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Foaming at the Mouth?

From: Vanessa

Dear Jessica,

Thank you so much for your newsletter and books! Your advice has helped my horse and I develop a friendly partnership, find great boarding and training facilities, come through his injuries and illnesses successfully, and weather just about every other imaginable crisis.

I have another question, though, that Iím hoping you can help resolve. My horse and I are learning dressage, and Iíve noticed that after I ride, my horse usually has some foam around his lips. My trainer says thatís a good thing ≠ that it means my horse is relaxed and happy in his work. But when I looked on the Internet, others suggest that the foam is a sign that my horse is stressed and refusing to accept the bit. Aside from the foam, my horse seems okay ≠ he lets me catch him in the pasture, accepts his tack, moves out quietly under saddle, and doesnít seem sore afterwards ≠ but I donít want to be doing something that makes him uncomfortable. So, what piece of this puzzle am I missing?

Thanks again, Vanessa

Hi Vanessa! This is one of the great dangers of the Internet - there's an immense amount of information available, but much of it is inaccurate or untrue. We still have a tendency to believe that anything that's "in print" must somehow be good or true or accurate or helpful, but it's safer to regard the Internet more as a huge cocktail party with hundreds of thousands of people circulating and chatting. At a big party, you can pick up a lot of information and opinions on any given subject. Whether what you learn is actually true or useful... is another matter.

In your case, you have two good sources of information - and one of them, in fact, is an infallible source. NO, I'm not talking about myself! Your trainer is giving you good information, and so is your horse.

The foam that dressage riders like to see is "lipstick" foam - small amounts of foam around the horse's lips. This indicates that the horse's mouth is wet, not dry (good) and that he is able to create a small amount of foam by mouthing his bit softly and quietly (NOT by chomping it loudly, like a rude tourist with a huge mouthful of chewing gum).

There's another sort of foam that DOES indicate stress. If you see a dressage horse with a mouth that is DRIPPING with foam, not just "lipstick" but huge quantities of drool, with foam that drips down the horse's chest and flies back to coat the rider's breeches and boots; if the horse's front end looks as if he has just emerged from a bubble bath waterfall, then there IS a problem. This copious frothing doesn't indicate calm and comfort; it's caused by the horse's head and neck being tightly held in an arched position that puts constant pressure on the horse's parotid glands.

Your instructor is right. Your horse is right, and he's made it clear that he doesn't have any objections to being caught and ridden, and he doesn't have any objections to you. If you made him emotionally and physically tense and uncomfortable each time you rode him, you would have a much harder time catching him in the pasture, because he would have many good reasons NOT to come to you. As it is, his demeanour in the pasture, when he's tacked up, and during each ride is telling you that all is well. Trust him - he knows, and who would know better?

You're not missing any piece of the puzzle. You've just been talking to some people who are trying to "help" you with your puzzle by contributing pieces from some other, unrelated puzzle. As long as your instructor and horse agree that nothing's wrong, nothing IS wrong. If your horse tells you that something is wrong, believe him. He won't lie to you then, and he's not lying to you now.


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