Rodney and Milton recently had their teeth done by an equine dentist. While the individual was all for a post on the importance of dental health for horses, they requested anonymity.
When I showed up at Stepping Stone Farm for my lesson, I found the dentist working their way through the barn. I was immediately excited. I’ve been impressed with equine dentists. Although my horses are checked yearly by their vet, a specialist will always do a better job than a generalist.
After they agreed to stop at my house on their way home, I watched the rest of the SSF horses.
For those of you who don’t speak horse (Hi Mom!), the horse’s lower jaw is narrower than the upper. This means that the outside of the upper and the inside of the lower jaws grow sharp points that need to be filed. Nature handles this by keeping wild horses on a constant diet of low-grade, high-chew forage. Unfortunately this equips horses for a life of wandering about eating low-grade forage, rather than showing and jumping and racing and all those other things humans find for horses to do. So we feed them hi-test that requires less grinding, and more dentistry. End sidebar.
The process is a model of speed & efficiency. Put a soft, worn leather halter on the horse. File – I assume – the front teeth. Switch to a gadget that holds the horse’s jaw open. File – I assume – the back teeth. Done.
Among the tools of the trade was a extra long float, i.e. tooth rasp, to reach the back molars.
Sedatives where not used. I did not ask why. They were so busy that chatting was not really an option. I assume, again, that they don’t want to wait around for the sedative to take effect and then wait further for the horse to come out of it safely. By the time a sedative would have taken effect, they were done and moved to the next patient.
If the horse objected at any point, the dentist would grab a handful of halter. Then they would stand quiet and immobile, preventing the horse from flinging about until the horse saw things their way. The horse always did. There was no violence, no reprimanding, just imperturbable, immovable patience. It was an amazing display of horse handling.
The dentist used hearing along with sight and touch. They would turn an ear to the horse while rasping, listening – assume again – for the correct sound. Afterward, they would grab the horse’s head, lean in, and move the lower jaw back and forth, checking that the grinding surfaces were behaving correctly.
You don’t always have to know a job to know that it is being done well. The assistant did the preliminary round on a few horses. Looked fine. Doing about the same job my vet does. Then the dentist stepped in. You could see the power and smoothness in each stroke. More efficient strokes, faster job.
One of the SSF horses had a tooth pulled. No sedative. Photos after the jump [here]. Gory, but interesting.
Thank you for reading,