing a soft and confident acceptance of the contact.
How is the foam produced?
Salivation is caused by a degree of pressure being put on the salivary glands by the rim of the jaw bone and the neck musculature.
This happens only when the horse stretches his arched neck forward into the contact and flexes at the poll, AND is relaxed in the poll and jaw at the same time (note that the poll can be flexed without being relaxed).
In addition, the result of salivating like this is that the horse chews softly, moving his tongue and swallowing, which in turn helps the relaxation of the jaw and poll.
So how do we achieve this desirable state of a foaming mouth?
This depends on the horse’s whole physique being used correctly, not just on the state of his mouth.
He must learn to arch his topline correctly, using the correct musculature and ligament systems to raise his back, curve his neck and tuck his pelvis, to create that forward craning towards the bit.
This begins with the contraction of his belly muscles to lift his mid-section (try it yourself – get onto your hands and knees on the floor and see which muscles you use to lift and round your back) so that the shortening of his underline results in a lifting and stretching effect on his topline.
What do we do if this still does not produce a wet mouth?
Possibilities to address are:
- He is still not supple enough, especially in the poll and throat latch area. He may also be stiff in one or both hind legs, making it hard for him to step under correctly.
- If the base of his neck is rubbery and disconnected, it may not be able stable enough to achieve that ‘craning’ effect.
- He might be “rounding” his neck, but may also be shortening it with dropped withers, and possibly with his face behind the vertical. If this happens, his back will be dropped, and he will be hiding behind the contact. To an uneducated eye, he might look more or less correct, but without the essential stretching towards the contact.
- He may not be comfortable with his bit, either its shape or size might not suit him, making him reluctant to connect with it.
- He may salivate only on one side, which will be the stiffer side where he makes too much contact, while tending to stay dry on the hollow side, where he avoids the contact. Once you can straighten him he should start to foam on both sides.
Can you have too much foam?
Yes, you can. Huge amounts may indicate tension in the jaw, with the tensed muscles pressing on the salivary glands, which is not desirable.
In general, seeing a horse with a reasonable amount of foam/saliva around his mouth is an indicator of a correct, soft acceptance of the contact, resulting from good posture, not directly from the action of the bit.