When I began initial ridden work with Dustry he was very light in the contact, he dropped behind the bit, and although he looked like he was in an ‘on the bit’ frame he wasn’t working through and it was very hard to get him to work forwards into the contact. The flip side of that would be that occasionally he would hollow, and invert his neck, becoming suddenly heavy in the hand.
This all pointed to dental issues preventing him from being able to happily accept the contact so I booked him in to see an EDT. I prefer to use a specialist EDT rather than a vet to maintain my horse’s teeth because I believe that someone who has specialised in one particular sphere has more life experience and skill than someone who has trained across all areas but not specialised in any particular one. (I think of it in the terms that I wouldn’t go to my doctor for a dental issue I would go and see my dentist/orthodontist)
On inspection the EDT found that in fact Dustry had bone spurs in his upper jaw just where the bit would touch, a surprisingly common condition for ex-racers. My EDT who treats a lot of large competition yards from dressage to racing suspected that at some period in his early years a chifney had probably been used on him, and that the rough use of a chifney combined with the soft nature of his developing young jaw bones had caused the bone spurs to form.
Having his bone spurs removed was a bit of a gore fest! He had to be sedated, and given a pain killer, there was a vet on hand and the EDT had to manually remove the bones spurs. Once they were removed I had to syringe saline solution into his mouth for the following few days to help the healing process and he had a short period of time off to heal up before he could wear a bridle again.
Once the bone spurs were gone and he was happy in his mouth the difference in him was noticeable and from that point onwards he has always had 6 monthly EDT checks and maintenance work.
Fast forward a year…
When I initially began to start his jumping education my instructor and I were very disappointed with his reaction. We began over tiny little fences but despite giving him a long rein and the freedom to jump he jumped hugely high, hollow, and stiff in the back, and with his head and neck in an inverted stiff position. It felt and looked horrid for both of us!
Now we were very baffled about this because his flat work was coming along really well, so we decided to leave the jumping for a while and revisit it a bit later.
As luck would have it his regular 6 month EDT visit was due soon after our scrappy jumping attempts and when my EDT came to treat Dustry he found that his wolf teeth had come through! Wolf teeth are tiny little teeth that sit just in front of the pre-molars in the upper jaw. Most horses have their wolf teeth removed as routine when young but the bone spurs in Dustry’s upper jaw had retarded the growth of his wolf teeth and in fact from the time his bone spurs were removed to his wolf teeth erupting it took a year and a half!!! (with regular 6 month checks from my EDT throughout that period)
I think this just goes to show how crucial it is to have your horse regularly checked by a professional EDT, because you never know what might be going on under the surface of the gum, who would have thought his bone spurs could have delayed his wolf teeth like that? certainly not me!
So once you are happy with the condition of your ex-racehorse’s mouth, and you have a regular maintenance plan in place that is the end of any contact issues right?….sadly not.
What ever habits/coping mechanisms horses develop in racing will always be there, you can minimise them, you may even be able to totally eliminate some, but others you will just have to find a clever way around, which brings me to bit grinding/scrunching.
Dustry used to grind his bit. Now I know from his extensive dental treatment and regular maintenance that his mouth is in tip top condition, he has a suitable bit, and I am not harsh with my hands, but at times he used to ‘scrunch’ on his bit. This was a habit he picked up during his racing days (probably as a result of pain at the time) and that I have had to try and train him out of.
Thankfully there is a clever little treat on the market for horses called GumBits. GumBits are a small minty sweets, that coat the teeth until dissolved (approx 30mins) so that a horse can no longer make a noise. They are 100% natural, and Dustry is always keen to gobble up his little handful of GumBits prior to being bridled.
I used these every day for a month, and by removing the potential for D to make a noise with his bit he eventually forgot all about scrunching and now doesn’t do it. I am going to start weaning him off them just to see how successful this re-training has been and start to replace his GumBits every other time I ride with regular mints. A few times I have forgotten to give them to him altogether and I haven’t heard a peep from him so I am optimistic that this particular habit from his racing days is on the way out.