Teeth grinding in young horse

My 5yr old has just started grinding her teeth. She goes really well under saddle - soft, responsive, and coming through - and she finds all the dressage work pretty easy and doesn’t usually have any trouble with it (yay for purpose bred horses with good conformation).

I think the cause may be bit related, but I haven’t ruled out pain. She just got her teeth floated about a month ago. I want to get her saddle fit checked and have the massage therapist out. I don’t think ulcers are an issue as she isn’t showing any other symptoms. The reason why I think it is bit related is I did some ground work with her in her bridle, and when I asked for flexion/ bend she would start to grind. She keeps her mouth closed, and otherwise doesn’t seem irritated.

Any ideas? I have a lesson mid week, so I’ll ask my coach about it then, but wanted to see if I could start to solve it now.

Pretty clear unhappiness - perhaps a certain movement, somewhere in her body - from teeth, muscles, joints, to brain (ie response to pressure). Good luck in sorting it out.

I have worked with a couple youngsters that did that when learning something new - stress response. Both stopped grinding teeth once they sorted the task out. Sometimes I went back a few steps and re-explained, prepared better; sometimes I just waited and let them sort it out. Fine line between letting a horse figure it out vs bad habit forming.

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What signals would you use to determine whether or not she was irritated? What’s happening with her eyes, nostrils, ears, etc.? Does she bend to the degree asked and stay soft or does she give very quickly in more of a jerking fashion?

Another thing worth trying would be to do the exact same flexion exercises in a rope halter and see if the behavior totally dissipates without a bit in her mouth.

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Yes!! This!!

My young one does this with new stuff too, and also if the work is a little harder than what she currently wants to do.

For the both I take it as a signal to get something “decent” ASAP and take a quick break to let her relax for a minute.

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Do they need multiple symptoms to qualify as potential ulcer cases?

Fwiw, ime, teeth grinding, even intermittent, is a sign of pain, often of the gut variety. So, cows and horses are different, yes, but, they will exhibit some of the same behaviours. If I hear a cow teeth grinding, it’s an urgency. If not dealt with, it will become an emergency surgery to fix a twisted stomach.

That said, we are all up in horse’s mouths a whole lot more than we are in (healthy) cow mouths, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s bit/jaw/teeth related. Could be something as simple as a cap needing help popping off or more serious. But, if you treat it as an urgency to find out, you’ll likely avoid an ingrained habit or chronic discomfort which appears as an ingrained habit.

Hope you get a quick resolution!

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A fellow boarder had a horse that ground his teeth. Never found any physical issues. He did this when she bought him as a 7 or 8 year old and never totally quit. It seemed to occur whenever the work was a little difficult or new. Once started during a session it would sometimes continue or reoccur even during easy work.

Eventually she and her trainer decided it was such an ingrained habit that it was not likely to totally go away. So they did their best to minimize stress, but otherwise ignored it. Trainer compared to to a person chewing on their pencil when figuring out a tough problem. She did show some and rarely got comments about it.

I would certainly look into all discomfort possibilities and do what I could to prevent this becoming a habit. (She found some bits worse than others, but I do not recall which) But if it continues at a low level it might be his way of dealing with things and not necessarily a huge issue.

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Ok but this is a pretty big symptom so I wouldn’t write off this possibility yet.

When does she grind her teeth? From when you go get her in her stall or paddock or whatever when does she start the grinding? Is it when you tack up? Warm up? When you ride with contact? Will she still grind her teeth with no contact? Will she grind her teeth if you go out for an easy trail ride?

Thanks for your replies, everyone!
She’s only just started grinding over the last 2 days. It only happens under saddle once I take the contact (at any gait). She’ll still grind during our stretchy trot, but not on a loose rein at the walk.

I’ve contacted the saddle fitter and massage therapist - hopefully they can come out soon. I’m certainly not opposed to doing a trial with omeprazole to see if that helps. I’ll probably get my vet out and see what he says as I have to get him out for some other things anyway.

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If it started acutely and is happening during easy exercises and in hand, I’d definitely look at pain before discounting it as a frustration behavior that will disappear. Your idea of bringing out your experts to see her in person seems really wise. Perhaps she cut the inside of her mouth or has developed enough muscle that the saddle is pinching when she flexes her rib cage.

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Teeth grinding I usually think is anxiety. What’s causing that anxiety could be pain, discomfort, tension, etc.

