Wednesday, December 29, 2010

would you use Gumbits to alleviate teeth grinding in your horse?

As usual, I've been on my morning meander through the internet, catching up on various blogs, doing the clicking that leads me from one thing to another thing to yet another, and enjoying all the information that unfolds as I click and read.

Today I was quickly caught up in a post about the use of Gumbits, a small "treat" that is apparently being used to deal with the grinding of teeth in horses.

It caught my eye because Keil Bay has occasionally ground his teeth under saddle. His previous trainer both told me about it and demonstrated it when I first looked at him. He didn't grind during any of my trial rides, and as it turned out, he has ground them with me three times since he came to live with me, 6 years ago. All three of those times were when I was riding in a lesson, following the instructions of a trainer. My sense was that when pushed hard to do an exercise (not the same one), he resorted to the grinding.

He also did the grinding fairly regularly when ridden by my trainer.

My response to the grinding was to ride him in such a way that did not lead to tooth grinding. That led me to go against the recommendations of my trainer at the time: instead of entering the arena with contact and warming him up doing walk, rising trot, and canter, I came in and rode him on the buckle using walk, sitting trot, and then a big fun canter. Instead of insisting that we drill movements over and over, I began to leave the back arena gate open and take little "mini-hacks" in between our arena work. By accident, I discovered that he loved to pop over baby jumps, and so we used that as a way to insert some fun into the arena work as well.

As it turned out, my doing these things not only led us away from the grinding of teeth, but led to the most beautiful, light, relaxed, classically correct rides I've ever had on any horse. And for Keil Bay, it led to a trust that I would not ride him straight into resistance and then rely on his kindness and general safeness to wrestle him through a movement, but would do everything I could to ride him into relaxation, and only then would we try some of the more difficult movements.

But still, even given all that, even given the fact that he has not ground his teeth in at least two years, I wondered this morning if I'd had the Gumbits to use when we were dealing with this, would I have tried them?

This is what the company says about the product:

GumBits was conceived and developed by two Atlanta women in a quest to aid in the daily training of their dressage horses. By promoting the salivation process, they eliminated the teeth grinding which often can occur during the intense training of high performance sport horses. 

Not only does GumBits encourage chewing activity, trigger salivation, and eliminate teeth grinding, horses love the sweet taste. GumBits are made of all natural FDA approved ingredients and is safe and palatable. 

I tuned in to the line:  eliminated the teeth grinding which often can occur during the intense training of high performance sport horses.

What is it about the intense training of sport horses, in particular dressage horses, that leads so often to teeth grinding?  Apparently the Gumbits are being used to address the grinding of teeth, to create "foam" at shows, and to make the training sessions more pleasant.

My take on teeth grinding is that it is a symptom of something. Dental issues, tmj issues, ulcer issues, pain/discomfort issues, or perhaps the only way a horse can "resist" a style or session of riding that is physically or psychologically (or both) uncomfortable.

Does using Gumbits therefore mask a symptom we need to be paying attention to? What does it say about the show scene if creating foam via a treat in the horse's mouth is used as a way to make it appear the horse is "on the bit?"  (don't get me started about the whole "on the bit" thing)

I can easily imagine Keil Bay loving a sweet treat. And maybe it would cause him to salivate and forget all about whatever it is that pushes him to grind when being ridden a very specific way. But if I give him the treats, am I simply masking a bigger, deeper issue?

Where is the line between creating a dressage "facade" and actually doing the slow, kind, layered work of training that leads to a relaxed, happy, balanced horse that both looks AND feels good doing his job?

Certainly, to a large degree, the answer to this question depends on one's riding goals, as well as one's philosophy about what constitutes solid horsemanship. While I know what my own answer is, I concede that there is no one right answer - we are all where we are on our paths, and so each person's answer might be different.

The critical thing is that we each think through scenarios like this regularly, to examine our goals, to look at, step-by-step, the pros and cons of what we do in our work with horses.

Often we do things simply because it's what the majority of riders and trainers do. And we use the justification that, hey, it works.

I maintain that by questioning things, and most importantly, by listening to our horses, and letting our horses be our trainers, we end up with a much greater depth of knowledge, and even more, a much greater connection to the animal carrying us around on his/her back.

I would love to know what readers think about this.


Anonymous said...

I agree that teeth grinding is a symptom of something, not a "vice" to be covered up or repressed. It's like using a flash noseband if your horse opens his mouth - if you tie his mouth shut he can't tell you anything - about how he feels, about how you're using (or misusing) your hands, about dental pain, etc. In my experience, tooth grinding is either a sign of physical pain or anxiety/frustration. Your strategies/work-arounds led to a happier horse because you were listening to what he was saying.

billie said...

