Of all the muscles in your horse’s body, the tongue might be the easiest to take for granted. It may not help him run down a cow or plant a perfect pivot, but it’s vital to chewing and swallowing. So, it deserves the same attention given to any other organ.
A horse’s tongue is made up of three muscular structures—the genioglossus, hyoglossus, and styloglossus—that work together to control movement. The equine tongue is between 11 and 16 inches long, but most horses can only stick theirs out about five or six inches beyond the lips. The tongue is anchored at the back of the throat to a structure of bones called the hyoid apparatus.
A horse’s tongue can be injured in a variety of ways. Harsh bit use, sharp hardware on buckets, and even accidents during dental procedures can all damage a tongue. Most minor tongue lacerations heal on their own within two weeks and you probably won’t even notice it.
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Serious lacerations, typically discovered because of the resulting bleeding, may require sutures. Splinters and foreign objects can also become embedded in the tongue. Usually, this happens when a horse is chewing on a fence or in their stall. In these cases, you’ll notice something is wrong if he refuses to eat or is showing mouth sensitivity. If you suspect your horse has a tongue wound, call your vet right away because they’ll be able to get a better look than you will on your own.
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Tongue lolling can also be a sign of trouble, though some horses do this habitually while being ridden. Lolling is when he moves his tongue in a noticeably different way or lets it hang out of his mouth.
Seek immediate veterinary help if your horse begins lolling his tongue in an unusual way or has trouble eating—these can be early signs of nerve damage, botulism, or neuromuscular disease.
Tips to Protect Your Horse’s Tongue:
- Be aware of the bit you use when riding and be soft with your hands.
- Check your feed and water buckets to make sure there isn’t any exposed hardware that they could cut their tongue on.
- Make sure your horse isn’t chewing on wood fences, poles, or trees in the pasture. Plus, check his stall frequently for things he could potentially chew.
Learn More: Why Horses Suck Their Tongues
Also, be cautious about having your horse’s mouth examined. Holding his mouth open using the tongue and without a speculum device must be done carefully to avoid damaging the hyoid. It’s always a safe option to have your vet conduct any oral exam. They can use a speculum and administer sedation if needed.