Let us know what the saddle fitter and massage therapist says!

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I rode a 6 yr. old OTTB that ground bits when off contact, never if the rider kept contact.

After much experimentation with bits my riding teacher found he preferred a 20mm single jointed snaffle, but he still ground the bit when off contact, he really got into grinding it, it sounded like he was trying to reduce the bit to its constituent molecules.

I found a titanium coated bit that was otherwise exactly the same as his preferred stainless steel bit. He ground it between his molars a LOT LESS.

To test this out I am pretty sure that a copper/copper base bit would do, a bit whose mouthpiece is not stainless steel. A “sweet iron” bit might also work.

I have “solved” a few horses’ problems with bits just by getting a bit that was not stainless steel.

My small tour horse would grind when working on something he found challenging or confusing. He’s a people pleaser type - didn’t want to be wrong. We wrote it off for a while. When we scoped him he had grade 4 ulcers that were actively bleeding. Not saying this is the case, just that some horses don’t have other symptoms.

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I have experienced teeth grinding in horses 4 times (one of them was my own horse) and all seemed related to pain. The conditions varied, but were kissing spines, SI problems, and ulcers. That’s just my small sample size of experience though.

I think you have a solid approach in place. I hope you’re able to figure it out. Best of luck.

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Did you have the teeth done by a vet or by an equine dentist?

My mare started grinding… her teeth were up to date. Had the dentist out and she had her head ex rayed and she had a dead tooth. Once we removed the tooth the grinding was gone.

I would say re evaluate the mouth. Check the poll for pain/tension and also the back. Whatever you are doing don’t keep just doing the same thing. You can stop the grinding now but if you wait too long it becomes habit and will be harder to break.

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My guy grinds his teeth when he is really working over his back and forward - because it is hard work and he is on the lazy side. No matter the bit (current set professionally fit). Not the saddle (changed and professionally fit within the last 6 months). Not soreness (regular PEMF and massage, Yearly lameness exam) No matter teeth (believe me, well cared for dentally). Not ulcers. It all comes down to the work level.

So before you judge all teeth grinding as “pain” or “discomfort” - sure, working hard and learning new things IS hard, it MIGHT cause some discomfort just like us working out causes some discomfort- but what is the option?

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@lorilu Do you get penalized for it in competition?..the teeth grinding.

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Yes teeth grinding can become habit, which I did state in my post . What forms from pain, can remain long after the pain is gone.

However I would say ignoring teeth grinding and just brushing it off as something that is done because the work is hard, is well, ignoring your horses communication. In hard work if he grinds, don’t you think maybe that work is making your horse uncomfortable? It’s 2021, we need to stop just pushing our horses through pain and stress simply because they will. We owe it to them to listen.

By the sounds of this thread grinding is very much a pain and stress thing. So while not 100% the issue, the fact your horse only grinds when things get though suggests the horse IS in pain and letting you know.

Horses talk to us all the time, sadly only a small amount of riders and owners actually listen.

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Yep

And my thing is, because I’ve seen this, is that people say, “the horse had a vet check” “there was a lameness exam” “we found nothing” but you can’t truly say you’ve looked at everything

A teeth grinder that I know begins when the rider starts taking up contact and pushing the horse forward. Originally they said nothing was found. They only x-rayed a few shots of the legs, palpated here and there, and said he was good to go. When they later did x-rayed his neck, back, and scoped for ulcers …a lot more was found. The horse was never “lame” exactly. I’m quite sure he had soft tissue injuries in the past too.

It’s hard to admit that there could be something “wrong” with your horse, I guess. It’s also a lot of time, energy, and money to look into everything. So it is easier to check a few things then dismiss it. It can be overwhelming I imagine. This is why I argue this isn’t a relaxing hobby :rofl:

I do agree it could turn into a habit. Perhaps the pain subsided, but still, the tension (a horse that grinds isn’t truly relaxed IMHO) and habit remains.

It also sort of goes against the whole relaxation theme in dressage. Not that I have the most relaxed horse :smirk:

I was a teeth grinder myself, and it always stemmed from stress, not necessarily pain. So if the same could be true for horses, then I’d take a look at my training. I understand that training isn’t always “pretty” and can get tough, but if the horse always shows signs of stress, it’s worth looking into my methods and goals. I don’t necessarily like to draw correlations between humans and horses though.

Just my personal experiences and opinions.

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