Dental Care Counts In Equine Performance

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Last week, Dr. Grant Miller, who's one of the Horse Journal?s veterinary editors, came to our farm to power-float the teeth of four of our own and three of our clients? horses. We've long considered equine dental care an important element in the management and performance of our horses, and watching Grant work on our own and our clients? horses for the last five years has only solidified our belief.

Grant is scheduled to return in a month to power-float eight more horses.

With one of the horses Grant did last week, we repeated a scenario We've seen several times: A new client brings in a horse or a regular client buys a new horse, we bring in Grant because the horse is thin or seems uncomfortable in his mouth (or we can feel sharp points), and the horse's mouth is a freak show. This particular horse, who came here immediately following his purchase in November, had a reputation as a difficult keeper and a being a bit temperamental. Well, we're looking forward to great changes in these areas now.

As Grant said?after he?d spent about 40 minutes working on him, about twice as any of the other horses?he did everything to this horse's mouth except pull teeth. He had a ramp on his lower right rear-most molar that looked like a mountain peak, and a similar corresponding ramp on his left front molar. Both cheeks were severely ulcerated from the sharp points on the other molars, and his incisors were so long and sharp that he looked nearly a decade older than his 12 years.

Grant believed that this horse had never had his teeth floated, or that if he had, it was a poor hand-floating job years ago. This situation caused Grant and I to ponder why too many horse owners don't give their horses the dental care they need. We decided there are three most likely answers.

The first reason is lack of knowledge. Many people simply don't know or believe that horses need dental care. Yes, they do, because the way they chew grass and grain grinds their teeth, causing the teeth to grow expand their gums as their teeth grow continuously. And if their jaws are misaligned (by genetics or injury) the wear becomes uneven. Plus, young horses often get wolf teeth and have caps or baby teeth that need to be removed.

The second reason, I think, is expense. Yes, power-floating isn?t free, usually costing between $150 and $250 per horse, depending on the practitioner and how extensively he or she has to sedate the horse. But it's a relatively small cost in the total expenses of keeping a horse, and you should only have to do it every 12 to 24 months, unless your horse has a serious problem. It can also save you money in feed and save you frustration when you're riding.

Grant thought that a third reason is horse owners transferring their own anxiety about going to a dentist on to their horses. He said He's often seen owners? anxiety, and I'll believe him since he estimated He's done about 10,000 power-floats. I've certainly seen many horse owners treat their horses in a wide variety of anthropomorphic ways, so it sure makes sense.

Grant pointed out that watching him work might not calm some owners? dental anxiety, since the power float is basically a drill with a head that rotates horizontally and he often has to exert considerable strength to smooth out the teeth or to pull them.

But, as Grant said, it's fulfilling to him to know that the lives of horses like this one are much improved after He's finished.

By contrast, the last two horses Grant worked on last week were my two mares, Alba, 9, and Amani, 4. Alba?s mouth was a minor freak show when she came to us three years ago, but this was the third time He's floated her, and filing down her mild points took maybe 15 minutes. Grant had worked on Amani once previously, pulling two good-sized wolf teeth early in her 3-year-old year, and this time she too needed maybe 15 minutes of work.

The ease of Alba?s and Amani?s appointments were a reminder of why regular dental care matters for horses.