Kate, you triggered something I had been thinking as I wrote the post today but then forgot to put in:

For me, the covering up or repression of a behavior, even if it temporarily, in the moment, solves the problem, is not something I want to do because I don't want to cut off that path of communication.

It's kind of like unplugging the smoke alarm so you don't set it off when cooking. It's true that when cooking, life is easier, but you also lose the warning if there really is a fire.

Grey Horse Matters said...

First of all I've never heard of this Gumbit product so can't say anything about it. Second, if your horse is grinding it's teeth there is a problem to be investigated and addressed. Covering up a problem won't make it go away. I've never had a horse grind it's teeth so I've never had to address this sort of problem.

I agree wholeheartedly with what you did with the big bay, his grinding was more than likely due to stress in lessons. I'm glad that there are good horse people out there caring enough about their horses to take it down a notch and let the horse have some fun during their ride time.

p.s. I downloaded both books and am currently enjoying Claire and Finn. Great book!

billie said...

Arlene, I should also say that had I had any suspicion that Keil Bay needed medical investigation, I would have gone there. But his teeth were fine, and all other things had been checked out.

I so appreciate your words about the books. Thank you!

If you and anyone else read the books and enjoy them, I hope you'll consider leaving a review on Amazon, and tell a few friends you think will also enjoy the books about them.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'd be happy to do a review on Amazon when I'm finished with the books. J. also bought them, but I'm not sure if she's started them yet, she's got her hands full with Molly right now.

billie said...

Thanks! And how is Molly? I have been thinking about her and hoping she is pulling through.

Rising Rainbow said...

I've never had to deal with a horse grinding its teeth except when first introduced to the bit and it was more mouthing than grinding, still the issue to me is what to do when something bothers the horse no matter what that might be. I believe we need to be listening to our horses and doing what we can to make it better for them. I'm not into doing what is popular or what joe blow famous trainer does, just because he is famous. I want to do what works for my horse and I'll keep trying things until I find something that does.

billie said...

MiKael, glad to read your take on this. I agree with listening and finding solutions that work for them.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Thanks for asking about Molly. She's doing pretty well considering. She's able to go outside on her own and will get her cast changed again tomorrow and we'll see how her wounds are healing underneath it. She's a tough old dog I'll tell you that. Last week J. was feeding and bringing the herd in and Molly was laying outside, then she disappeared and J. couldn't find her. She couldn't understand how she could lose a 3 legged dog! Molly had made her way around the front of the house and was laying in the front yard surveying the neighborhood.

billie said...

Oh, I'm glad she's keeping her Molly spirit - it is what will help her heal and recover! Will send the best thoughts I can tomorrow. Thanks for updating us.

Dougie Donk said...

Just had fun searching for Gumbits & while they sound nice....

Dennis grinds his teeth when I ask him to do anything new - I take it as being a very good indication that I am pushing him a wee bit out of his comfort zone, so I let it go on for 5 minutes; then take him back to the comfort zone. I wouldn't want to prevent him grinding, as it's a really good indication of when my training is working or when I need to ditch the plan & think of something new.

Maybe Gumbits have a place, but don't think they are for my herd.

billie said...

I'm on the same page with not wanting to prevent the grinding since I do see it as a communication from the horse, who may not have any other way of "telling" that particular thing.

Máire said...

Billie, catching up on your blog after Christmas. That is a great post. I love what you said about letting our horses be our trainers - if only more people would see it like that.

I have never heard of gumbits, or had teeth grinding as an issue, but I have often been told to use a flash (I don't).

billie said...

Maire, that is a key point - letting them be OUR trainers. It takes letting go of our own ego and I guess on some level, our notion that as humans, we are meant to be dominant over animals.

For some of us it's easy to let go. For others, it seems to be not even an option on the menu.

I can't help but think the ability to let that species dominance thing go is part of what our entire society needs to do to fix some of the problems we're having world-wide.

elizabeth kane said...

As the creator of GumBits, I am always interested in feedback on the product whether it be from a high performance competitor or from the average dressage enthusiast who strives to train their horses following the correct training pyramid. This is what I do know about teeth grinding in dressage horses... it is not necessarily a sign of discomfort (such as, ulcers or other pain, ill fitting equipment, bad riding, etc.) but, if these factors are the cause, they should be immediately addressed. Tension, positive and negative, can trigger grinding. Grinding can also be the result of the mental effort exerted by horses as they progress through their training. Let's not forget the physical effort it takes for a horse to develop the correct musculature for self carriage. With any issue that arises during training, we all need to adhere to the USEF mission statement... "to ensure the safety and well-being of horses, regardless of value or competitive level".

billie said...

Elizabeth, thanks for weighing in here.

Jony Gibson said...

Teeth Grinding is more of a common habit. We should never ignore this trait as it can be a symptom for something more serious.

Teeth Grinding