Ever been tongue-tied in a conversation? You may be surprised to know that some horses get tongue-tied too! But with the possible exception of Mr. Ed, tongue-tying in horses is a much more literal affair than our conversational gaffes.
A ‘tongue tie’ is an elastic or rubber band that temporarily fixes the horse’s tongue to its lower jaw. Within the horse racing industry, tongue ties are used to help a horse to take in more air while running, particularly if it has a condition where the area in front of their vocal cords collapses at high speed called ‘dorsal displacement of the soft palate.’
Another reason why a tongue tie may be used is to prevent the horse’s tongue from going over the bit. Should a horse’s tongue get over the bit they can become uncontrollable, and pose a significant safety risk for any other horses and riders in the vicinity.
The Australian horse racing industry has a register of nationally approved gear that contains specific details regarding the type of equipment that may be used on horses in a race, official barrier trial or in track work. Tongue ties are approved on this list with details regarding their specifications and application.
The Australian Veterinary Association approves the use of tongue ties as long as the decision to apply a tongue tie is done with veterinary advice, and based on the health and welfare needs of the horse. The AVA recommends close monitoring of horses in which tongue ties have been applied.
It’s important that trainers and veterinarians work closely together to ensure that a tongue tie is medically approved by the veterinarian and that it is used correctly as a training aid.