“One tube of piles cream, please”

Never in all my years did I think I’d be talking about how great haemorrhoid (a.k.a piles) cream is, let alone writing a public blog post about it! Context, you say? Alright then – this is really a post about healing and managing a horse’s split mouth/split corners of the mouth, but haemorrhoid cream is one of the protagonists…

Cuts or splits on a horse’s mouth are not something that horse owners talk about very often, and I get why – if your horse has ever had them (and you’re at all like me), you will most likely feel like a terrible owner, start questioning your riding abilities or even start furiously googling remedies and alternative bitting options. But the fact is that while heavy hands or harsh bits CAN cause a split mouth, they are not the only reason a horse gets it. Other reasons include:

Image of a horse with splits on the corner of its mouth. Note: this is not an image of my horse - this image was taken from a Google Image Search, and is from www.nsbits.com

Image of a horse with splits on the corner of its mouth. Note: this is not an image of my horse – this image was taken from a Google Image Search, and is from www.nsbits.com

  • Sensitive mouths – horses with pink, fleshy lips are more susceptible to rubbing than others.
  • Young horses – whose mouths are still ‘soft’ and thus more sensitive to pinching or rubbing.
  • Dirty bits – it’s so important to clean your bit after every ride, to ensure old grass/hay or dribbles don’t dry into something that can pinch your horse’s mouth.
  • Loose rings – now, I love loose ring bits. They prevent horses from leaning, and encourage a horse to carry itself rather than have the rider carry it. But you need to ensure to go up a size (a quarter inch should do it) from what you’d use in a fixed ring, as the movable ring can cause pinching and rubbing.
  • Bit Sizing – too big and it will easily rub from side to side and cause friction; too small and it will pull upwards on the mouth each time you use rein pressure.
  • Bit ‘material’ – different horses react to different materials in different ways. Some horses cannot ride in a standard metal bit without reacting to it, and others can only go in a rubber or leather bit to prevent chafing.

I had the misfortune of discovering splits in the corners of Paddy’s mouth just a few weeks ago. In his case it was partially self-inflicted, and partially tack-related – he had great fun tanking me around the arena during his first couple of weeks “settling in” to his new home, however I also felt that his bit was just a touch too big on him and was rubbing from side to side as he charged around the arena! Cue feeling like a terrible owner, questioning my riding abilities and furiously googling all the remedies in the world!

Part of my research led me to the #twittereventing Facebook group (if you’re not a member of this group and you’re in any way involved/interested in Eventing, I highly recommend joining – it’s a treasure trove of information!), where a lot of members had posted about their experiences with split mouth and how they handled it. The general consensus was that time off and haemorrhoid/piles cream were the answer to speeding up the healing process. And so I found myself on the following Monday, on my lunch break, uttering the phrase “One tube of Anusol, please”, in the lowest possible tone to a highly amused pharmacist amidst a busy queue. She obviously had a sense of humour, given she asked me to repeat myself and then proceeded to hold the tube of cream up for everyone in the queue to see to “make sure she had the right one for me”…

The Anusol was applied every day (twice a day if I could make it up), and as the splits in his mouth weren’t severe, I gave him a couple of days lunging in a headcollar before resuming riding again. After just a week of applying the Anusol daily, the splits have closed, are almost fully healed, and don’t show any signs of resplitting – wonder cream! In terms of maintenance, and to prevent any future issues, I do the following:

Acavallo Gel Bit Guards

Acavallo Gel Bit Guards

  1. Use Acavallo Gel Bit Guards (Horse Health, £12.95)these go beyond normal bit rubbers and cover the corners of the bit too, to prevent the chafing that happens inside the mouth. If it’s good enough for Charlotte Dujardin, it’s good enough for me!
  2. Apply Bit Butter (Horse Health, starting at £9.95) to the corners of the mouth before every session to encourage a wetter mouth and reduce any rubbing. This stuff smells delicious and they even make a human version too!

    Bit Butter

    Bit Butter

  3. Clean my bit after every ride – goes without saying.
  4. Mouth diligence – I’ll continue to check the corners of Paddy’s mouth at least once a week, especially if he’s had a particularly ‘lean-y’ day, and Anusol will form part of our post-ride routine if I think those splits are in danger of reopening.

So, if you’ve got a horse with cuts in the corners of his mouth, try not to feel like a terrible owner. Don’t be afraid to ask the opinion of an experienced coach if you’re worried about how you use your hands – they have likely been there before! And most importantly, know that others have also likely been in your shoes – standing in a packed pharmacy on a Monday, pretending they have piles, because that’s what great owners do.

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